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The social power of money and the neoliberal capitalist model of development

 

 

By Raju J Das[1]

July 7, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The current model of development being pursued in the world is a combination of an attack on democratic rights and immiserizing capitalist economic growth at the expense of common people’s livelihood.[2] In this model, even slaughter of certain animals (cows) is to be prohibited (as in India), but the slaughter of living human beings, if they belong to a particular religion or a class-stratum (migrant workers, low-income African-Americans, Indian Muslims), can be encouraged or allowed. The fact that millions of human beings, of different races, religions and ethnic backgrounds die untimely death due to lack of food and medicine, etc. or that millions are malnourished can be well tolerated.[3] While the world’s focus has been on COVID-19, the disease caused by the  novel coronavirus and the deaths caused by the disease (and rightly so), it is important to remember that malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease in the world. 

In the prevalent model of development, the profits of business owners, irrespective of their religious, racial or any other background, comes far ahead of people, regardless of their social-cultural identities. The point is not just that people are suffering because they lack money, which is the most general means of getting access to the things one needs. It is also the case that people’s suffering could contribute to the lack of money. For example, while millions do not have the income to buy proper food on a regular basis, this very fact leads to the loss of income: 

The cost to the economy caused by malnutrition could be up to 5 percent of GDP — US$3.5 trillion per year or US$500 per person. The costs of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are estimated at 2–3 percent of global GDP, or US$1.4–2.1 trillion per year.[4]

Power of money 

To meet human needs, all societies need to produce things (goods and services) such as food, medicine, healthcare, education, etc. But these things do not have to take the form of bearers of exchange-value: they do not have to be bought and sold for money and profit. 

Things solely in the form of bearers of exchange-value,[5] as in the neoliberal-capitalist system, and certain animals, artifacts, flags[6], symbols, statues, myths and places of worship, as in the reactionary-bourgeois decrepit cultural-political imagination that help reproduce capitalist economy dominated by money, are given greater importance than living human beings who have multiple (unmet) needs. The importance of things as bearers of exchange-value is connected to the importance of money with which almost anything can be brought under one’s control. Indeed, one thing that is common to the thinking and practice of all kinds of mainstream political parties in any country is this: the mania of money, the fetish of money, the idolization of money. This is the case whether money is seen in terms of economic growth or in any other way. 

The power of money is expressed in many ways.[7] If you have money, you can use it to destroy huge historical monuments and make a mockery of democratic principles, within a few days. If you are a criminal who is directly responsible for, or who is complicit in, the killing of innocent men, women and children as in sectarian riots, you can call yourself innocent and you can get people to declare you as innocent, by using money to hire the smartest lawyers and by bribing or threatening anyone who might say anything against you. Democracy, including the rule of law, has increasingly become a toy in the hands of those who have a lot of money.

If you have money, even without much education, you can be a great orator: just hire speech writers and media spin-machines. As a political leader, you may put in place anti-people policies but spend money to advertise them as the most people-friendly ones. If you have no power to convince people to vote for you, you can win elections by spending millions to make people believe in your ideas displayed on TV, etc., and to bribe poverty-stricken voters. If you have money, you can hire goondas (hired thugs) to intimidate people into voting for you. If, as the leader of a party, you fail to get a clear majority even after influencing voters with money, you can buy some of the elected leaders and make them change their party loyalty: politicians winning from one party shamelessly jump to another party after the election (as we see so often in India). If you have money, you can bribe enough politicians to get certain legislation passed, even if these are against the interests of the masses and even if these merely satisfy the interests of imperialist businesses, imperialist governments and the domestic big business. 

The power of money is reflected in the fact that important segments of society — politicians, bureaucrats, cricket-players and natural resources (mines and airwaves), along with many other things — are all auctioned to the highest bidder, even if the process corrupts a democratic public culture and hurts the material interests of the majority. The ways in which liberal democracy can meet people’s needs are limited, thanks to the fact that liberal democracy can basically do nothing against the system where money must be invested to make money. And the limited ways in which liberal democracy can meet people’s needs under people’s pressure from below are further restricted because specific moneybags routinely buy the decision-making power of politicians and bureaucrats inside a liberal democracy. Money talks. Money rules.

Capitalist class relation includes the economic and ideological rule of money. This means that the state must protect a society with dialectically-connected attributes. The first attribute is that the majority, who must rely on the sale of labour power (or sale of small amount of products of their labour power, as small-scale producers) have less money than they need and therefore cannot enjoy an acceptable quality of life and cannot develop their latent potential — i.e. they are ‘less’ than what they can be. Indeed, their physical reproduction is always in doubt. 

The second attribute of the modern society is that the ultra-rich (the top 10-20% or so) have the money they need to meet all of their needs and indeed have the money, as noted earlier, to invest and exploit others from whom they make money. The people from this 10-20% can be more than what they actually are. 

The power of money is really the power of these people. They may be stupid but they can buy oratorical skills. They may know nothing about a foreign country but they go on foreign tours at the public expense to fix a country’s international relations issues. They know little about economic development dynamics but can give lectures to people about sabka vikas (development for all). They may be school or college dropouts or they may be no smarter than an average educated person but they, as owners of big businesses, decide whether you and I will eat tomorrow.

