The beguiling sins of Industrial Capitalism

Will it? Image is courtesy of Brandon Heath:

It seems to me that Industrial Capitalism deserves a tome (popular in style and tone) cataloguing its beguiling sins. By Industrial Capitalism I mean that invidious, factory-based, technologically-innovative, profit-driven, labour-exploiting form which grew up in Europe (first in the United Kingdom) and later the USA, out of  various Industrial Revolutions.

And this catalogue of sins?

  •       The historical creation, or at least exacerbation, of a ‘Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’ world… (see on the Wealth and Health of nations) and of course the raft of ills – such as wholesale poverty, civil wars, famine, environmental degradation -that that division has helped spawn. The conditions that led to this revolution arising in Europe [Britain] first, rather than say China or perhaps India or the Middle East are historically interesting and contested in themselves. Is that part of the sinning?
  •       One of the leading ideas of Industrial Capitalism is Economies of scale (see almost any economics textbook). Consider the ramifications of the almost wholesale adoption of this principle [big is beautifully profitable]. In agriculture it has fermented the agribusinesses of the 20th century and all the attendant issues with diet (think of sugar for instance, grown here in Australia on large cane farms), or habitat destruction (think palm oil production in S.E. Asia), in business we have witnessed the multinationals that flaunt the rules of many a nation (paying less tax than any individual and often unleashing environmental mayhem [think Bhopal and Union Carbide and any number of other environmental fouls]), in politics we see the corporate lobbyists of big oil and energy companies pushing to utilise tar sands in environmentally sensitive areas… And so it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut would have it.
  •       The shifting of its habit of exploitation (wealth being amassed by the few) in space and time. Thus we note the misery of Europe’s and later the US’s industrial masses in the nineteenth century and then, with imperialism, the movement out into the New World, to Asia (note the demolition of India’s artisan class by trade with industrialising Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries) , to Africa, & to the Pacific Islands. Where are the world’s poorest and sickest now? In Africa, which was rushed for over the last part of the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries.

And why are Industrial Capitalism’s sins so beguiling? So enthralling?

  •       Because they play to what is most insidious in human ‘nature’: competitiveness, acquisitiveness, instant gratification, tribalism.
  •       The consumption model of 21st century, which sees hordes of lemming-like shoppers plunging into malls and ‘I want Meccas’ to buy the must-have talking duck wall plaque, or solar panel egg warmers, or a car that contains an extra shoe compartment – what does this speak of? Surely it must mutter of some kind of trance or spell. How else explain the handing over of hard-earned money for things we forget we bought the next day? We even forget the forgetting. Who needs these things in the face of mass starvation? Who wants to contribute to environmental decline?

It is true that Industrial Capitalism cannot be said to be the biological father of this entire catalogue of sins but I’d argue it’s closely related. Yes, we need a weighty, well-researched, contestability-aware, holistic text. A Das Kapital’s sins.  But it must be light, aware of its own flaws and potential for pomposity, proselytising and/or didacticism… and above all easy to read. Any takers?

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