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Chomsky on "the future of capitalism".


Q: Question about the future of capitalism.

Chomsky: The general future of capitalism?

Q: Yeah.

Chomsky: first of all we should bear in mind that capitalism is a bit of a myth. We don't really have capitalist societies. We have state capitalist societies and the state has always played an essential central role in development and extension of the capitalist system, so that goes back to England in the 17th century and all the way through the history of development.

But let's just take the recent period, so take today's high-tech economy. Take your iPhone. If you take your iPhone and you take the technology - take it apart and it turns out that almost everything comes from the state sector. The GPS was developed by the Navy, the electronics was developed in military labs. You know: everything. The computer that's in front of you. The computers began to be developed in the 1950s, actually in a large part in the lab where I happened to be working. It wasn't until 1977 that Apple was able to produce a computer that could be marketed for profit - that's after about 30 years of research and development in the state sector.

Now suppose we had capitalist societies, one of the principles of capitalism is supposed to be that if you invest in something, especially if you invest to make a risky costly investment over say 30 years, and there's some profit that comes out, it's supposed to go back to you.

But our system doesn't work like that: it goes to Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. The public pays the costs through various devices, the university labs and so on and then after many years something is handed over the private corporations and they make the profit. Same with the internet. The beginnings of the internet were in the late 1950s actually in same lab where I was working at MIT that began thinking about the internet and it developed over decades within the government system, meaning taxpayer support. Finally around 1995 the public made a gift simply a gift to private corporations to say ok you guys can have the internet that we developed. Now we have the half a dozen huge mega corporations which run the Internet. It's a public gift, you know.

And in fact across the board that's the way it is: it's the same if you go back to the 19th century when what was called the American system of production developed and kind of amazed the world. You know: mass production, quality control, interchangeable parts. Most of it was developed in government armouries. That's where you can do experimentation you can you can make investments for the long term. Private corporations don't do that, they want to make profit tomorrow not invest for what might happen in 30 years, and that's in fact the entire history of development of what we call capitalism and its current function.

If you look at the present: take the people who are saying we have to have a small government and devote ourselves to the market, just look at how they live. There are huge public subsidies government subsidies to every major sector of the economy agribusiness, energy, finance - they're all heavily publicly subsidised. That's okay. That's a "proper function" of the government just not pensions and security and health and "irrelevant" things like that.

So that's what's called capitalism but it's a very specifically shaped and designed form of capitalism. So can that survive? Well it certainly shouldn't survive and I think that can be changed. In fact the public wants it to be changed.

So again if you take a look, the United States is a very heavily polled society mainly because business wants to know what people think and it's important so we know a lot about people's attitudes. One thing we know is that across the spectrum people want much higher taxes on the rich but the taxes keep going down. In fact those results usually aren't even reported. That of even people who are considered very right-wing, tea party let's say - if you take a look at their actual attitudes they're more or less social democratic.

People say yeah we want a very small government but we want more expenditures in health and education and support for people who can't feed their children and so on but just a small government but all the things that a big government does - in fact even attitudes on things like foreign foreign aid are very interesting like in the polls about foreign aid everyone says it's way too high, we're giving everything away to the undeserving foreigners. But when you ask them what foreign aid should be it's just about about ten times as high as it actually is you know because - these are the results of extensive propaganda systems which indoctrinate people into having certain conceptions. You know: everybody's stealing from us, the poor are taking away, the government's putting the poor in front of us, immigrants are flooding the country. Take, say, immigration: huge concern about immigration in the United States you know Mexican rapists and criminals. Almost half the immigration is from Asia: educated trained people who are being brought in to help develop the high-tech economy. It's about 40% of the immigrants. It's not what people hear, you know. What they hear is something that doesn't exist. Mexican criminals.

But it's it's pretty much the same in Europe so for example in fact it is very striking, I mentioned the other day the latest elections in Europe were in Sweden a couple of weeks ago which again the right-wing did get a much higher percentage in everyone wanted which is a frightening development but there was a careful study of the rise of the right in Sweden and what it showed was very interesting and generalises. Turns out that the rise of the right in Sweden was before the wave of immigrants: it was a reaction of people who were cast aside by the abandonment of the social democratic policies as the government including the Social Democratic so-called left began to move towards the so-called austerity programs. People know the mass of the population was left out.