That money is deified can be expressed in these lines from the famous Indian sage, Vyasa (2nd line paraphrased slightly): 

‘I salute lord Madhava because of whose grace a person who cannot speak can become eloquent and a person who cannot walk can cross mountains’. In a society that deifies money, replace God with money.

In this contemporary context, one is reminded of the following lines, written more than 150 years ago by Karl Marx on the power of money in his famous Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts[8]:

The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my — the possessor’s — properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality.

I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness — its deterrent power — is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame.

I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless?...

Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

What do the people without (much) money do then?

If poverty is partly about the “lack of money”, a condition that is sustained by the state, irrespective of which parties manage the affairs of the state whose main job is to manage the common affairs of the propertied classes, then what is to be done to resolve the following massive contradiction whether in India or elsewhere: a lot of money at one pole and very little money at another?[9]

For a start, the majority, including the poorest — men and women workers and small-scale producers, of all castes and communities — must make demand on the state around “radical needs” such as: secure jobs with a living wage for all; quality education, healthcare and housing for all; decent old-age pension; adequate credit and assets to small-scale producers; and a good environment.[10] They must fight to protect their democratic rights (free speech and assembly, etc.) and for protection against gender and caste oppression as a part of their fight against the propertied classes. They must fight for all these things whether or not the system says it can deliver these, and without any illusion that the system will meet their demands. 

One may ask: which of these two statements is true: the system will meet people’s needs, or the system will not meet people’s needs?

The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. [People] must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, …in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.[11]

Exactly. Mao’s (1937) ideas about practice echo the above lines from Marx:

Man's social practice is not confined to activity in production, but takes many other forms — class struggle, political life, scientific and artistic pursuits; in short, as a social being, man participates in all spheres of the practical life of society. 

Mao continues:

Of these other types of social practice, class struggle in particular, in all its various forms, exerts a profound influence on the development of man's knowledge. In class society everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.[12]

By actually engaging in class struggle, i.e. by fighting for what people need and by critically reflecting on that experience on the basis of history and theory, people will get the answer to the question posed above. People will see in practice that the system will not and cannot meet people’s needs. This is because between the need of the moneybags to make money and people’s need for food, shelter, medicine, etc., the system will prioritize the former. 

“Making money for the sake of money” — this is the driving force of the system. That system is not designed to meet people’s needs. It makes people rely on money to meet their needs, and it stops people from having enough money to have access to the things they need. That is because people do not have control over the production of things. Therefore, apart from fighting for certain things such as food, shelter, education, healthcare, etc., people must be aware of the inevitable need to fight for the direct democratic control over landed and financial aristocrats and over capitalist monopolies, especially, banks and the monopolies which control the production of goods and services (e.g. food, seeds, medicines, houses, clothes, utilities), without which radical needs cannot be met and people cannot live like humans and in harmony with nature. Gradually, the power that money has now will cease to exist. 

Raju J Das is a Professor at York University, Toronto. Email: rajudas@yorku.ca

Notes

[1] This article draws on Das, Raju. 2020. The Political Economy of New India: Critical Essays,  Aakar: Delhi.

[2] This is manifested partly as rabid communalism in India (Das, R. J. 2020. Critical Reflections on Economics and Politics in India: A Class Theory Perspective. Leiden/Boston: Brill). This is also partly manifested as racism as in the United States.

[3] According to the Food and Agricultural Organization: “A total of 842 million are estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger, regularly not getting enough food to conduct an active life. …In developing countries, almost five million children under the age of five die of malnutrition-related causes every year. …Malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease in the world.” (http://www.fao.org/zhc/hunger-facts/en/ )

[4] Ibid.

[5] This way of describing things means that food and shelter and electricity, etc. have the power to meet our needs but whether they do so depends on whether a certain part of society can make money by producing and selling these things to the vast majority.

[6] These include the flag of the Confederate States of America, which was an unrecognized republic comprising racist slave-holding states that warred against the US during the Civil War. 

[7] Of course, the power of money exists at two levels: 1) The fact that people need access to money to meet their needs shows the power of money; and 2) The fact that the power of money exists only when money exists in a significant amount relative to the thing one wishes to buy with it. With respect to the latter, one should note that: the power of money in relation to buying the things one needs (e.g. food, shelter, etc.) is different from the power of money when one can buy other people’s labour power and extract work from others to make profit (or when one can buy up a lot of land and then extract rent from direct producers). In the latter context, the law of the transformation of quantity into quality works: the 15 dollars that one has in one’s pocket can help one buy some food but will not be enough for one to be a capitalist, but when that amount increases to 15 million dollars, one can become a capitalist. And then, the power of money is very important in the arena of bourgeois politics (as well as in the sphere of family relations).

[8] Marx, Karl. 1844. ‘The power of money’. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/power.htm

[9] Since access to money is translated into access to wealth, this contradiction can be expressed as: A lot of wealth at one pole and very little money at another?

[10] Yes, a good environment must be a part of the economic demand of workers. See Das, R. J. 2018. “Ecological Sustainability, Inequality and Social Class” https://socialistproject.ca/2018/02/ecological-sustainability-inequality-social-class/

[11] Marx, Karl. 1845. Theses on Feuerbach. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm

[12] Mao. 1937. ‘On practice: On the Relation Between Knowledge and Practice, Between Knowing and Doing’. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_16.htm

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