The growing social and economic instability in Western Europe as exemplified by the turmoil in Greece and Spain and that is likely to spread to Italy as well as the severe economic dislocation of millions of American citizens is indicative of a deep-seated malaise that haunts the very nature of the economic paradigm that lies at the heart of modern capitalist-based economies. There are a number of seminal issues that lie at the core of the problem.
Economic success has become intimately linked with the continual expansion of global markets on a planet possessing finite resources; this dependence flies in the face of reality. It is not difficult to predict the inevitable future outcome of such a strategy – eventually human societies will devolve into the brutal economics based on scarcity. This is a prospect we should not wish on future generations.
The underlying motivating force for participation in economic life has been stripped of its humanity. This has been particularly evident in the unscrupulous and cavalier machinations of the financial sector that has effectively impoverished so many of the world’s people and at the same time rewarded the very few who have risked the livelihoods of the many to enrich only themselves. The blatant fact that these individuals have walked away unscathed is a demonstration of the inherent corruption of the system.
Furthermore, in the United States, politics has become inextricably tied to wealth. The Supreme Court has sanctioned this relationship by establishing that corporations are people and that money in the form of political contributions is equivalent to free speech. These are by no means accidental legal pronouncements, for they represent a strategy of retrenchment in order to solidify and codify the ascendant position of the affluent class. This effort has been breathtakingly successful.
This kind of reassertion of the inherent power of wealth is now being acted out in Europe as well. This tendency has unfortunate repercussions for future generations, for the economic model upon which the system rests is bound to implode. An economic system in which human compassion and the central concern for the well-being of all members of society are purged from consideration is bankrupt by nature. It will necessarily lead to an amplification of a two-tier system in which only a very small minority of individuals exerts inordinate and extreme economic power over everyone else – this is a new version of the blighted model that dominated societies at the beginnings of the industrial age. In the so-called democracies, it is allegedly the will of the people that determined future policy. If that relationship is real then it would be unfortunate, indeed, if the collective voice of the people echoes the will of the powerful and fails to question of the validity of the harsh and unforgiving economic realities as determined by fiat.