The Narrow Framing of Debate on Capitalism Stifles Democracy

“This must be a nation where people have a voice, [and] we don’t have a voice anymore”; so said a Brazilian protester quoted in the Guardian. This comment could so easily have been made by a European or an American.

The sentiment is clear. People’s worries are ignored, and they have no faith in their politicians. Ordinary people feel let down; they see their politicians as part of the plutocracy that governs their lives, regardless of who wins the election. Politicians have merged into the 1% who are unaffected by the austerity and hardships visited on the rest of society. The wealth and income gap between the 1% and the rest is getting even wider.

In a democracy politicians are supposed to be able to empathize with the ordinary voter; alas that is no longer the case. The 1% and politicians have formed an international elite class, whose members have far more in common with each other regardless of nationality, culture, religion etc., than they have with their fellow countrymen.

The three main parties in the UK have morphed into a monolith with insignificant differences between them. A cartoon in the Guardian by Martin Rowson sums up the Labour party with the caption “Vote Labour – just don’t expect anything”. That may be a little harsh, but not by much.

Life for so many has become like running on a treadmill, with someone continuously increasing the speed, and running faster and faster just to stay still. Those who can’t keep up just fall off, with the state providing only enough support to keep them breathing. Those on the treadmill who are anxious to avoid falling off work harder and harder, only to see their efforts going into obscene salaries at the top and enhancing corporations’ profits. Their wages are falling in real terms, and are barely enough to pay for life’s necessities. People in Brazil, Europe, US and beyond, though they may not know what the alternatives are, know instinctively that the status quo with the obscene disparity in income and wealth between the 1% and the rest is wrong.

I am not anti-capitalism; I lived in Russia for a year in the early seventies when it was under communism and I know what an oppressive, inefficient system it was. Capitalism, however, needs to be controlled by laws, rules and regulations; it should not be the manipulator and the master of politicians. The crash happened because our politicians had abandoned their supervisory role, and more or less allowed financiers and bankers to set their own rules.

What rules, regulation and reforms we as a society should enact ought to receive a wider debate than hitherto has been the case. Restricting the discussion to establishment figures and the main parties is a disservice to democracy. Lest we forget, these are not the ones that are suffering because of the crash, and many have benefited from the neoliberal economics that led to it.

A major contributor to the crash has been the reckless lending by the banks, using their ability to create money out of thin air that inflated house prices with the inevitable collapse of that bubble. This is how the research and campaign group PositiveMoney puts it:

“Our current economic crisis was caused by banks creating too much money, and too much debt. Now over 97% of the money in our economy is based on debt.”

Our mainstream media, and particularly the broadcasting ones, conduct news and discussions within well defined limits and parameters, vindicating Noam Chomsky saying: “”The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”. I haven’t heard the BBC seriously discuss many of the well-thought-out proposals on the PositiveMoney website!

What about the government’s response to the crash? Why are many of the policies advocated by the Green Party rarely, if ever, featured in programmes such as Question Time, or Today, on radio 4? Sustainability should be the guiding principle at the heart of our industrial and economic policies. Investment in renewables and energy efficiency that address climate change and create jobs in the green economy deserve to be mainstream, worthy of a wider audience. The BBC is funded by us, the taxpayers, and has a duty to bring fresh, innovative ideas concerning society and the economy to the populace.

And what about the Labour Party; what alternative is it offering the electorate? People are looking for more than tweaking this policy or that. In fact, why doesn’t it adopt many of the Green policies and make them its own; such a move would transform the chances of both parties, and inject some hope and enthusiasm for politics, invigorating democracy in the process.

People worldwide are looking for fundamental changes in the way capitalism works, and they want honest principled politicians to lead them; minor adjustments at the edges will not cut it

Adnan Al-Daini (PhD, Birmingham University, UK) is a retired University Engineering lecturer. He is a British citizen born in Iraq. He writes regularly on issues of social justice and the Middle East. Read other articles by Adnan.