Some people do fine you know they get rich - the elites, as they're called. So what most of the people see is: those guys up there are doing fine and I'm left out so I object and I'm gonna respond by voting for the Nationalist xenophobic party. That was before the wave of immigrants once the immigrants come in they serve as a convenient scapegoat and so it's their fault it's not the fault of the corporations up there, we don't see them.

Finland, the same study showed, has the same rise in the right-wing parties but they have almost no immigration. If you take a look at the United States it's quite interesting - the 2016 election - there have been extensive studies of why people voted for Trump and almost all the studies say it's racism and sexism which is not false but the question is why did these attitudes emerge and if you look back they emerge from people who were left out who have been stagnating for forty years even worse: wages declining, benefits declining, organisation declining, those are communities that are ripe for a demagogue who can blame everything on a scapegoat.

The racism is there undoubtedly, misogyny is there, xenophobia is there and it comes out of the bottle when people are angry and resentful and don't know where to turn to for explanation for their plight. I think the source of a lot of this is simply the neoliberal policies of the last generation which were designed. They're not a law of nature, you know, they're designed to have certain consequences which they have and one of them is leaving the mass of the population as what's sometimes called a precariat: people living precarious existences, no security, pensions aren't coming, no organisation, [..] who are going to look for somebody responsible and the easiest place to look is people who are even more vulnerable than you are and so it shows up in these dangerous antisocial attitudes.

The decline of democracy is a consequence and in fact a desired consequence of the policies that were instituted: they overcome what was called "the crisis of democracy", "too much democracy". So now yes we've succeeded in reducing the crisis of democracy with the consequences that follow from that.

Q: How about the resistance? You said this system will not survive like this. Can't.

Chomsky: Yes, impossible for a reason we haven't discussed. There are two huge crises growing one of them we know about the nuclear threat. If you look at the history of the nuclear age it's an absolute miracle that we have survived. If there was time we could go through it but case after case dozens of times sometimes by accident mostly by accident, sometimes by reckless acts of leaders we came literally within minutes of terminal destruction. Literally. Some of the cases are shocking when you look at them and miracles don't continue, so sooner or later we'll manage and destroy ourselves.

The other is global warming which is very serious. I mean if the use of fossil fuels continues at anything remotely like the present level, by the end of this century let's say we might see sea level rising 6 to 10 metres. You can just imagine what that would mean. Plus what we already see severe weather: droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, all escalating and it already has big effects. Like the the Syrian war for example: at one of its roots is an unprecedented drought, nothing (like it) in hundreds of thousands of years of history. Huge drought surely the result of global warming which drove peasants off the land into the cities. No way for them to survive. It creates a kind of a kindling which any spark will set off, it's part of the background for the conflicts that arose.

The same happened in Darfur: the huge drought drove nomads into the agricultural areas and there's also ethnic conflict there, and that immediately led to conflict and confrontation, ended up with big massacres. These things are not are not just the future, we're living with at beginnings of them take a look at Bangladesh which is mostly a coastal plain, the sea level starts rising. What's going to happen to hundreds of millions of people?

If the glaciers keep melting in the Himalayas the already meagre water supply in South Asia is going to be severely threatened. Right now there are several hundred million people in India who do not have potable water. We're taught in Pakistan it's going to be even worse.

I mean we're talking about the fate of hundreds of millions of people in the near future.

The rich may think they can escape by going to a mountain somewhere but that's not going to happen. And the policies that are being pursued are to escalate the problem - it's not just Trump, take a look at the big banks. Take a look at the JPMorgan Chase huge banks they know exactly what the consequences are and they're increasing their investments in fossil fuels. That's the nature of capitalism. As I said its we have a mixed form of capitalism but there is a market system underlying it somewhere and an imperative of the market system is that you try to make maximal profit tomorrow and you disregard what are called externalities. The things that are not charted. And if you don't do that you're out of the game. It's part of the structure of the system. So Jamie Dimon who's a smart guy, head of JP Morgan Chase, understands perfectly well the consequences but nevertheless is compelled by the logic of the institutions to maximise the threat to his own grandchildren. He may not like it, maybe on the side he gives money to the Sierra Club, environmental groups, but functioning within the system they're destroying the possibility for organised life.

