David Harvey’s Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism continues his series of books on capitalism, a series now more intensely focused due to the global financial crisis of recent years, a crisis which, of course, has not, unfortunately, prompted much in the way of remedies for the inequalities and instabilities of the global capitalist system.
Harvey is not opposed to globalisation per se – he suggests that the global availability of grain, for example, can (and should) alleviate famines in ways impossible a century ago. But he is critical of the misuse of globalisation, particularly when it comes to creating inequality of wealth. One of Harvey’s key points is that downward pressure on wages is no accident or side-effect. Those with the money want to make more money by lowering wages, in turn by removing obstacles to that pressure (government regulations or unionisation or state boundaries).
Trouble is, says Harvey, this leads to contradictions, including the fact that less wages might mean more profits for those at the top, but it also means less money for spending, which is necessary for the “health” of capitalism. In many ways, the more grossly unequal the distribution of wealth, the more instability is brought into the system. In Harvey’s view, capitalism’s nature is to, rather than run smoothly, lurch along. Crisis and intervention are somewhat inevitable. He points out that those normally in favour of unfettered capitalism were quite happy for the state to intervene when the banks were threatened. (And this resulted in thousands losing their homes, but the bankers retaining their bonuses.)
Harvey explains the economic mechanics, but behind it all is a moral position, one that he says is aligned with a religious point of view which sees the current obscene inequalities of wealth, and the deliberate manipulation of the system to ensure this status quo, as, quite simply, injustices.