Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Newsflash: Capitalism is evil

Something that I don't often write about in this blog is what I do for a living. For the sake of keeping my worlds separate, I don't intend to make this a habit. It is also for the sake of keeping my side of my employment contract. However, there are some things about which I can write without saying too much.

My employer is a multinational firm that has had a lot of damaging press. Most of this poor press is related to corruption on the part of various executives, managers, sales people and intermediaries who have engaged in all manner of terrible business practices, including bribery, price fixing and market sharing. For all of these things the company is either being investigated or has already been prosecuted and fined - it's all a matter of public record.

One of the consequences of this is that all employees within a certain demographic are required to attend a session each year on compliance and ethical behaviour. In this session the truth of capitalism is exposed, quite unashamedly. There are just two points that I want to share. The first is the reason that ethical behaviour is expected: because it costs a lot of money to be unethical. Case after case is brought forward to show that the direct result of unethical behaviour is a hit to the bottom line. Just the first Powerpoint slide alone adds up to about 40MUSD in fines or litigation. The evil of capitalism is exposed here because it converts ethical behaviour into money. Money, the general equivalent that is useful in trading cotton for corn, etc., is so entirely general that it can even be exchanged for an ethical value. Once that equivalence has been established, it also means that money can be used to procure ethical values. It is entirely consistent with capitalism that money be used to procure certain kinds of behaviour (i.e., through bribes) and also that money be used to measure behaviour (i.e., the consequence of the bribe being prosecuted). The justification for “good” behaviour is money, rather than any other moral or ethical reason.

The second was a comment by the presenter that the reason for the corporation to exist is to make money - and that safety, the environment and social responsibility are secondary to that. If pressed on the issue, I'm sure that he would have argued that without profit, the company cannot do anything, let alone something “good.” His argument would have been flawed. If profit is more important than safety, the environment or social responsibility then it is permissible to ignore safety, the environment and social responsibility for the sake of profit. Using that logic, I could put someone's life at risk in order to make money so that I could avoid putting someone's life at risk.

Capitalism is, in two small examples, exposed for what it truly is: pure predation. It is the accumulation of money for the sake of money. The accumulation creates its own standards which exist only to justify itself. This relentless pursuit is the oppression of our time. It is the root of many kinds of evil, without question, and it has already conquered the world. Sell what you have, and give it to the poor. Give, and expect nothing in return.
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