Northern Dragon

… life in the twilight years of modern-day democracy …

The Sickness Within

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

— Edward Abbey, American author and essayist

There is a sickness within capitalism. It is endemic, part of the system, and thus very difficult to fix. It is also largely ignored these days, except when it manifests in its most blatant and symptomatic form: monopolies.

Monopolies, however, are only a symptom. The underlying disease is quite different and, to the best of my knowledge, does not even have a name. And yet we see it all around us every day. Slow, creeping, inevitable.

The multinationals, the vast, globe-spanning companies, are growing…

Economists generally believe that modern corporations follow a natural life cycle of “inception – growth – stagnation – death” just as if they were alive. And to some extent, they actually do as we saw, for instance, in the sudden decline and near-death experience of Nokia after Apple introduced the iPhone.

But take a closer look, and you will see where that theory falls short. For what happened was not that Nokia died, but that its phone business was taken over by another company, Microsoft, who wanted to enter the market. That particular bid failed, but Microsoft is still going strong and one of the most valuable companies in the world today.

And this is a pattern which plays out again and again. Companies build themselves up, and then – as they are on the verge of achieving success (or, in the case of Nokia, when they are failing) – they are bought up, wholly or partially, by other players who are in the market – or want to enter it.

This is a favourite tactic of multinational corporations today. Eat the small fish before they grow up to be a danger. Innovate by proxy – while killing off the would-be competitors.

It works fabulously.

Where we earlier would have seen small, agile and innovative companies grow up to challenge and – in time – take down the mastodons, now … the mastodons methodically swallow up the minnows, often before they even get to the nuisance stage.

And all the while they grow. And grow. And grow.

Now, you may well wonder – why does that matter? What is it to me?

It matters because wealth is power. It matters because all the riches of the Earth are being sucked up by the 0.001%. It matters because our children and our children’s children will live in a world where the ultra-rich own everything while the rest of us have virtually nothing. It matters because power – economical, political – is running in a steady stream into the hands of the few. The very few. And concentrated power, whatever its form, is poison for a democracy.

It matters because we are watching the birth of a world owned – and controlled – by the all-pervasive interests of megacorporations.

We are not there – yet. Not quite. It is early days still; it is new, this world, barely born. But already the megacorps are spreading their tentacles throughout all of society. We see them all the time – see them, and ignore them. They are part of the scenery, a “natural” part of the world in which we live. Everywhere. And the only time we really notice them is when something untoward happens. Like BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, or the Volkswagen “dieselgate” scandal.

The cereal you eat in the morning? Nestlé. The gas you fill in your car? BP. The car itself? VW. The smartphone you check on the road? Apple. The shoes you are wearing? Nike. The clothing you wear? H&M. The music you listen to? Warner. The books you read? Amazon. The search engine I used to verify all of this? Google. And the list goes on and on and on…

Literally. Everywhere.

Being that large is not only a question of being able to produce a lot of goods. It means control. It means power. The raw stuff. The I-can-damn-well-tell-you-what-to-do kind of stuff.

That chicken you just bought in the supermarket somewhere in the States? It was produced by a chicken farmer in West Virginia. He has two poultry houses. Each house is 624 feet long and holds 45,000 chickens. The companies that dominate poultry farming give their growers eight weeks per flock: six weeks to rear the chicks and make them as fat as possible; two weeks to clean out the houses for the next batch.

The stench is… unbelievable.

Americans, like most people, tend to romanticise rural life. In reality, almost every farming sector is dominated by a few giant corporations. And chicken farmers? The one who reared that chicken you bought? He gets an average rate of 21 cents each. 21 cents. That is the rate this year. And last year. And the year before that… as it was the rate 15 years ago when he first went to the bank for a loan to build that farm. For he does not have the clout to ask for more. Which means he makes, at most, $7.000 a year, after costs. In a good year, that is.

It is the job of politicians to work in the best interest of their voters. We vote them into power so that they can serve us, not the other way round. And indeed, politicians do tend to pay attention to “big business.” So much so, in fact, that it may be difficult at times to differentiate between the attention served and actual servitude.

So here is a thought. The megacorporations of today are big enough that they can get states like New York and countries like Ireland to offer them special tax breaks and competitive advantages. Think about that for a bit – corporations so huge that states and countries with millions of citizens bow and scrape and offer them “special deals” to accommodate them.

And… they are still growing.

What is going to happen tomorrow?

Northern Dragon © 2019. All rights reserved.

Categories: Reflection

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. And many of the multinationals are now larger and more powerful than governments. Which makes a farce of what we so cheerily call democracy. The question of our age, I think, is how we are to take control.

    Liked by 1 person

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