That is nothing that you can put band-aids on. This is much deeper. Then of course the Trump administration that's just the worst by far. We ought to have big headlines and the newspapers every day saying these guys are trying to destroy the possibility of organised human life and if you think about it honestly there's been nothing in all of human history to compare with this not a Atilla the Hun not Genghis Khan not Hitler.

Horrible as they were they never tried to destroy organised human life. This is something new. There's no word to describe it: evil doesn't capture it. Insanity doesn't capture it because it's not insane it's planned, and conscious and part of the very logic of the system in which they work.

Now of course with Trump and his associates they're trying to extend it make it worse. That's not part of the logic of the system - the system could function with palliative efforts as Obama in fact was doing and most of the world is doing. Not enough but at least something, but it's a very deep problem. It's like class hatred in Brazil. This is deep, you can't put a bandaid on it. It's fundamental things that have to be dealt with.

Q: How about resistance, the movements against capitalism, against those things?

Chomsky: that's the encouraging part of the story: all over the world there is a resistance. So the most popular political figure in the United States by a considerable margin is Bernie Sanders which is kind of unthinkable in the framework of American political history. It's never happened in American political history that somebody like Sanders could become even noticed let alone become the most popular political figure in the country. Now just think of what happened. You have to recognise that American elections are literally bought: you can you can predict the outcome of elections with remarkable precision simply by looking at campaign funding, Executive and Congress.

Goes back well over a hundred years, now here's somebody who entered the campaign virtually unknown. No media support. Barely mentioned if the media mentioned him they just made fun of him you know. No support. Zero from any of the funders. No corporate support. No support from private wealth. He even used what in the United States is a kind of four-letter word. The United States is I suppose the only country in the world outside of maybe some dictatorship where you can't say the word socialism, let alone communism: it's just unspeakable. You know it's literally a four-letter word: he said he was a socialist.

Socialist really means New Deal Democrats, doesn't mean anything very profound but with all of that he came very close to winning the nomination for the Democrats.

Q: you are for Hillary at that time?

Chomsky: No. After the nomination yes. But that's not for Hillary that's against Trump. That's something quite different she was awful. But if Sanders had been able to win the nomination frankly I don't know what would have happened because the Republican propaganda machine which had not been directed against Sanders and which is huge, corporate backed, fantastic. It would be directed against Sanders and what you'd start hearing is things about this atheist Jew communist wants to destroy everything a ton of stuff like that. He probably probably couldn't have withstood it - but so it's kind of unpredictable but that's what certainly would have happened. How people would react to that you really don't know.

You can see it in England right now, the attack on Corbyn. I mean there's an enormous fear including the Labour party you know the old Labour Party, the Guardian: you know the idea that you might have a political party that actually represents the general public and its interests and suffering people abroad and is led by a decent human being. That's totally intolerable so you have this enormous attack of the kind you can't defend yourself against like anti-semitism you say somebody's a Holocaust denier and anti-semite - there's no defence. And it's just across the board: a huge attack on Corbyn and the Labour Party and that's the kind of thing you would have seen if Sanders (had won) - you know. They'd pick a little differently but anti-israel, you know all this huge propaganda which is so familiar you can just make it up - so there's a lot to overcome but what the Sanders campaign showed and what the Corbyn success shows is that you can do quite a lot.

Sanders and Yanis Varoufakis just came out with a joint declaration, that's very important I think. Varoufakis is a very smart interesting guy - he is the centre of this new political organisation diem25, which is in fact running candidates, transnational candidates for the European Parliament and ultimately in the Greek elections and later other ones - which is a kind of a counterpart to Corbyn and Sanders and the Varoufakis Sanders declaration a couple of days ago is you know it's not radical it's calling for sensible multipolar and Liberal Democratic structures. It wants in Europe to preserve what's good about the European Union and to overcome the serious flaws, the same in the Western Hemisphere and things like the Obrador election in Mexico, another example.

So I think if you look around the world and the [. just plain.] level of activism mainly among young people which is quite surprising, striking. I think it's much higher almost than it's ever been, except for a few few brief moments - 1968 there's a brief spike but this is lasting, so I think the basis is sort of there, if it can be brought together and organised.