There is one achievement the capitalist mode of production can count on making a good impression with, or at least commanding respect: unstoppable technological progress, seen in all kinds of consumer goods along with the means for producing them. It is popularly illustrated by sophisticated equipment in fashion at the moment. On suitable occasions it is measured in the few hours and minutes of working time required for producing a certain product nowadays as compared with the past. “Downsides” are not ignored: the oversized “footprint” left by the consumption of resources, destruction of the environment, loss of jobs due to “rationalization” — all this is recognized as problematic. But “rationalization” is still called by that name; and the solution of choice for the excessive load on “nature” is considered to be — alongside a personal willingness to do without things — more technological progress. Yet it is quite clear that neither free choice nor rationality is the reason for the unstoppable technological progress the capitalist mode of production impresses with. It is caused by a practical constraint that industrialists actually create for themselves.
Apparently, you can’t reveal it often enough. It doesn’t matter that the man has almost a full term behind him. Seasoned journalists still see the final verdict about Donald Trump as being that he is above all a man with no sense of decency. Three and a half years of America first!, his implementation of impressive visions and revisions of American world politics, of the ‘homeland,’ and of the most powerful office in the world — everything he does on and around the job is perceived solely as evidence of a defective moral sensibility.
Those who run businesses are said to have certain tasks, expected to achieve this and that, and sometimes accused of neglecting their duties. However, the members of this profession don’t perform any of the positive or negative functions attributed to them unless they do their job. And that is to increase the wealth at their disposal — regardless of whether a nation’s public credits them with creating jobs or blames them for destroying jobs, whether public opinion says they are protecting the environment or damaging it, contributing to growth or jeopardizing it…
When the German foreign minister regrets the loss of moral leadership on the part of the United States of America, and demands that it be immediately reinstituted; when Italian politicians from the opposition call for a withdrawal of their troops in view of the published cases of abuse; when Polish members of government contemplate the same, and when in the eyes of Bush’s rival for the presidency, the honor of the military is impaired by the wrong leaders, then it is quite obvious that a moral scandal is being turned into a political means.
I recently received a letter from a friend of mine in a developing country. An article from a famous local poet was attached, and in this article the poet offered his explanations for the causes of poverty. The poet found, among other things, the people’s own laziness, their lacking industriousness and the indolence and corruption of the ruling politicians all to be at fault for this poverty. As a solution, he recommended strict and disciplined education, so-called “character-building,” in order to alter the people’s mentality.
What is a people? According to what modern legislators have laid down as binding in practice, a people is nothing more than the totality of a country’s inhabitants whom a state power defines as its members. Regardless of the natural and social differences and antagonisms between them, these members form a political collective by virtue of being subordinate to one and the same state authority. Being obligated to the same rule and its agenda is the common cause they stand up for as a people.
Intellectual property is a controversial matter. Many people don’t see why they should pay for text, software, music, or movies when they can be copied without effort or downloaded for free from the Net. And some people discover the ugly, unjust side of property in the ownership of “immaterial” goods, while the ownership of tangible, physical things they consider entirely proper. On the other side, it is not only the majority of artists who insist on the right to their works, from which they also have to be able to live. Politicians for their part find that especially intellectual property gets too little respect. They are willing to listen to the complaints of the media companies, which need a fully enforced copyright for their profits. The German government considers that already quite well realized within the country, but only inadequately put into practice outside it. The world abroad is rife with the “theft of ideas” and “product piracy,” by which not only the profits of multinationals are stolen, but also the “technical edge” of “our” economy in general. For the leading economic powers, it is a challenge to look after the protection of intellectual property abroad where foreign rulers decide how to deal with copyright, patent, and trademark complaints. Intellectual property has consequently become the object of a political struggle in global competition.
Not a week goes by without someone accusing somebody of some human-rights violation. The accusers are politicians, journalists, and speakers from organizations committed to improving moral conduct in the world of states; generally they reside in the free West. The accused are generally politicians somewhere else, foreign governments, and “self-appointed” rulers. The court expected to take up the charge is primarily the international democratic public, i.e., more of an imagined judge, whose penal power consists in defaming the accused. When state powers capable of asserting themselves worldwide act as prosecutor, they not infrequently go ahead and declare themselves to be both judge and executor of their verdicts, which include quite harsh penalties. The club of European sovereigns and the U.N. in New York have additionally set up special courts that take up many an official action for human-rights violations in perfect legal form. The substance of the accusations is the great variety of more or less brutal acts that a ruling power commits against its subjects.
So how to judge such cases?
It is well known that in this world “competition prevails”; it is ubiquitous as the principle of the way people deal with each other and as an imperative, anonymous law shaping the behavior of modern individuals.
Politicians show their respect for this fact when providing their citizens with equal opportunities, whether in education or in the economic world, where an antitrust law and an antitrust office make sure that the power of money is competed for properly. But they also do so when they decree reforms to the nation they govern and justify them as a service to their business location, which is facing the challenge presented by other business locations. And they do so especially in all their decisions aimed at security — i.e., in the questions that states and their leadership are so intent on because they face a trial of strength that must be won with the will and ability to use force.
In the economy, which sees to the production and distribution of wealth — not only within nationally delimited societies but, in the age of globalization, all over the world — there is nothing at all that the people in charge do without regard for competition. Setting prices and wages, calculating costs and surpluses, creating and eliminating jobs, introducing new production methods — in short, all aspects of investing are both reactions to the course of competition and actions aimed at succeeding in the contest of businessmen and business spheres. Businessmen or managers are always concerned with their company’s competitiveness; the lack of it is what’s to blame for any failure, unless government obstacles or other adverse business conditions have made it utterly impossible to be competitive. A competitor’s success is of course often evidence that it has violated the principle of genuine, free competition. Putting the comparison of products and prices, productivity figures and returns into practice is the reason for and the purpose of the decisions that management makes in banks and companies large and small; and the current market-economy theorists also regard any real or supposed limitation of this business practice as a harmful restriction of freedom.