There is an alternative to the chaos of the market system

Roger Altman was the Deputy Finance Minister in the government of US President Bill Clinton in 1993/’94. He is now an investment banker and a member of the international big business think tank, The Bilderberg Group . Not a radical socialist then.

In an astonishingly frank column in the Financial Times on December 1 last he declares baldly, ‘The succession of political dramas in Europe . . . . . . . again shows the financial markets acting like a global supra-government. They oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes. Their influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Indeed, leaving aside unusable nuclear weapons, they have become the most powerful force on earth.’

Altman goes on to argue, however, that the ‘dictatorship’ of the markets can have positive effects. He would certainly believe that there is not an alternative to the markets system.

Former Deputy Editor of The Irish Times and now columnist with the Irish Independent, James Downey, agrees with him. In a look back on the year just ended he acknowledges that , ‘Europe, and the world, are going through a crisis of capitalism full equal to anything that has gone before’ but then declares, ‘Almost nobody believes there is any alternative to capitalism. So we have to make it work.’ For good measure he declares that in relation to the current crisis there will be no ‘worthwhile proposals’ coming from the United Left Alliance the only group in the Dáil advocating a socialist alternative.

Christina Patterson, who writes for a range of media outlets in Britain from The Independent to New Statesman, patronisingly dismissed in a recent article the ‘Occupy’ movement that has reflected the growing unease among wider strata of society with the present financial system implying that only totalitarian Stalinism can be imagined as an alternative to the present system.

Referring to the monstrous regime in North Korea which has been much in the news following the death of dictator Kim Jong Il she writes, ‘The people around the world, in London, and New York, and Italy, and Spain, who have been waving placards saying capitalism has failed might want to remember that the only alternative to capitalism that has so far been developed hasn’t done all that well.’

These establishment commentators lack creativity and imagination with regard to the possibility to reorganising society where powerful corporations and profit propelled speculators are not the economic masters. They would no doubt treat with cynicism the aspirations expressed in John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, where he asks us to imagine a different world where there was , ‘No need for greed or hunger/A brotherhood of man/Imagine all the people/Sharing all the world…’

Of course it is not a lack of imagination that inspires the contempt for the idea of a socialist alternative among the economic elite and evident in most establishment media. It is naked self interest. The wealth, power and privilege to which these groups are wedded are delivered by their disproportionate ownership of, and control over, the resources of society. The sharing out of the wealth in an equitable way is therefore resisted bitterly.

However among ordinary people, that it the vast majority who are not the owners of banks or major shareholders in big corporate entities, there is a growing questioning of the present system and a search for an alternative. This is shown in the results of a survey in the United States in attitudes to socialism and capitalism conducted by the Pew Research Center which describes itself as ‘a non partisan fact tank that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.’ It is chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

In a poll published at the end of December, Pew found that 49% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 reactively ‘positively’ to the idea of socialism with 43% reacting ‘negatively’. Considering the immense amount of propaganda in US media denouncing and distorting the idea of socialism this shows a real openness to alternatives to the system that has given rise to the present economic crisis evident in the United States as in Europe.

We can expect the search for an alternative to grow right across the globe as the cruel ruthlessness of the markets system is more and more exposed. It does not take a huge leap of imagination, in fact, to see how the major wealth and resources of society could be developed infinitely better in public ownership and democratic control for the benefit of all rather than being in the grip of a tiny minority driven by greed for private profits. That is the basis of the socialist alternative and expect to see growing support for this idea in 2012.