Globalisation: parasitic and decaying capitalism / FRFI 158 Dec 2000 / Jan 2001

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FRFI 158  December 2000 / January 2001

"The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and closing point, the motive and purpose of production; that production is only production for capital, and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers... The means - unconditional development of the productive forces of society - comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital."

Karl Marx Capital Vol 3

In a remarkable speech on 24 August 1998[1], Fidel Castro stated bluntly that the capitalist system is heading irremediably towards inevitable crises and that a worldwide depression is unavoidable. "Nothing has been invented nor can anything be invented which can avoid it, in a world regulated by market forces". The market is a "savage, chaotic, uncontrollable beast". He said it will be worse than 1929 - shares are more inflated. "This has nothing to do with the creation of wealth, but with...confidence, hope that (shares) are going to increase in value. Winning money by gambling, buying shares, buying currencies, anything. People are investing that money with that hope."

In Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) we too have argued that capitalism suffers from long-term structural contradictions which threaten its destruction. Far from being something dynamic and new, neo-liberal globalisation is a sign of economic decay and increasing instability in a world of obscene and growing inequality.[2] Fictitious capital, an ever-expanding credit bubble built on a relatively declining productive base, careers around the world causing havoc and destruction in its wake, desperately searching for new sources of short-term profits. FRFI saw the Asian crisis and the resulting shocks to the world s financial system as "just another stage in the countdown to capitalism's collapse".[3]

Revolutionaries always want to "fast forward" the real events, which never take place exactly in the way or with the time horizon we would like. The stockmarket has yet to crash. Robert J Shiller, who wrote a popular book on stockmarket turbulence, Irrational Exuberance [4], no longer envisages a cataclysmic crash, but a more drawn out process like a slowly deflating ball: "Instead of the bubble bursting, the market is more like a ball with a leak in it. It is going down but imperceptibly" (The Guardian 18/10/2000).

The stockmarkets are certainly unstable, fluctuating daily on a clearly downward path. A speech by an economic "expert" can have immediate consequences. When Abby Joseph Cohen of the Goldman Sachs group said recently that there were "clear signs of economic deceleration but not deterioration" in the US economy, the stockmarket picked up over 160 points (International Herald Tribune 16/11/2000). However, the steam has been taken out of "new economy" shares, with the Nasdaq (high technology shares) down by over 40% from its 2000 high - yet still wildly overpriced according to Shiller. The Dow Jones share index is fluctuating downwards between 11% and 15% off its 2000 peak. The Nikkei has fallen over 30%, the FTSE 100 between 7% and 10%, the German DAX between 15% and 20% and the French CAC 40 between 11% and 15% - all from their 2000 highs.

The emerging countries' stockmarkets (those of underdeveloped countries that have sizeable markets opened up to free-ranging international capital flows) have been tumbling. They have lost more than 30% of their dollar values since their February peak. Significant losses have occurred in southeast Asia, with the stockmarkets in Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea down over 40% and in Malaysia and the Philippines down around 30%. The Latin American stockmarkets are also sliding downwards, with the markets in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina some 25% off their 2000 peaks.

The emerging market economies are very vulnerable to external economic shocks. Many of them have been hit already by the tripling of the oil price since March 1999. Dependent as they are on buoyant export markets, a significant slowdown in world economic growth next year will have very damaging consequences for their economies. World economic growth is predicted to fall to 3.4% next year, down from 4.2% in 2000. Growth in the US economy, a vital market for exports, is expected to decline to 3.1% next year, a very significant fall from the 5.2% expected this year. In addition, there is talk of a debt default by Argentina. Last year its GDP fell by 3.2% and it will grow very little this year. A great deal of Argentina's debt is short-term and the government needs to refinance a sizeable amount of it in the first months of next year. There is little confidence in Argentina's ability to pay. The interest rate now demanded to refinance this debt is some 8 to 9 percentage points above the rate paid on US treasury bills - this "spread" has more than doubled over the past year. At that level of payment, public finances become unsustainable. Hence the risk of default. A loss of confidence in Argentina could rapidly become contagious. Brazil has some $27bn in private and public debt due next year and needs to roll over this debt on reasonable terms. The financial systems of Korea, Thailand and Indonesia have not recovered from the 1997/8 crisis and are very vulnerable. A default by Argentina would send new shock waves through the world financial system.

