Revolution #228, April 3, 2011

Cold Capitalist Calculations and Human Lives in Japan

We received the following from a reader:

In one of the articles on the catastrophe in Japan the following important point was made: "This is not a 'Japanese' problem, but a problem of capitalism-imperialism. This disaster is bound up with the anarchic expand-or-die profit-in-command nature of the capitalist-imperialist system and rivalry between imperialist countries."

In light of this I wanted to make the following comments:

This "anarchic expand-or-die profit-in-command nature of the capitalist-imperialist system," gives rise to a corresponding mentality and morality. I believe it was Marx who said that capitalists are "capital personified." I happened to listen to several different interviews with U.S. economists in the days that followed the disaster. One question that was put to all of them was "what impact will this have on the Japanese economy?" and the answers given were all essentially the same: "Surprisingly, this will probably be good for the Japanese economy in the medium and long term. There was tremendous destruction of human capital [yes, those exact words were used in 3 different interviews] and of infrastructure, factories, inventories etc. And all this destruction will mean that there will need to be a lot of new investment to rebuild and that will be good for the economy."

The devastating deaths of thousands upon thousands of real human beings—people loved and cherished by other real human beings—and the homelessness and suffering of hundreds of thousands more and the impact of that on millions more, all that is reduced to the cash nexus of "loss of human capital," like these people are just inventory pieces to be written off on the loss side of the ledger. And in fact in the dynamic and logic of capitalism-imperialism, human beings are just commodities whose labor power is used to create profit, so that the "creative destruction" (their words) of capitalism, becomes for this system a positive force for more growth. If this is not a reason why the capitalist-imperialist system must go to the dustbin of history, I don't know what would be.

On the second part of the quote above about the "rivalry between imperialist countries," every one of these commentators made the point that the disaster in Japan could be good for the U.S. economy. Some examples given were that because the Japanese automobile industry had been set back, the U.S. might be able to step into the breech and make some gains! One might be tempted to dismiss these as the ruminations of really sick individuals, but no, in the dynamics of capitalism these are "rational" statements. These are the cold calculations of a competitor who is forced to seek advantage wherever it can be found.

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