An idiot’s overview of why Western capitalism is crashing

The idiot of the headline is me in the sense that I am not an economist and have never had any formal association with study of the theory and practise of economics, but… I began to understand why what is today called Western capitalism was bound to crash way back in the early 1970′s when I was researching and producing an epic documentary on the everyday reality of global poverty and its implications for all.

When I reflected on what I had witnessed and learned while researching in 120 countries (as well as at the World Bank and many UN agencies) and filming in 69 of them, I let commonsense be my guide. It led me to the conclusion that capitalism was not of itself the problem. It was the short-sighted and stupid way Western capitalism was managed.

Now I’ll put some flesh on that bone.

By the early 1970′s truly informed development experts were drawing attention to the fact that our one small planet was divided into two worlds – the Rich World containing about 20% of humankind (and known in development jargon as the North), and the Poor World containing about 80% of humankind (and known in development jargon as the South).

In the Poor World an estimated 15 million children under five were dying each year from malnutrition and related and easily preventable diseases such as diahorrea, measles and whooping cough – in a word poverty, abject poverty. And an estimated 300 million more were born brain damaged because of malnutrition in the wombs of their mothers. But those statistics told only a part of the story. The majority of the human inhabitants of Planet Earth were living on the margins of life, without some and in many cases all of the basic necessities for life – shelter, adequate nutrition, clean water, health care, education and work/job opportunities. On each and every continent I asked the poorest parents what was the one thing they most wanted. This was before the age of the mobile telephone and I expected many of them to say a television or some such gadget. What they all said in their various ways echoed one of the poorest Indian women. Her answer was, “Education for my children so they don’t have to live like animals as we do.”

The rich nations were creating their wealth by selling goods and services. It followed that if this wealth creating process was to have a sustainable future and Rich World citizens were to enjoy ever rising material standards of living as promised by their politicians, the global market place needed more and more consumers with the purchasing power to buy what the Rich World nations had to sell.

If the managers of Western capitalism (corporate chiefs, bankers and politicians) had not been short-sighted and stupid, they would have said to themselves something like the following. “If we don’t now invest in the development of the poor of the world and bring them progressively into the market place with purchasing power, we are going to run out customers in the numbers needed to buy what we have to sell in order to sustain our system.”

If the necessary investment had been made over 10, 15 and even 20 years, (it would have needed that amount of time in order to guarantee that the money and other development assistance provided could be absorbed and put to best use with minimum corruption), victory in the war against global poverty and underdevelopment – the only war that matters – would have been assured. To give just one example… The disastrous population drift from the rural areas where there was a future to the urban centres where there was not and is not a future for many of the drifters could have been halted and even reversed.

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