Last year's relative tranquillity following the 1997 Asian Crisis, the 1998 Russian debt default and the Brazilian bail out, appears to be over and autumn 2000's rapidly rising oil prices, the escalating war in the Middle East, the low Euro and ever weakening financial markets points to further turbulence.

Globalisation: a crisis of capitalism

Globalisation describes the frenetic international expansion of capital - an expansion which has had devastating consequences for the majority of humanity. It is a return to those unstable features of capitalism which characterised imperialism before the First World War, producing those dramatic shocks to the international capitalist economy which led to the revolutionary developments in the first decades of the twentieth century.

The massive flows of capital around the world, the easy credit that has financed a global stockmarket boom, the growing monopolisation of capital through mergers, acquisitions and privatisations, the unprecedented autonomy of the financial system from real production, the growing rivalry between the major imperialist powers, and the widening inequalities between rich and poor countries and between rich and poor within all countries, have the same cause - an overaccumulation of capital in the heartlands of capitalism. Globalisation has now spread the crisis to every part of the world.

Yet for almost nine years after the last recession there has been an unprecedented growth of the US economy, the largest economy in the world, the longest expansion in US history. This rapid growth of the US economy has sustained world capitalism over the period, despite the Japanese stockmarket collapse followed by recession and bankruptcy, the Mexican crisis and IMF bailout 1994/5, the Asian crisis 1997/8, the Russian debt default and Brazilian rescue operation in 1998, and a prolonged period of European stagnation. Is the US boom the consequence of the new technology as some experts have suggested? Has our prognosis been wrong?

There can be little doubt that the enormous productivity gains from the new technology, the just-in-time distribution systems, the ability to communicate and transfer financial assets instantly to any part of the world have significantly reduced the costs to capital, in particular of the unproductive service and financial sectors. Today's new technology, instead of liberating the "society of producers", has become a tormentor and slave master - ever intensifying and speeding up the work process in the service of capital. It has certainly delayed the crisis but only to ensure that its occurrence will be more devastating and universal.

How can this be so?

US economic growth has been fed by a consumer boom sustained by financial speculation and ever rising debt. GDP growth has averaged 4.2% in the past three years. Inflation so far has been under control - in part, a consequence of the productivity gains arising from the new technology, but also due to the high level of the dollar. The facts behind this boom are, however, staggering.

Between early 1994 and its January 2000 peak, the US stockmarket more than tripled from 3,600 to 11,700 while US personal income and GDP rose by less than 30% - half due to inflation - and corporate profits rose by less than 60%.[5] The Dow Jones reached a valuation equivalent to 150% of the US GDP compared to a 60-year average of 49%. Share prices were, and still are, rising much faster than the underlying profits/earnings of companies on which they are based. At some point a realignment has to take place. That is why any bad news concerning corporate earnings sends the stockmarket spiralling down. This is the first potential crisis.

78.7m US citizens have equity investments - almost 50% of US households. Shares - held directly or indirectly - accounted for more than a half of their assets, up from a quarter 11 years ago. A sharp fall in the stockmarket will turn economic boom into bust as it did in Japan in the 1990s - a situation from which the Japanese economy, with the highest national debt in the industrialised world (130% of GDP), has yet to recover.

The second potential crisis concerns the levels of private sector debt. Higher share values and rising house prices have meant a jump of over $16,000bn in the value of household assets since 1994. This is what has fuelled the US consumer boom as consumers spend and borrow more on the basis of rising asset values. Savings have collapsed and are negative (-1% of GDP compared to a positive 5% in the mid-1980s). Household debt is now 103% of disposable income. As a result of rising consumption and investment, the private sector (businesses and households) faces an unprecedented financial deficit of 5.1% of GDP (1.6% surplus in 1995).

