Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 6. 1962.
Capitalism Today: — - A Brief Survey
- A Brief Survey
In the periods immediately before and after the Second World War, Capitalism was a discredited system.
The Depression and the rise of Capitalist-supported Dictatorships in Europe brought widespread disillusionment. By 1946, with Labour Governments in power, and the Welfare State becoming the order of the day. Socialist ideals seemed to be nearing fruition in the West.
Yet today. Capitalism is, if anything, more strongly entrenched than ever, particularly in those countries which espouse the supposedly Socialist Welfare State.
How has this come about?
Firstly the Post-War recovery and boom have given new impetus to industry and trade, while the increased prosperity stemming from this has meant a wealthier and larger consumer market.
Secondly, vast increases in military expenditure and increased military/scientific research made "necessary" by the War and by the following Cold War, have improved manufacturing processes and vastly expanded industries such as aircraft manufacturing.
Most important, however, has been the advent of the Welfare State Itself. The greater distribution of wealth and Increased social benefits have given the working-class greater purchasing power and a stake in the Capitalist system. The new Capitalism is an integral part of the Welfare State and draws its sustenance from it.
Modern Capitalism has two important features which distinguish it from its prewar counterpart. Both features were present, particularly in American Capitalism, long before the War, but during the 1950's increased in importance sufficiently to make them the outstanding characteristics of today's system. These are, the giant corporations, and the fantastic amounts spent by them on advertising.
In one year, the Unilever group spends more on advertising than the British government has spent on Colonial Welfare and development in any year since 1950.
In every Western Industrial nation, giant Corporations control markets and fix prices. They have assumed such importance in national economies that they have a disproportionate influence upon government policy. (In New Zealand, the Farmers and Importers occupy much the same position.)
Such groups can, if they choose, hold the interests of the country to ransom in order to further private interests. One can cite such examples as the recent price increases by U.S. steel firms, the dropping of the Nelson cotton mill project at the instigation of the importers, or the demands of New Zealand's farmers for increased subsidies despite the parlous state of the country's economy.
"Advertising keeps the wheels turning" is a true, if trite slogan, for it is indeed upon advertising that the existence of modern Capitalist society depends. Status seeking, though "exposed" by authors like Vance Packard, continues unabated in a society oriented towards material possessions and money as the ultimate in objects of desire.
Advertising encourages people to buy things they have no real need of and even things which may actually be harmful to them, such as cigarettes. Cheap culture and ' good living" are peddled indiscriminately.
Business interests control much of the Press and other means of propaganda, as well as Advertising so that the need for material comfort, free enterprise and liberty, and the dangers of Socialism are dinned into a receptive public. It is generally considered that the Welfare State has gone "far enough", or even "too far" towards Socialization.
In fact, Socialism, as far as it has been carried in countries such as Britain and New Zealand, has served only to give a fillip to the Capitalist system.
So long as a reasonable degree of material prosperity continues, there seems little likelihood of change. To say that modern Capitalism "contains within it the seeds of its own destruction" is nonsense. The only immediate threat to its supremacy is an external one—that of International Communism.