Consumer spending driving us to the brink of extinction

Consumerism and the military-industrial complex go hand in hand in generating massive profits for global corporations.

The military-industrial complex is the guarantor of cheap raw materials and cheap labour so that we in the First World can gorge on a never-ending supply of consumer goods at prices that we could not afford if they were manufactured at home. Most First World products are not manufactured here but are made in Third World countries by low-wage children, women and men, often from raw materials stolen or expropriated under duress from weaker countries.

Most people, to some degree, have been aware of this for some time but, either because of lack of alternatives or self-interest, have turned a blind eye.

In my opinion, one cannot claim to be progressive, communist or concerned about climate change if First World consumerism is not on the agenda.

I don’t think it’s necessary to go through the figures: people are well aware that most of what we consume here is produced in Asia: clothes and footwear in China, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar; furniture in China, Vietnam, Malaysia—and China for everything else, from hi-tech to cars and trucks.

We have millions of exploited humans producing an endless stream of goods for our pleasure, while corporations accumulate profits in amounts that are unfathomable even to us.

The raw materials used to produce these goods are extracted from countries and continents without any of the benefits going to the people doing the extraction. In fact most of them work in intolerable conditions. The raw materials, after being expropriated, are shipped to the areas of most exploited labour for manufacture and shipped again (and container ships, oil tankers, large warships and cruise ships are probably the most polluting machines on earth) to the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia and New Zealand.

The rainforests are being decimated, and not for the peoples of Brazil or Indonesia: they are being decimated for us, for the hardwoods, the pharmaceuticals, metals, rare-earth materials, and cash crops such as palm oil. The world’s major agricultural chemical companies, having destroyed biodiversity on the land, in rivers and in seas are now in full battle mode to attack sustainable farming methods in Africa, India, and anywhere they haven’t yet got a foothold.

It’s the same with spices, herbs, vitamins, and cosmetics: we can’t get enough of them, with the consequence of reducing food production for the people in the producing areas and pushing prices beyond the reach of millions.

Massive trawlers scour the oceans with the latest electronic equipment to bring cheap fish back for our consumption while plundering the stocks for millions of coastal peoples who have fished sustainably for millennia. Massive seafood farms in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia and South America produce millions of tons of seafood for our consumption. The needs of the local people are forgotten, but they have to live with the consequences in the pollution and soil erosion.

All the while the workers and victims of our consumption are murdered, imprisoned and tortured when they show resistance to such exploitation. If the local elite are incapable of controlling the resistance, or governments come to power to defend the interests of their people, the United States will come to the rescue, using one or more of its 800 military bases, often with the help of Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, to enforce the wishes of their corporate masters.

The division of humans into five main categories has never been more stark:

  1. the elite—the 64 or so people who combined have as much wealth as 3½ billion people;
  2. the major shareholders and senior executives and managers of the large corporations;
  3. the enforcers: national governments, the media, journalists, advertising and marketing gurus (whose job is to persuade us to “spend, spend, spend”), and high-level civil servants and academics;
  4. the consumers—moulded by the corporations, through advertising, to believe that enough is never enough; and
  5. the producers—the most unfortunate victims of this vicious capitalist system of expropriation. Billions of people, whole countries and continents are subjected to the tyranny of meeting the needs of the profit-making elite by extracting and producing for us, the planned consumers of the First World.

If this isn’t enough to motivate us to look for a non-profit alternative to the butchery of the current system, then maybe the looming climate catastrophe will.

Let’s be clear: there is no technical solution to the present crisis. The earth has, and always will have, finite resources. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can justify the consumption differentials between the highest and lowest users. Nothing can justify Elon Musk’s $185 billion while 9 million people die of hunger every year and total military spending for 2019 was $1.92 trillion.

This is the question: are we willing to take the chance that there is a technical solution and allow the present system to continue, with all the war, misery and starvation that it entails, or are we going to organise and co-operate to change to a non-profit world?

If we don’t, history will not remember us kindly, and people will look back and think of this era in the same way that we look back at slavery, child labour (in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Europe), and racism.

Hopefully, we will learn to co-operate, and our children, or our children’s children, will get the chance to thank us for it.