The third potential crisis follows on from the others. The cumulative impact of this consumer boom financed by debt is a rising current account deficit approaching $440bn or 5% of GDP this year and a progressive rise of US net external debt to the rest of the world. This has grown from a rough balance in 1988 to a debt of $1,900bn in 1999 - 20% of US GDP.

To finance the massive private sector debt and fund its ever-growing current account deficit, the US economy sucks in around 70% of the world's capital account surplus. The US economy has become the last resort for much of the world's surplus capital scouring the world, frantically seeking outlets for its profitable expansion. US stockmarkets make up some 40% of the world equity markets and the US bond market constitutes 50% of global bond markets.

There has already been a serious deterioration in the credit markets with corporate earnings expected to fall. During the 1991 recession the "spread" of high-yield corporate bonds over US treasuries reached 10 percentage points - the rate above that of treasury bills necessary to attract funds - falling to between 3 and 4 percentage points in the mid-1990s. The "spread" has now widened to 7 percentage points and bond market liquidity is rapidly drying up as investors take flight from what are perceived as increasingly risky investments, in particular, "dodgy telecom bonds" (Financial Times 4/11/2000).

Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) by foreign investors in the US (discussed below) funded around 40% of the US current account deficit last year - nearly one third of these inflows were in the telecommunications sector. Such investments have sustained and even raised the value of the dollar - helping to keep the inflation rate low. It is now thought that global M&As could have finally peaked. In addition, the deterioration in the corporate bond market could have even more serious consequences for the funding of the US current account deficit. Inflows into the corporate bond market financed some 60% of the current account deficit in 1999 and a slowdown in these inflows would not only leave a massive gap in funding but also remove a vital factor underpinning the high level of the dollar (Financial Times 24/10/2000). Foreigners now have claims on the US amounting to $6,500bn - any significant reduction of these assets as investors lose confidence in the US economy would have a devastating impact.

Imperialism consolidates

So far I have tried to show how vulnerable the dominant world economy is to any major shock to the economic system. The major imperialist powers are aware of this and are positioning themselves internationally to consolidate and defend their strategic investments, through the growing export of capital, ever greater mergers and acquisitions and the strengthening of economic domination of the underdeveloped nations.

Growing export of capital

Multinational corporations (MNCs) are the principle vehicle in imperialism's drive to divide the world according to economic power. Last year, driven by an M&As boom, foreign direct investment (FDI) by MNCs, grew by 16% to reach a record $800bn (outflows) - next year it could pass the $1,000bn mark. Since 1982, FDI has grown nearly nine times faster than exports and eleven times faster than world GDP. A measure of the change is that the ratio of world FDI inflows to global investment is now 14% compared to 2% twenty years ago, and the ratio of the global FDI stock to world GDP increased from 5% to 16% in the same period. At the end of 1999 the stock of FDI reached $5 trillion, and sales of foreign affiliates of MNCs stood at an estimated $14 trillion. Economic power is increasingly concentrated. The top 100 MNCs alone account for some 13%, 19% and 18% respectively, of the foreign assets, sales and employment of all 60,000 MNCs. The 50 largest MNCs from the major imperialist countries account for over half of those countries' FDI outward stock worldwide - in the case of Britain the top 50 account for over 70%. These are characteristic features of imperialism.

Table 1 - Inflows and outflows of FDI 1988-1996
(billions of $ and % of total)

Country group

1988-93

%

1994

%

1997

%

1999

%

Imperialist

inflows

139

73

144

56

269

57

617

71

outflows

197

89

239

84

401

85

725

91

Underdeveloped

inflows

48

25

106

41

185

39

227

26

outflows

24

11

44

16

68

14

72

9

Ex-Soviet bloc

inflows

2

6

2

19

4

21

3

 

outflows

?

?

?

?

3

1

3

?

