Monday, 1 September 2014

You Will Be Commodified

CSR, corporate social responsibility, was the buzzword of the "Third Way" of the Clinton and Blair days. Grasping capitalism got a makeover as it moved its p.r. budget into sponsorship of everything from opera performances to litter picking, supposedly "giving back" to the communities it had expropriated its massive profits from. Its agenda was approvingly marked out by Tony Giddens, guru of the “Third Way” in his writings in the 1990s. Through an "End of History" prism so popular at the time, Giddens claimed that "when no one knows of any viable alternative to a market economy, demonising the corporations makes no sense.” He proposed that corporations should engage with the voluntary sector to foster social programmes, such as one from the US where a computer firm provided equipment to schools in return for a slew of exclusive advertising.

The cynicism of this seemed to bypass many writers on the genre. Giddens drew from the work of Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who identified a new, business focused strategy by corporations towards involvement in social development. Whereas the traditional approach to community involvement viewed the voluntary sector as “a dumping ground (for) spare cash, obsolete equipment and tired executives on their way out”, Kanter’s “new paradigm” involved using social needs as a basis for development of business ideas and opportunities. It has nothing whatsoever to do with "giving back" or discharging any accepted "social responsibility". Rather, it is simply a laboratory for profit maximisation - in the UK, Blair and Mandelson of course enthusiastically embraced, intensely relaxed as they were about the filthy rich.

Never mind that, around the world, most of these mega-monstrosities continue to rip off consumers, drive down wages and ravage our environment of irreplaceable resources: they give money to charities! They endow hospital wings (in place of paying taxes for public health). They plant trees, give kids "jobs" as unpaid interns...

Capitalism has much to atone for.
Capitalism is based on the commodification of everything that can be described as scarce. If something is not completely abundant, such as (for now) oxygen, it can be appropriated by someone who by the law of capitalist states becomes its "owner". That commodity remains in the ownership of that person (human or corporate) until it is sold with the seller's objective being to maximise the difference in value between what it took to acquire the item and what can be obtained from a purchaser. On such an elevated and considered level are the wonderful, diverse products of our unimaginably complex biosphere costed, traded and eventually used up, in spite of their often being irreplacable. This is why, for example, oil companies have no fear about the melting of the ice caps - rather they see this as a brilliant market opportunity to drill for oil in the deep waters of the Arctic.

Similarly, as water becomes scarcer, we have the head of Nestle, which uses massive quantities of water in Third World countries to produce fizzy drinks and even "water" for use by First World consumers, declare access to water is not a public right. Rather, it can be commodified, bought and sold by rich multinationals - and as this same corporatocracy has bought up governments as well, the law makes any attempt to bypass the overweening power of big business' ownership of even the basic essentials of human life increasingly difficult. For example, in one African country, a western firm running the privatised water industry for a time even succeeded in banning impoverished peasants from collecting rainwater. Popular protest led to their eventual ejection and the renationalising of the water industry. But it remains a fact that the neoliberal elite will happily deploy state power on behalf of itself - in fact, while preaching the virtues of free markets, these privateers in truth skew and bypass markets in ways Stalin only dreamt of. (It is notable that bans on "rainwater harvesting" are now spreading to states within the USA, with Utah and Colorado criminalising anyone who puts so much as a bucket out to collect water in the driest states of the Union - where water, as a commodity, could scarcely be more precious or profitable).

But in the midst of this we get companies claiming to care, offering well-branded "help" to the very people they are screwing over - like the fracking company Chevron, which sent a pizza voucher to residents after an explosion near their town. If it wasn't so devastatingly tragic, it might be laughable - but it isn't. It is real. Can anyone seriously argue that this system with its mindset of dog-eat-dog acquisition can be sustained or reformed? In any other context would anyone even remotely buy the farcical claim that lots of cut-throat competing individuals acting to the maximum of self-interest somehow synergise into fostering the public good? Or enhance and share the common weal?

This video by the Australian environmental movement sums up the truth and says what the sociopaths on the make who control such a swathe of our economic activity and own so much of our planet are really saying to the rest of us, the suckers they leech from day after day after day. Some of them are even trying to copyright our DNA - yours and mine; our very essence, owned by someone else. But then this is the very imperative of the system - to extract value from others and accumulate endlessly; to view everything as ultimately capable of being finitely priced; where need rewards greed. Where everything is costed, but nothing, in the end, is truly valued.

So watch this and get to the heart of how it works. No apologies for bad language. It's what they are doing to all of us, our world and its future right now as you read this.

My thanks to Jack Lindblad, candidate for Los Angeles City Council, for linking to this video. More on his campaign HERE

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