Capitalism: A Ghost Story
By Arundhati Roy
In a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s one hundred richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.
In India the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post–International Monetary Fund (IMF) “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with the ghosts of 250,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty Indian rupees a day.
According to the rules of the Gush-Up Gospel, the more you have, the more you can have. The era of the Privatization of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world.
It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.
In India the land of millions of people is being acquired and handed over to private corporations for “public interest”.
As always, local people are promised that their displacement from their land and the expropriation of everything they ever had is actually part of employment generation.
One of the biggest armies in the world is now preparing its Terms of Engagement to “defend” itself against the poorest, hungriest, most malnourished people in the world. We only await the declaration of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which will give the army legal impunity and the right to kill “on suspicion.”
In the sparsely populated but militarized northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, 168 big dams are being constructed, most of them privately owned.High dams that will submerge whole districts are being constructed in Manipur and Kashmir, both highly militarized states where people can be killed merely for protesting power cuts.
Given that the World Bank has more or less directed the economic policies of the Third World, coercing and cracking open the market of country after country for global finance, you could say that corporate philanthropy has turned out to be the most visionary business of all time.
Corporate-endowed foundations administer, trade, and channel their power and place their chessmen on the chessboard through a system of elite clubs and think tanks, whose members overlap and move in and out through the revolving doors.
As the IMF enforced structural adjustment and arm-twisted governments into cutting back on public spending on health, education, child care, development, the NGOs moved in.
The Privatization of Everything has also meant the NGO-ization of Everything.
The corporate or foundation-endowed NGOs are global finance’s way of buying into resistance movements, literally as shareholders buy shares in companies, and then try to control them from within. They sit like nodes on the central nervous system, the pathways along which global finance flows.
Armed with their billions, these NGOs have waded into the world, turning potential revolutionaries into salaried activists, funding artists, intellectuals, and filmmakers, gently luring them away from radical confrontation, ushering them in the direction of multiculturalism, gender equity, community development—the discourse couched in the language of identity politics and human rights.
This is not to suggest that human rights don’t matter. They do, but they are not a good enough prism through which to view or remotely understand the great injustices in the world we live in.
Community development, leadership development, human rights, health, education, reproductive rights, AIDS, orphans with AIDS—have all been hermetically sealed into their own silos, each with its own elaborate and precise funding brief.
Funding has fragmented solidarity in ways that repression never could.
Poverty, too, like feminism, is often framed as an identity problem. As though the poor had not been created by injustice but are a lost tribe who who just happen to exist, and can be rescued in the short term by a system of grievance redressal (administered by NGOs on an individual, person-to-person basis), and whose long-term resurrection will come from Good Governance.
Having worked out how to manage governments, political parties, elections, courts, the media, and liberal opinion, the neoliberal establishment faced one more challenge: how to deal with growing unrest, the threat of “peoples’ power.”
When Nelson Mandela took over as South Africa’s first Black president, he was canonized as a living saint, not just because he is a freedom fighter who spent twenty-seven years in prison but also because he deferred completely to the Washington Consensus.
Mandela gave South Africa’s highest civilian award—the Order of Good Hope—to his old friend and supporter General Suharto, the killer of communists in Indonesia. Today in South Africa, a clutch of Mercedes-driving former radicals and trade unionists rule the country. But that is more than enough to perpetuate the myth of Black liberation.
Do we need weapons to fight wars? Or do we need wars to create a market for weapons?
In the new cold war between the United States and China, India is being groomed to play the role Pakistan played as a US ally in the Cold War with Russia. (And look what happened to Pakistan.)
But despite having successfully powered through economic reforms, despite having waged wars and militarily occupied countries in order to put in place free market “democracies,” Capitalism is going through a crisis whose gravity has not revealed itself completely yet.
Trickledown failed. Now Gush-Up is in trouble too.
Major international corporations are sitting on huge piles of money, not sure where to invest it, not sure how the financial crisis will play out.
Despite their strategic brilliance, they seem to have trouble grasping a simple fact: Capitalism is destroying the planet. The two old tricks that dug it out of past crises—War and Shopping—simply will not work.
It may not be long before Corporate Corruption is made legal and renamed a Lobbying Fee.
While intrusive surveillance, Internet policing, and phone tapping and the clampdown on those who speak up becomes grimmer with every passing day, it’s odd how India is becoming the dream destination of literary festivals. Some are funded by the very corporations on whose behalf the police have unleashed their regime of terror.
Ever since the Great Depression, the manufacture of weapons and the export of war have been key ways in which the United States has stimulated its economy.
All these wars, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Vietnam, Korea, Latin America, have claimed millions of lives—all of them fought to secure “the American way of life.”
Today we know that “the American way of life”—the model that the rest of the world is meant to aspire toward—has resulted in four hundred people owning the wealth of half of the population of the United States. It has meant thousands of people being turned out of their homes and jobs while the US government bailed out banks and corporations.
As a result of twenty years of the Free Market economy, today one hundred of India’s richest people own assets worth one-fourth of the country’s GDP while more than 80 percent of the people live on less than fifty cents a day.
We call this progress and now think of ourselves as a superpower. Like you, we are well qualified, we have nuclear bombs and obscene inequality.
Capitalism reduced the idea of justice to mean just “human rights,” and the idea of dreaming of equality became blasphemous. We are not fighting to tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.