(Discrepancies between inflows and outflows are due to data collection problems)

The share of global FDI going to the underdeveloped nations has fallen from 41% in 1994 to 26% in 1999 (see Table 1), mainly as a result of a cross-border M&As boom - 80% and 90% of which take place in the imperialist countries with much higher concentrations of capital - but also due to the impact of Asian crisis. Net disinvestment occurred in Indonesia in 1998 and 1999 and FDI going into Malaysia and the Russian Federation fell by nearly 60% between 1997 and 1998. The share of FDI in the underdeveloped countries has been highest during periods of recession or low growth in the main imperialist countries, as corporations are forced to export surplus capital to areas of potential expansion and growing markets.

FDI is highly concentrated in underdeveloped countries, as MNCs require not only a high rate of return on their capital but also an adequate flow of profits through the access their investments provide to productive resources and essential global markets. Just 10 countries received 80%, and five over 60% of total FDI flows to underdeveloped countries in 1999. Since 1989, rates of return on FDI have ranged from 14-18% for all underdeveloped countries, from 16-28% in Asia and the Pacific, 12-15% in Latin America and the Caribbean, and on the very small amount of investment going into Sub-Saharan Africa, from 17-35%. Compare that to the return on investment in the imperialist nations of 8.7% in 1993. This super-exploitation of the underdeveloped nations is another characteristic feature of imperialism.[7]

Recent developments show the concentration and changing balance of economic power between and within the Triad - the US, EU and Japan. Since 1996, FDI inflows into the US have been greater than FDI outflows. In 1999, the US received a record $276bn inflow of FDI, one third of global inflows. Britain was the largest investor in the US with 39% of the total, followed by Holland with 14%. The EU, led by Britain, has significantly strengthened its strategic position as an increasingly important power bloc, while Japan, plagued by recession and stagnation, has retreated. Britain, the dominant player over the last few years in the global M&As boom, invested more abroad in 1999 than any other country - $199.3bn, removing the US as the largest outward investor for the first time since 1988. The European Union was responsible for nearly 64% of world FDI outflows, with Britain alone accounting for nearly 40% of this (25% of total world FDI outflows), the US for 19% and Japan a tiny 3% (down from a 15% average between 1988 and 1993). 67% of the FDI outflows came from five imperialist countries alone: France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US - but Holland with 6% and Spain 4.5% are beginning to stake their claim in imperialism's drive to divide the world into regional economic blocs (see Table 2).

Table 2 - Outflows of FDI from major imperialist powers 1988-1999
($bn and % of world total)

Country

1988-1993
(average)

%

1996

%

1999

%

France

24.2

10.9

30.4

7.8

108

13.5

Germany

18.4

8.3

50.8

13

50.6

6.3

Japan

32.5

14.7

23.4

6

22.7

2.8

UK

25.1

11.3

34

8.7

199.3

24.9

US

39.3

17.8

84.4

21.6

150.9

18.9

EU

107.2

48.4

182.3

46.7

509.8

63.7

The accumulated stock of outward FDI gives a more authentic picture of the changing balance of power between the imperialist countries. The US with over $1.1 trillion accumulated FDI, 24% of the total, is still dominant, followed by Britain (14%), Germany

(9%), Holland (6.5%), France and Japan (6%). The EU with $2.34 trillion FDI stock accounts for nearly half the total (49%) and more than double that of the US. In 1980 the US and EU had equal shares and recent developments show how economically significant the EU has become in the battle between competing imperialist regional blocs (see Table 3). Since 1997, FDI outflows from the EU to countries outside have been greater than FDI outflows between European countries. Little wonder that many countries in the EU want to establish their own regional defence force independent of NATO and that inevitably Britain, the dominant investor in the United States, is pulled two ways between a European imperialist bloc and a North Atlantic one.  

