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Musings from inside the soup

I seem to have been scooting around the country quite a bit already this year, and although it's nice to get up north or into the countryside (and even better when you can do both), there's still something magical about London that you don't find in places like the Peak District (where I was last weekend).

This city is like one big vat of cultural soup. You've got all different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, hair colours, shoe sizes, etc, etc all in one place, and other than a few nutters who want to rid the world of all the people who's toe nails are too long, everyone gets on fairly harmoniously.

However, this doesn't stop us getting all protectional about any other cultures coming into the soup, as they might steal our jobs. Strange really, as I've never met anyone who's owned a job, only people who get paid for doing them.

This evening, I wandered over to a debate on "Capitalism vs Socialism". The Capitalism side was given by someone from the Adam Smith institute with the SPGB arguing for Socialism, so it was more "this capitalist system is pants, what's the more ideal theoretical alternative free markets or common ownership". One of the arguments came down to which would be more efficient at providing aid to the third world.

Certainly one of the major problems of the world inequality of wealth, especially between nations. While it's nice that everyone has been enthusiastic about sending aid to Haiti recently, there's always suffering and those worse off than us even when it's not hitting the news headlines.

However much we try to do things like growing crops in the desert, we are always going to be in a situation where some places have more abundant supplies of certain resources than others. If I'm hungry in a room with a buffet at the other end, it's going to be far more effective for me to go over to the buffet to get food rather than for others to bring it to me.

Come winter when food becomes short, birds don't lay down in their nests and have aid flown in from their friends on the continent to help them survive. Instead many of them fly south to where the food is, but then they don't have to worry about passports, visas and immigration controls.

It's good to provide aid to these places, but if you truly want to give them equal access to the resources we have, the only way to do this is to give them the access to come and get them. Then the fundamental issue of a system based on competition such as capitalism, whether or not you have free markets, is that competition isn't about being equal anyway. Who plays games aiming for a draw?

Is capitalist competition necessary to drive our development though? I'm not convinced. OK, you get product innovation from companies trying to get one step ahead of their competition, but you've also got things like free software. OK, some of these have more than a little capitalist input, but you've also got the millions of little applications written by people tapping away at their computers in their free time in the middle of the night (who know why they do it, but they seem perfectly happy). Many of these may be pretty much dead, only going ping if your really lucky and poke them enough, but in amongst these you get Goliath programs that can sort your entire life out, whilst creating world peace and making the tea.

Even if you put the equality issues to one side, you still face the fact that, if you drive the production-consumption flow from the production end, then you will end up with people consuming far more than they actually need and place a greater burden on the world's resources. If you buy the top of the range mobile phone one week, there is really no need to upgrade to the next model the following week just because it's got an extra pixel in the bottom right hand corner, but the producer will try to convince you otherwise as it's in their best interest to do so.

I still remain unconvinced that the world's problems are solvable within a capitalist system as it seems to push us in the entirely wrong direction no matter how you tweak it.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
6th Feb, 2010 00:23 (UTC)
OK, yes, there aren't the resources there to give all those people our way of life, but equality not only means bringing the quality of life of those worse off up, but also accepting that those of us in the western world will have to compromise on ours.

There is no reason why we deserve this way of life more than they do and the only way to give them equal access to it is to allow free access to all.

Limits like this only act to deny fair and equal access to the worlds resources, so that those of us from privileged western backgrounds can live like kings while others starve.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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