Thursday, January 03, 2008

Oliver James and Capitalism

I won't go down the road of saying that there are two types of capitalism , selfish and unselfish , but Oliver James does have some interesting points to make as a clinical psychologist about mental health .

He says

Selfish Capitalism stokes up relative materialism: unrealistic aspirations and the expectation that they can be fulfilled. It does so to stimulate consumerism in order to increase profits and promote short-term economic growth. Indeed, I maintain that high levels of mental illness are essential to Selfish Capitalism, because needy, miserable people make greedy consumers and can be more easily suckered into perfectionist, competitive workaholism.

The real wage of the average English-speaking person has remained the same - or, in the case of the US, decreased - since the 1970s.The top 1% of British earners have doubled their share of the national income since 1982, from 6.5% to 13%, FTSE 100 chief executives now earning 133 times more than the average wage (against 20 times in 1980); and under Brown's chancellorship the richest 0.3% nobbled over half of all liquid assets (cash, instantly accessible income), increasing their share by 79% during the last five years.
Mental illness in both children and adults since the 1970s as reported by World Health Organisation and nationally representative studies in the United States, Britain and Australia, reveal that it almost doubled between the early 80s and the turn of the century.

What does the damage is the combination of inequality with the widespread relative materialism of Affluenza - placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances and fame when you already have enough income to meet your fundamental psychological needs. With overstimulated aspirations and expectations, the entrepreneurial fantasy society fosters the delusion that anyone can be Alan Sugar or Bill Gates, never mind that the actual likelihood of this occurring has diminished since the 1970s.
A Briton turning 20 in 1978 was more likely than one doing so in 1990 to achieve upward mobility through education. Nonetheless, in the Big Brother/ It Could Be You society, great swaths of the population believe they can become rich and famous, and that it is highly desirable. This is most damaging of all - the ideology that material affluence is the key to fulfilment and open to anyone willing to work hard enough. If you don't succeed, there is only one person to blame - never mind that it couldn't be clearer that it's the system's fault, not yours.

Depressed or anxious, you work ever harder. Or maybe you collapse and join the sickness benefit queue, leaving it to people shipped in to do the low-paid jobs that society has taught you are too demeaning - let alone the unpaid ones, like looking after children or elderly parents, which are beneath contempt in the Nouveau Labour liturgy.

Unfortunately , Oliver James doesn't quite grasp that it is Capitalism per se that is at fault and his comparisons between "selfish" and "unselfish" capitalism is just a debate about degree and perhaps particular historic social developments of capitalism in various parts of the world .

His hope of " a passionate, charismatic, probably female leader who advocates the Unselfish Capitalism " that will reduce consumerism and inequality and create a sustainable ecologically sound world is a forlorn doomed hope . He still has a lot to learn about Capitalism . There is no nice or bad capitalism .

The basic theme of Fromm’s The Sane Society is that capitalism, because it encourages competition between individuals, pitting them against each other in a rat race for power, privilege and prestige, is a society that is incompatible with human nature. It is an “insane society”, a “sick society”. Only a society based on co-operation and community is a sane society as one which properly meets the psychological needs of human beings for a sense of belonging; not just a sense of belonging but a state of actually belonging to a real community. Only socialism can offer that . Although capitalism continually seeks to reduce us to isolated social atoms who only collide in the marketplace as buyers and sellers, the basic human need for community still expresses itself even if in distorted and perverted forms - racism, nationalism and religion. Capitalism can try to suppress the human need for co-operation and community but will never be able to succeed.

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