Why Predatory Capitalism is Exploding into Fascism, in Every Corner of the Globe
I’ve often said that the rise of global fascism would be the defining event of our adult lifetimes — and, understandably, I guess, considering Americans and their need to feel superior, I was often met with skepticism, if not outright derision. Yet here it is. Like dominoes: America — where genuine Nazis now sit in government — in Italy, Poland, Turkey, Hungary. Neo-Nazis marching in Germany. Even in Sweden, a kind of absurd, pathetic extremist nationalism is surging.
I want to make some of my reasoning clear. Why is fascism rising globally? Is it stoppable — or unstoppable? Perhaps you think this is a foolish, trite, overblown question. I believe there are tides to history, forces, pressures, which are greater than people, or individuals. And so the question is whether a kind of chain reaction has been set off, of political economy, of social psychology, a wave of ruin, which must culminate, as ever, in catastrophe. Is that the case?
Global fascism is rising for a reason so simple it hides in plain sight. Resources are dwindling, but populations are growing — and it won’t peak for another 30 years. The world during this period faces a particularly difficult crunch — I call it a Big Crunch.
Think about it this way. Famine. Drought. Pestilence. What happens? Tribe against tribe. Neighbour against neighbour. Brother turns on brother, father on son. The pure band together to cleanse away the impure. The strong against the weak. That is the lesson of history, from ancient civilization to modern. Crunches unleash the inner beasts we proudly imagine, in better times, that we have learned to cage. The predator in us bares his teeth, as the fire of want burns away his skin. Viciousness and cruelty and indifference and brutality rise. Crunches, therefore, prove — and test — how thin the veneer of civilization really is. Only the hardiest civilizations survive them. Most don’t. The Mayans, Incans, Egyptians, Romans, Athenians didn’t. Will we?
On the one side, resources of all kinds are dwindling. Let’s begin with incomes. They’re stagnant, thanks to a failed model of global economy. One exported from America, designed on its terms — neoliberal capitalism. It said that “free trade” was what was best for people. The problem was that was one-sided: it saw people as consumers, but not as producers, which is the mistake American economics, and culture, always makes — it is a remnant of slavery, the kind of thinking a plantation owner uses for himself. So instead of shielding the livelihoods of people as producers, it only thought of them as consumers — the goal was to give people cheap prices.
But people are not just consumers. They must earn livings, too. Never mind! This model said — and so labour rights, protections, guarantees all began to erode. The result is that wages are now stuck, while inequality spikes everywhere (even in China and India, where the fabled rise of the middle class is now beginning to stumble and falter.) If I, in a rich country, receive a lower price from a globalized economy, but the cost is my job, career, income, and savings — what does it really benefit me? Haven’t I just been made poor, paradoxically, by that low price? (Conversely, if I, in a poor country, receive a better job, but the price is my country can never really be a democracy, how far does it really benefit me?)
You can think about what I mean by “resources are dwindling” this way: skyrocketing inequality means that the middle and poor have to compete harder for every dollar and cent, because the lion’s share of gains are going to the ultra-rich. But not just for incomes — neoliberalism called for austerity, too, so people must now compete for things like retirements, healthcare, savings, pensions, education, and so on, resources which were once plentiful and abundant. How do people’s attitudes change when they must compete with their neighbours just to keep their heads above water? Do they become more democratic — or less?
During the period we live in, the world faces profound questions of how it will go on providing basic things for everyone — especially people who have come to expect an improving quality of life. Stagnant incomes and social resources are not the only kind of resource shortage the world faces. Thanks to neoliberal capitalism, because the goal was low prices, many real costs were simply ignored, brushed under the rug, or hidden away. The greatest of these hidden costs, of course, concerns the planet itself. Pollution warmed it. But artificially low prices also depleted its natural resources. As it warms, the prices of these depleted basic resources will soar — water, food, energy, and so on. As the prices of these basics rise, democracies will destabilize, and societies which were once gentle places will grow desperate and angry, as they grow hungry and thirsty, too.