Table 3 - Shares in total FDI stock of major imperialist powers 1980-1999
($bn and % of world total)

Country

1980

%

1990

%

1999

%

France

23.6

4.5

110.1

6.4

298

6.3

Germany

43.1

8.2

151.6

8.8

420.9

8.8

Japan

19.6

3.8

201.4

11.7

292.8

6.2

UK

80.4

15.4

229.3

13.4

664.1

14

US

220.2

42.1

430.5

25.1

1131.5

23.8

EU

212.6

40.6

789.4

50

2336.6

49.1

Parasitic and decaying capitalism

Marx argued that, while capitalist production exists in its most adequate form in so far as free competition exists, capital is forced in the interests of self-preservation, as soon as it feels threatened, to "seek refuge in other forms" through "curbs on free competition" - to take on increasingly monopolistic forms. In a remarkable and prophetic passage in the Grundrisse, Marx says "although (the curbs on competition) appear to complete the mastery of capital, (they) are at the same time, by curbing free competition the heralds of its dissolution, and of the dissolution of the mode of production based on it." The facts increasingly demonstrate that Marx was right.

The frenetic growth of M&As since the 1980s and particularly after 1995 are a sign of a growing crisis of capitalism, as multinational companies attempt to consolidate and defend their positions worldwide faced with falling profitability and increasingly powerful competitors. It has accompanied buoyant stockmarkets and rapid consumer-driven economic growth. US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has acknowledged that "the constant pursuit of monopoly power becomes the central driving thrust of the new economy". Many M&As take place in industries that are faced with over-capacity and low demand. They are defensive in character, often seen as an effective barrier against takeover rather than a means to enhance productivity and profitability. They aim to increase market share by reducing competition. A study of UK firms over a 10 to 18 year period showed little improvement in profitability relative to the period before acquisition and a decline in profitability relative to firms relying on internal growth. An earlier study in the US of 6,000 M&As by 471 corporations found poor financial results for M&As.8 A study by KPMG last year showed 53% of M&As destroyed shareholder value and another report by Mark Strower, a professor at New York University, put the figure at 65% (The Guardian 10/10/2000). Yet the tendency towards monopoly within capitalism is unstoppable and attempts to curb M&As using competition and anti-trust legislation fail pathetically. In the US, for example, in the year to 30 September 1999 only 1.6% of 4,679 M&A transactions notified to the anti-trust authorities led to action, with 1% being challenged in the end. Similar results were found in Japan and the EU.[9]

M&As worldwide (domestic and cross-border) have grown at an annual rate of 42% between 1980 and 1999 to reach a staggering $2.3 trillion in 1999, with more than 24,000 deals taking place. The value of all M&As in relation to world GDP in the last two decades has grown from 0.3% in 1980 to 2% in 1990 and 8% in 1999.

Cross-border M&As from 1980 to 1999 have been a relative constant proportion of the total, about 25%, but in two years, 1990 and 1999, they grew to more than 30%. Deals are getting larger and larger with mega-deals (greater than $1bn) accounting for 40% of the total in the late 1980s, over 60% in late 1990s and 69% ($500bn) in 1999. 11 of the top 50 deals (7 of the top 25) between 1987 and 1999 were carried out by UK companies - UK Vodafone's acquisition of Airtouch Communications (US) being the largest cross border deal at $60.3bn. Next year this will be easily surpassed by VodafoneAirtouch's $200bn acquisition of Mannesmann (Germany). In 1999, British companies were involved in four of the largest cross-border deals and had the highest share of cross-border purchases - $210bn - nearly 30% of the total and almost $100bn more than the US, the next highest. Again the share of the EU in cross-border purchases reached $498bn, nearly 70% of the total. The largest seller of companies was the US, with cross-border sales at $233bn in 1999, demonstrating yet again what an important market it is for the world's surplus capital.

And recolonisation?

At the time of the Asian financial crisis, we argued that "the IMF intervention is an attempt by the US and European imperialist powers to take advantage of the economic crisis in Asia to prise open further the Asian economies, including Japan, to increased trade and investment by US and European multinationals and banks... They are manoeuvring in the contest to redivide and recolonise Asia."[10] The statistics for M&As indicate the extent of the recolonisation process in the crisis-ridden underdeveloped countries, following the Asian crisis in 1997. Cross-border M&As in south, east and southeast Asia reached an annual average of $20bn during 1997-1999, compared to $7bn in the pre-crisis years, while FDI inflows to the same area fell in 1998. The most significant increases occurred in the five crisis-hit countries (Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand) with their share of M&As in developing Asia increasing dramatically to 68% in 1998 compared to 19% in 1996. In 1999 cross-border M&As reached a record level of $15bn in the five countries. In 1998-1999 by far the largest purchaser countries were the US and Britain with $5.8bn and $3.2bn M&As respectively, followed by Singapore, Holland, Switzerland and Germany. 20-25m jobs are estimated to have been lost as a result of the Asian crisis. Imperialism gains by driving millions of people into poverty.

