The Four Horsemen of the 21st Century Apocalypse

Over the past four decades the world has been plunged into an economic dark age. While the rich get richer and tighten their grip on power, the poor find it increasingly difficult to survive and more importantly find themselves excluded from the institutions that make the laws. It is no accident after forty years of this failed experiment the level of disillusionment with the political and economic process is rapidly increasing.

During the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, the Age of Revolution dramatically changed the role of the state. The state was primarily the mechanism by which those with power and wealth maintained that power and wealth in the most brutal fashion. The Age of Revolution loosened the grip the ruling class held on the state and forced the state to take an active interest in the welfare of its citizens. The state was transformed from an instrument whose primary purpose was to ensure those who exercised power continued to exercise power into an instrument by which the basic human needs of its citizens were met. The provision of public education, public health, the building of public infrastructure, the growth of a dual economy where the public sector competed with the private sector, the introduction of laws and regulations to protect working people and the introduction of social security benefits for the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed and single parents occurred as a direct result of mass upheavals. The deaths and imprisonment of millions of people around the globe was the price that was paid by those who demanded the inalienable rights and liberties they believed they were born with.

Over the past 40 years we have witnessed a counter-revolution by those who exercised power that is rapidly transforming the state back into an instrument of oppression.

This has occurred because people do not seem to understand how the rights and liberties they enjoy today were won. It is no accident the trade union movement has been legislated out of existence and workers cannot withdraw their labour without criminal sanctions. It’s no accident people receiving social security benefits are portrayed as bludgers. It’s no accident those who exercise power and acquire wealth are accorded God like status. It’s no accident political representatives no longer represent the interests of those who elect them.

It’s important we understand how this has occurred. A people who do not know their history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. To a significant degree these radical changes have occurred as a result of a postmodern revolution. A revolution based on implementing a deregulation, globalisation, corporatisation, privatisation agenda that has rolled back the gains of the last century.

Deregulation

Current economic orthodoxy is based on the concept that business profitability is inhibited by red tape, green tape and black tape. We’re told, ad nauseum, by business we as a country must embrace deregulation to increase profitability and employment. Although a small (very small) amount of the regulations in place may inhibit business profitability, the great bulk of current regulations are there to protect workers, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged from exploitation both from government and the business sector.

Green tape environmental legislation has been put in place to protect the environment and the community. Black tape protects indigenous Australians and gives them the opportunity to overcome the exploitation they’ve experienced since 1788. Workplace safety regulations are in place to ensure workers go home in one piece at the end of the day. The call for deregulation by the corporate sector and conservative governments is based on the fallacy the marketplace is best able to regulate itself.

If many of the safety regulations that exist at worksites were removed, it wouldn’t be long before workers would be paid a dollar an hour (if they’re lucky) and children would be working in the mines as they were in 19th century England. Most regulations are in place to protect consumers, citizens, workers, the exploited and the environment. Can you imagine the shortcuts that would be taken on building sites if no building regulations existed? Obviously regulations eat into corporate profits but without the majority of current regulations, the community and the individual would bear the cost for increased business and corporate profitability.

Paradoxically, while the corporate sector beats down the government of the day on the question of regulation, regulations which cover personal behaviour and receipt of Centrelink benefits have dramatically increased over the past decade. The one in three Australians (currently over 8 million) who rely on Centrelink payments are drowning in a sea of regulations and suffer the very real possibility of having benefits terminated if they unwittingly break one of the many laws that regulate the social security network.

The call for wholesale deregulation has nothing to do with helping the community and individuals and everything to do with removing legal protections (regulations) that protect the community and the individual from exploitation to maximise corporate profitability.

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we are willing to lose hard won rights both in the workplace and the community to increase returns to the major shareholders of corporations whose major responsibility is to maximise profits irrespective of the human, social, national and environmental costs. I’d personally prefer to put up with a few unnecessary regulations than allow the corporate sector to do what they like. Have a look at the type of life people lead in parts of the world where corporations only pay lip service to regulations. Next time some corporate economic guru waxes lyrical about the need for deregulation, tell them to get back in their Ferrari as you’re not going to trade hard earned rights and liberties to increase corporate profitability.

Corporatisation

Corporatisation – big word, isn’t it?

Yep, it’s a big word. It’s a big word with a big impact on people, not just in Australia but around the world. We are constantly told capitalism is all about competition, aren’t we? We are told ad nauseum you need to compete to drive down prices and improve services. We are never told the end game of capitalism is the creation of monopolies. Why else would you need laws to force businesses to compete?! If capitalism was all about competition, you wouldn’t need anti-monopoly laws, would you?

Let’s get back to that big word, corporatisation. In essence it means the domination of the economy, culture and politics by unaccountable corporations whose major responsibility is to create ever increasing profits irrespective of the human, social, national and environmental costs. In Australia over the past 40 years every aspect of the economy is dominated by a handful of corporations. The lack of anti-monopoly legislation has allowed large corporations to dominate and take over their opposition, creating situations where a few corporations dominate human activity in specific spheres in Australia.

The example everybody is familiar with is the domination of the food distribution by Woolworths and Coles, while a few smaller players in the mix their ability t extend their market share is difficult to achieve. The introduction of Aldi (a corporate owned German supermarket chain) into the mix, over the past decade, has no impact on the domination of the field by a handful of corporations, it just adds one more corporation to the mix.

