The Economic Web

By: Raja Amin Afzal

“You have to sell ice to an Eskimo in Siberia”! This was the first marketing debate assigned to the group I was a part of during an academic workshop, whereby the other group acted as ‘Eskimos’ and our task was to convince and persuade them to purchase ice even though glaciers are their abode. Then with the passage of time, I realized, this is what capitalism is doing with everyone.

Have you ever wondered how water and food that were once abundant in nature have been commodified and are now rendered out of the reach of have-nots? Nature had designed the ecosystem in a perfectly sustainable form to accommodate all the living beings in it. Oxygen is the primary need for all living beings (except some anaerobic microbes) and that is why nature made it 2nd most abundant gas in the earth’s atmosphere. Water, the 2nd basic need for all living things, covers more than 70% of the earth surface. Other necessary food items also once had a good natural abundance to sustain all the living beings.

And then with the intervention of human activities, the freely sustaining natural ecosystem started stumbling. Old forms of socio-economic systems especially slavery and then followed by feudalism added to its woes while the pinnacle of exacerbation was brought about by capitalism or the laissez faire economic system. Today oxygen is sold in hospitals as the naturally existing supply has been contaminated rendering it no longer breathable. As per WHO data, 90% people are breathing polluted air and an estimated 7 million people worldwide are succumbing to death each year due to this polluted air. Imagine how profitable the business of such a product would be which has the highest demand ever for anything with no other substitutes available to the consumers.

Potable water has already been rendered short in supply in nature (though it is in abundance if one can purchase from giants like Danone, Hint, Nestle, Pepsi and Coca Cola etc. who are exploiting this lucrative industry). The natural water cycle has been devastated due to constant contaminations and pollutions, thanks to rapid industrialization, rendering it both insufficient in quantity and substandard in quality. More than 80% of fresh water is consumed by industries and the agriculture sector. In spite of all this orchestrated shortage,  industries dealing in bottled water do not manufacture water by complex chemical reactions; all they do is to take available water from nature, purify it from the contaminants by applying distillation and filtration techniques and return it to the people quenching their lust for money. This is the approach, the system contaminates / destroys the naturally occurring resources and return these after slight modifications garnering huge money (a premise based akin to selling ice to an Eskimo leaving him / her with no alternative but to purchase).

For other products falling outside the spectrum of basic and physiological needs, a strong artificial need is created and then products are launched on the pretext to satisfy those false needs. Hundreds of products and services not once needed have been successfully transformed into a full-fledged need today.

Mesmerized by an ongoing litany of marketing and advertising cannonades, people are constrained to consume many products and services that they may have never even known of, had these widespread marketing gimmicks not in existence.  In all this transformation, nothing is considered ethical or eco-friendly; the only sine qua non is profit. Pornography is a lucrative business now, human trafficking is galore, voters and governments are traded for money like other commodities and diseases are fabricated on purpose to flog medical inventory. According to WHO, an estimated 12.6 million deaths each year are attributed to unhealthy environments mainly attributed to carbon emissions from mega factories, the founding pillars of modern capitalism. Above all, religious sermons are being sold by fleecing the followers.  Wars are instigated wittingly to succor the purveyors of weapons and military technology. ‘Nominal democracy’ in capitalism is rightly dubbed as ‘government of capitalists, by the capitalists and for the capitalists”.

The foregoing definition justifies itself in the face of outcomes / actions witnessed to date. Whenever the ism plunged into deep recessions pushing itself to the verge of extinction, it was only these ‘so-called democratic governments’ that came to its rescue by injecting multi-billion dollars bail-out packages sucked out from indigent masses. Never had such mammoth amounts been spent on the welfare of people. Based on the premise of ‘Might is Right’, all wealth is concentrated in the hands of an insignificant number of people. According to Oxafm, a global movement working for the eradication of poverty, the world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than that owned by the lower 60% of the world population combined. Recent COVID 19 pandemic has shoved millions more under the poverty line. Strangely, in spite of all these devastating impacts brought by the pandemic, the billionaires’ worth is still increasing, which proves right the predictions by Karl Marx that the wealth will continue to accumulate in a few hands while exploitation of poor masses will continue to gain momentum. The resultant destitution coupled with worsen climate crises (and further saddled with current COVID pandemic) has engulfed millions of lives worldwide exposing the system’s fragility.

Ensnared in such an economic web, one finds it difficult to find a way out. All we know that nothing is permanent, change has been an inevitable part of history and will be. The economic model is subject to continuous alternating cycles of recessions and booms. Last economic recession that crippled the world economic order in 2007 -2009 was finally sustained by the application of devious tactics of bail-out packages, in the absence of a planned revolution that could have transformed the economic system into a new or modified form. Now, let’s wait for post pandemic -fueled -prospective recessions to see how the system sustains itself (if so), or else what will be the new form of transformation; will it be socialism / communism that will take over or a state-controlled mixture of dual models or something entirely new?

The writer is Qatar based freelance columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]