Privatisations have also been a significant factor in the recolonisation process in a number of countries. In Brazil three-quarters of privatisations in the period 1990-1998 involved foreign buyers and similarly nearly 80% in Poland. Brazil and Argentina were the largest sellers of privatised firms during 1987-1999, accumulating $32bn and $26bn respectively. Of the world's 50 largest privatisations involving foreign buyers during 1987-1999, less than half (23) were in imperialist countries. In this way, imperialism is strengthening its domination of the oppressed nations and multinational companies are leading the process of their recolonisation and impoverishment. Average income in the richest 20 countries is now 37 times the average in the poorest 20 - a gap that has doubled over the past 40 years.

Imperialist Britain - an unequal society

Britain is a leading imperialist power second only to the US. Last year Britain's FDI abroad (outflows) at nearly $200bn was one and a quarter times the total gross fixed investment in Britain and nearly 12 times that of all private sector investment in manufacturing industry. Britain's trade deficit and current account deficit are growing. Without the massive earnings from its investments abroad, the trade and current account deficit would be unsustainable. As it is, Britain's international investment position showed net external liabilities of £148.3bn with the rest of the world at the end of 1999 - equivalent to nearly 17% of GDP. The British economy, even more than that of the US, is seriously vulnerable to external economic shocks.

With such vital imperialist interests throughout the world to protect, Blair's and Labour's justification for "humanitarian wars" is explicable. Labour's recent intervention in Sierra Leone is the third time in 18 months that Labour has used British armed force outside UN control (Iraq and Yugoslavia being the other two) to protect its imperialist interests. The recent decision to supply 12,500 troops and 18 ships and 72 combat aircraft for a European rapid reaction force is in line with such concerns.

Britain, like the US, has experienced nine years of economic growth. This and the resulting budget surplus over recent years have permitted a Labour government serving the interests of multinational capital to hold together the coalition of forces that elected it to power in 1997 without any severe strains. But this has been at the expense of the poor. In spite of claims to the contrary, poverty and inequality in Britain after two years of Labour government are widespread and still growing.

Between 1979 and 1998/9 real average income of households after housing costs grew by a remarkable 52%, and the higher the household's income, the faster it grew. Over the three years 1994/5 to 1998/9, including two years of a Labour government, average income grew by 12%, yet poverty and inequality have increased not decreased. In 1998/9 25% of the population, 14.3m people lived in poverty, that is, in families with income below half the average, an increase of 1m since 1994/5 and of approximately 300,000 while Labour has been in power. 4.5m children live in poverty - some 35% of all children - an increase of around 100,000 while Labour has been in power, and of half a million since 1994/5. Finally, 30% of pensioners are living in poverty, an increase of about 93,000 in two years of Labour government.

Inequality has increased under Labour, although the income share of the poorest 10% of the population has grown marginally from 1.8% to 2.0%. Their share in 1979 was 4%. The shares of the bottom 20% and bottom 50% of the income distribution have fallen since 1994/5 to 5.9% and 24% respectively. The shares of the top 10%, top 20% and top 50% have increased, for the top 10% by two percentage point since 1994/5. Table 4 shows how unequally income is distributed in imperialist Britain.