Can capitalism solve the problem of a Big Crunch? Wait — didn’t it create that very problem: dwindling resources, and vicious competition for them? Water, food, energy, and so on. Capitalism isn’t concerned in the slightest at providing these things affordably. It is quite happy to buy them artificially cheap — and sell them artificially high. The result is that many nations are already beginning to face genuine questions of how they will go on providing the basic resources of life to people. We know that capitalism cannot provide them — so what will? If you think this is some kind of Mad Max future, I invite you to look at Detroit — where 50,000 kids have no drinking water in public schools, not because water is short there, but because neoliberalism said nobody needs to invest in pipes, kids, or health.
If capitalism can’t solve the Big Crunch, that leaves societies with two options: fascism and socialism. But only one of these happens by itself. Think about what happens when the reservoirs and hoards and depots begin to run dry, of all the various kinds of resources people need — everything from iron to oil to water to meat to wheat. When those supplies are disrupted by heatwaves and category 6 hurricanes. When capitalism profiteers on the already scarce supplies, making desperate people enraged. When demagogues blame all that on scapegoats. When the riots begin and the streets are aflame. Does that sound like an exaggeration — or can you easily imagine such a thing now?
Consider all that for a moment. And then consider that the global population won’t peak until 2050. For the next thirty years — most of our lives — the world faces a Big Crunch: more people competing for scarcer resources, which predatory capitalism cannot allocate, except in ways which destabilize societies and implode democracies: profiteering, hoarding, manipulation, corruption, corrosion. Think of what American pharmaceutical companies have done with drug prices, given half the chance — jacked up prices by thousands of percent — and now imagine it across a society. And that, my friends, results in fascism. How so?
Imagine a society which suddenly grows hungry and thirsty. The lights begin to go out. What’s the solution? Well, what’s the problem? Maybe it’s those dirty immigrants, those Jews, Muslims, Mexicans. They’re a threat to our way of life! Never mind that they simply mind their own business — they look strange, they speak a different language. If we exclude them, then we will have more for ourselves! People might not think that consciously — but they never really do. Fascism is the conscious belief that this land — and everything in it — belongs only to the pure. It is also, therefore, unconscious belief, that the impure are parasites, who are taking away our resources, and giving nothing back. That tension, when resources are scarce, which more people are competing for, boils over and explodes.
Pouring gasoline on the fascist explosion is technology, too. The Big Crunch is economic — but technology has created a set of tools now which are perfect handmaidens for fascism and authoritarianism. We know what everyone’s thinking, feeling, saying — has thought policing ever been easier? We know who’s associating with whom, what their political views are, what tribes they belong to — has putting people in boxes of “pure” and “impure” ever been simpler? Today, even an algorithm can do it — instead of an army of bureaucrats. We know what people buy, spend, where they go, who they speak with — has political repression ever been simpler? Just make that phone, card, chip, stop working, for that person, in this place — bang!
To put it even more simply, today’s technological tools make it easier than ever to erase people’s personhood completely, more than ever before, and easier than ever before, too. If I was to gate your technological opportunities — your debit and credit card only work here, facial recognition prevents you from entering this neighborhood, and so on — I could do to you what the Germans did to the Jews, without lifting a finger. I could make you an unperson — and there is nothing you could do about it, because technology today is totalizing, it reaches into every streetcorner and home. Making people unpeople has never been as efficient and absolute as it is becoming today. Are we going to pretend that some societies won’t be tempted to go down this route?
Let us call it algorithmic dehumanization, or automated subjugation. I could algorithms to remove you from society, to disappear you politically, to erase you from the economy — to excise away your personhood, in the blink of an eye. Perhaps not today — but any government that wished to do this could achieve in less than a decade.
So if you ask me, these three forces are like waves, combining into a kind of tsunami. More people, competing for scarcer resources, as a result of catastrophically failed model of global political economy — that creates natural pressures for fascism. Technology as a totalizing force, making it cheaper and easier than ever to strip away personhood, belonging, and humanity, in all its forms, economic, political, social, cultural — that adds a kind of sonic boom of momentum to the pressures for fascism.
Global fascism was eminently predictable, and so is the fact that it will go on rising. The real question is: can it be stopped? Perhaps. But not in the way that we are thinking about it now. It needs to be understood for what it is. A tragic response to a very real set of pressures, which have themselves been unleashed by a failed model of prosperity and abundance. Now times are growing lean. And when people grow hungry and thirsty, there is no neighbor they won’t turn on, to fill their bellies, and quell their parched throats. Until and unless there is a model of political economy that genuinely understands — and responds to — all the above, fascism will rise, and rise.