The problem with a handful of corporations dominating a particular field is they are able to dictate the parliamentary agenda. That doesn’t mean they tell parliament what to do, what it means is they exert so much power in the marketplace governments aren’t willing to introduce legislation to curb their power. They not only dominate the political agenda they are so economically powerful they dictate terms to producers and because of their buying power have a significant impact on small and micro business. Corporatisation does not only have an impact on the consumer, it has an impact on independent competitors, workers and society as a whole.

In Australia corporatisation is a particularly important issue. In the United States and much of Europe, anti-trust (monopoly) laws force companies that have grown too big to divest themselves of their interests. In Australia we have no such legislation in place, hence the huge impact corporations have on Australian society. Just think of Maccas, the media, health, food distribution and most other areas of day to day life are dominated by corporations, most of whom are listed on the stock exchange. They only have one goal, to maximise profits for their major shareholders.

Corporatisation is much, much more than an economic nightmare. It has an impact on all facets of human existence. It’s time we understood the problems it creates and force these corporations that think they are too big to fail, to divest themselves of some of their interests.

Privitisation

Privatisation, another big word with a simple meaning. Nineteenth and twentieth century revolutionary movements radically changed the role of the state. The main function of the state has traditionally centred around its ability to keep those in power, in power. The pressure for reforms has seen the state take an active interest in the welfare of its citizens. Rulers could no longer rely on exercising a monopoly on the use of force through the state to maintain power, they were forced to use the state apparatus to provide services for the people they ruled.

Public (publicly financed owned and run) enterprises were set up to provide essential services which the private sector was unwilling or unable to provide. The provision of social security benefits, publicly owned and run hospitals, schools, infrastructure, financial institutions, energy facilities, ports, airports, airlines are just a few examples of the publicly owned enterprises that were established. In some nation states the private sector was outlawed and all services were provided by state owned enterprises. In Australia a mixed economy which included both privately and publicly owned enterprises grew during the 20th century.

The dismissal of the Whitlam led Labor government in 1975 opened the flood gates to the privatisation mania. The Labor Party under Hawke and Keating began the selloff of Australia’s publicly owned enterprises. Publicly owned institutions like the Commonwealth Bank which was established by a Labor government in 1911 was sold to the private sector for a fraction of its real value. The selloff (privatisation) of publicly owned essential services was based on the fallacy the private sector delivered better services at a cheaper price. The reality has been very different. The strength of a publicly owned company has not only centred around its ability to provide services to people based on need, not the ability to pay, its strength has revolved around its ability to stop privately owned companies colluding to maximise their profits at the expense of the community. In a mixed economy publicly owned companies put a brake on the ability of privately owned enterprises setting prices that maximise shareholder profits at the expense of the community. Privatisation has decreased, not increased, competition.

Unfortunately, publicly owned enterprises never belonged to the people, they belonged to the government of the day, that’s why despite widespread community pressure governments continue to selloff the family silver to solve short term budgetary problems. In order for publicly owned enterprises in Australia to be owned by the people ownership of these assets needs to be incorporated into the Australian Constitution. Then and only then will a referendum be held every time a government wants to sell a public asset.

Globalisation

Globalisation – another big word, what does it mean? Globalisation is an integral part of the four horsemen of the 21st century apocalypse. I don’t apologise for sounding a little bit alarmist. As far as I'm concerned we should be alarmed.

Globalisation is all about removing legislation that prevents a handful of companies dominating the world economy. It’s no accident legalised tax evasion is such a huge issue in the 21st century.

Removing legislative barriers to the way transnational corporations are able to function in so called sovereign nation states has had a profound impact on almost every person on the planet. All you have to do is join the dots to find out the extent of their impact on society. Today the Turnbull led coalition government has declared war on the 1 in 3 Australians who rely on social security benefits to survive, it has been forced to squeeze 8 million Australians dry because it cannot get the revenue it needs to provide a viable social security net because it cannot extract tax from transnational corporations who continue to find exciting (for them) new ways to avoid tax.

In a year when one third of the richest 1500 companies in Australia legally paid no tax last year, in a year when Chevron, a multibillion dollar energy company, paid $256 tax (that’s right!) and Rupert Murdoch legally acquired an 850 million dollar tax refund from the Australian tax office in 2013 while making a tidy profit that same year, you begin to understand the impact globalisation has on the individual.

Although globalisation may have some cultural and political benefits for the individual, the economic damage it causes is incalculable. Economic globalisation has become a problem for everybody. You can encourage globalisation on a cultural and political level while putting measures in place to ensure global transnational corporations pull their weight.

We have become hostages to companies with a global reach. The impact they are having on the national community as a whole far outweighs any contribution they may make. Giving corporations carte blanch because they create jobs is totally unacceptable. They, like everybody else, should pull their weight . Jobs can be created in a number of ways, wealth can also be created in a different way. Any benefits that accompany globalisation are both short term and transient. It’s ironic successive Federal governments have made their political fortunes by thundering they will decide what refugees come to this country, while giving all transnational corporations the red carpet treatment when they knock on the door.

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