Table 4 - Shares of total income (%) [11]

Income after housing costs
(including self employed)

1994/5

1997/8

1998/9

Bottom 10%

1.8

1.8

2

Bottom 20%

6

5.9

5.9

Bottom 50%

25

25

24

Top 50%

75

75

76

Top 20%

43

44

44

Top 10%

27

28

29

Poverty in Britain is highly concentrated among pensioners, those living in single parent families and in households of working age where no one is in work. This arises from Labour's stubborn determination not to restore the link between welfare benefits and earnings. In addition there is a strong racial as well as class content to poverty. For all working age adults, while 18% of white people have incomes below half the average, that is, live in poverty, 38% of black people, 24% of Indian, 58% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi and 42% of other ethnic minorities live in poverty.

Finally, if we exclude London, inequality and poverty do generally follow a north-south divide in England. (More people live in poverty in Wales, and fewer live in poverty in Scotland than in England, once housing costs are taken into account.) 50% of people in the North East, 46% in Yorkshire and Humber and 43% in the North West and Merseyside live in households with incomes in the bottom 40% of the income distribution. As you go south the percentage falls below 40%, with only 31% in the South East. London has the greatest inequality with 42% in the bottom 40% (25% in the bottom 20%, higher than the North East) and 28% in the top 20% of the income distribution, as much as the South East. 43% of London children live in poverty. Of the ten local authorities covering the most deprived areas of England, three are in London, two in Merseyside, two in the North West and three in the North East.

Poverty in a relatively rich country like Britain is deeply debilitating and socially isolating.

  •  9.5m people cannot afford to keep their homes adequately heated, damp free and in a decent state of decoration.
  •  7.5m are too poor to engage in social activities such as visiting friends or attending weddings and funerals.
  •  6.5m adults go without essential clothing such as a warm waterproof coat.
  • 10.5m suffer financial insecurity, cannot save or insure their house contents and spend small amounts of money on themselves.
  • 4m people do not have enough money for fresh fruit and vegetables or two meals a day.
  • 8m cannot afford items such as a fridge, telephone or carpets.[12]

This then is what Britain looks like after nine consecutive years of economic growth, an extremely wealthy imperialist country forcing millions of its people to endure debilitating poverty. Capitalism cannot deal with the poverty and deprivation facing the vast majority of humanity, because it sustains and increases that poverty as it frenetically scours the world to expand its operations and increase its profits. The real barrier to capitalist production is indeed capital itself. And when new shock waves hit the capitalist system, millions more will come to understand that and take the decision to build an alternative.

That alternative is socialism.[13]

David Yaffe 

Notes

1. Granma International 6 September 1998
2. See David Yaffe "Globalisation a redivision of the world by imperialism" FRFI 131 June/July 1996, "The politics and economics of globalisation" FRFI 137 June/July 1997 and "Globalisation equals poverty" FRFI 150 August/ September 1999, all available on our website: www.rcgfrfi.easynet.co.uk.
3. The crisis was covered in series of articles in FRFI 140, 141, 143, 145 and 146 from December 1997 to December 1998.
4. Princeton University Press 2000. For a review of this and other books about the stockmarket crash see "Irrational Exuberance " in FRFI 156 August/ September 2000
5. Real share prices also tripled in France and Germany and nearly doubled in Britain over the same period. The last time such a rise took place was from September 1924 to September 1929 just before the stockmarket crash.
6. Figures taken from the United Nations World Investment Report 2000, New York and Geneva 2000. They are adjusted to fit my country groups with Ireland and South Africa placed with the underdeveloped countries. There are grounds to include the ex-Soviet bloc as well, given their retrogression and underdevelopment since the counter-revolutions of 1989-1990. Other statistics, unless stated otherwise, regarding FDI come from this and earlier World Investment Reports.
 7. See "Globalisation equals poverty" op cit for a broader picture of the super-exploitation of the underdeveloped countries and the rowing inequality between rich and poor countries and between rich and poor in all countries.
8.  For this quote and other negative assessments of M&As see the World Investment Report 2000 op cit pxx, pxxvii, pp137-140.
9.  Ibid p194.
10. In FRFI 140.
11. This table and other statistics on income distribution are taken from Households Below Average Incomes 1994/5-1998/9 Department of Social Security 2000.
12. Taken from Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2000.
13. This is an edited and extended version of an introduction given to the RCG Conference on 21 October 2000.