Analysing The Political Economy

Car-Crash Capitalism And The Fall Of Democracy

By Graham Vanbergen: For years, I have radiated the opinion that capitalism and democracy in the developed world are heading for a big fall – like a slow-motion car crash. The simple analogy is that a car has hit a large tree at speed. The damage in this slo-mo video, so far, is a disintegrating bumper and crumpling bonnet just as the airbag explodes into the face of the shocked and helpless driver. As the milliseconds pass, the fate of the car’s occupant is down to many factors now beyond his control.

There is a reality in Britain being played out in other developed countries that emulates this car crash scenario. It is one over which we, the public, have little control because the driver, a euphemism for civil society at large, was not informed of those changes in the road conditions.

Years ago, we could have seen that Thatcherism, neoliberal capitalism or trickle-down economics as it is termed today, without some constraint, was going to cause many problems. Examples such as the dreadful and fully privatised transport and water systems demonstrate the catastrophic failure of political and economic policy in Britain. Public health and defence have been slowly strangled by sleight-of-hand manoeuvres by the government to balance the books (without actually balancing anything, least of all – ‘the books’).

Deindustrialisation was replaced with a ‘services’ based economy. This enormous fork in the road has led to a new form of inequality, one based on geography. Decades later, in response, the government of the day created little more than a vote-winning cliche. The reality is that ‘levelling-up,’ as it is termed, is destined to fail because there is simply nowhere near enough money to replace what was taken from the North and gifted to the South. If you want a real answer to that question, ask Germany. Their reunification cost was over a trillion euros – money we don’t have and never will.

For forty years, British governments have known that the north/south divide was a big problem. For forty years, we’ve had cliche policies such as the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ (pushed by George Osborne), ‘Local Enterprise Partnerships‘  (pushed by another Tory, Jake Berry) and before that, the Regional Development Agency. None have succeeded – but they did sound good.

Another change in road conditions is human longevity. It is one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Average longevity in the developed world has doubled in 100 years. But a developed world counterbalance in the form of liberal principles came with it. One result is that plummeting birth rates mean the number of replacement taxpaying workers is crashing, and that is a dead certainty (pun intended) given its current trajectory. The reality is, we can’t afford it. The truth is we could – but we won’t because we don’t like the answer.

Climate change may not be obvious when looking out the window in Britain, that is, until you look at the number of economic migrants heading our way because of it. Those same migrants are causing political instability, most particularly in Western countries.

The handbrake could have been applied. Deindustrialisation could have been partially replaced with technology-driven manufacturing – but that was outsourced to nations with cheap labour. It drove down the forces of inflation for forty years but eventually, that economic tension string was always going to flatline or bounce a bit – and it has.

We could have encouraged a higher childbirth rate with tax breaks and incentives wrapped around childcare. But we voted for a government that took away those incentives from anyone who had more than two children or indeed just simply made life more difficult for the average nuclear family household.

We could have placed constraints on an out-of-control neoliberal or ‘trickle-down’ economic model that was causing growing economic inequality. There is firm evidence that we have not. From 2010 to 2021, corporate profits rose from £84bn to £128bn – a rise of over 50 per cent. In the same period, tax paid by corporations went from £42bn to £52bn – a rise of just 25 per cent. By contrast, average real wages in the UK will still be lower in 2026 than they were in 2008, analysis by the Office Budget Responsibility projects. Living standards are falling because of it.

You may ask what is the solution to all these things. Well, one of them is not the promise of ‘sovereignty’ or ‘taking back control’ in the form of Brexit, which has been an unmitigated disaster. This economic wrecking ball is costing the taxpayer over £40 billion a year in lost revenue.  With inflation, compounded, this is a loss of nearly £half a trillion by 2032 to public services.

The car crash continues and that crash is an economic one. But what of the morality crash?

The economic divide is really driven by a winner-takes-all, self-centred principle, not about communities and is not measured in overall well-being but in terms of GDP. The ageing of our population is met with complete indifference to such an extent that tens of thousands now die in their own homes waiting for someone to help them. Our approach to the next generation has left almost one in four children in poverty (now rising than at any time in the last 30 years). We have more foodbanks – a charitable system (not gov’t funded) to catch those who have fallen through the economic cracks than we do McDonald’s – a company with a profit incentive based on the business opportunity of obesity and diabetes. All this in the sixth richest nation on earth.

It is too late to change direction now; we have veered off the road, and the crash is happening right now in real-time. It is happening in America, The Netherlands, Sweden, France, Italy and Germany, to name just a few – at different speeds, of course.

No matter how much money we have or national debt we are loaded with, we are simply not prepared to take fundamental action and bale out of the car crash before it becomes fatal.

Our ageing problem can only be solved by having more taxpayers replace those who stop paying taxes. Is that more childbirth or more immigration? Do we force women to have children or control immigration by throwing huge sums of money we don’t have at countries to stop the problems that cause it? Do we raise taxes on everyone and all companies, thereby creating disincentives to work hard and invest – to raise enough money to be a functional country?

Have we reached the precipice where there is no going back? Will human inventiveness and ingenuity avert the devastating effects of this ongoing crash, or is it simply too late?

One thing is for sure. Without a dramatic intervention, the years ahead will not just be challenging, they will change our way of life as we know it.

As Dudley Moore once said – “The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it.” The trouble is, we took away the rear-view mirror … and the cops, and that’s why there’s a tree four feet from our faces approaching at speed. All that is left is to grit our teeth, grip the steering wheel and close our eyes.

More evidence of our self-absorbed failure is the fall of democracy, especially liberal democracy. Just today, The Times of Israel headlines with: “Israel falls out of liberal democracy category for the first time in 50 years.” Again, today, the Times of London headlines with: “The new autocrats driving global democracy to a 20-year low.” Germany’s DW reported yesterday that – “With 63 democracies now outnumbered by 74 autocracies, a new Bertelsmann Foundation report highlights a global shift away from democratic governance, exacerbated by recent geopolitical events.”

Those geopolitical events have their roots in falling living standards, inequality, ageing, climate change and immigration.

It was Sammy Davis Jr who epitomised Western values when he said – “I had more clothes than I had closets, more cars than garage space, but no money.” This is what happened. We have been defeated by consumerism, by politicians and their lobbying corporate paymasters and by an insatiable desire to show off and not invest in our own future.

We have ourselves to blame and just like the rabbit in the road and the speeding Range Rover – we know what comes next.




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