A New Brand of Capitalism?

Tonight Abigail spoke on the many names and faces of capitalism that neoliberalism keeps birthing — and how they all preference profit over people and the planet. 

Abigail said:

Earlier this week the people of New South Wales were regaled with a masterclass in circular economics. Clearly the New South Wales Treasurer, the Hon. Matt Kean, is not quite ready to relinquish his mantle as Minister for Energy and Environment, keen as he was to demonstrate his recycling credentials. New capitalism is thus born, supposedly emerging from the ashes of nasty old capitalism and bravely standing in contrast to its precocious cousin, can‑do capitalism. Unfortunately for us all, this is less "reduce, re‑use, recycle" and more "rebadge and re-use". New capitalism, can‑do capitalism, compassionate capitalism, green capitalism—what's in a name? Capitalism by any other name would smell as foul.

The essential and fundamental feature of capitalism is the exploitative pursuit of profit. Regardless of the adjective placed in front of it, at its core it is still the same lukewarm, overheated system of wealth and resource consolidation through a fundamentally unequal and exploitative system of social relation. These used car salesmen are trying to stick a Tesla badge on an old clunker, roll back the odometer and tell us it is a brand new car; never mind the fact that it is the same busted up, outdated, polluting and prone-to-breaking-down engine. Capitalism is a system in decay. It is a system incapable of responding to the fundamental and most pressing crisis facing present and future life on this planet. Climate change is not an unfortunate by-product of capitalism; pollution and exploitative resource extraction is rewarded with super profits by design.

A fundamentally dissatisfied economic system, capitalism constantly demands and pursues infinite growth and expansion, which is unsustainable and undesirable in a finite world. What is required is a complete paradigm shift away from the relentless pursuit of profit and growth, and towards an unrelenting pursuit of social and ecological good if we are going to have any chance at preventing the very worst effects of anthropogenic climate change. The scale of the challenge facing us is immense. Greenwashed capitalism will not cut it. New capitalism would have us applaud BHP and Rio Tinto for using solar panels to power their coalmining operations. At the recent UN climate change conference, COP26, supposedly the biggest and most powerful conference of nations and parties coming together to confront the climate crisis, more than 500 fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance—more members than any single country that attended the summit.

Fossil fuel use is the single biggest driver of anthropogenic climate change, and yet even at COP26 those lobbyists were welcomed and valued. Fronting the Australian stall was an ad for a fossil fuel company. The proponents of capitalism view it as morally neutral—that is a cop-out. There is nothing neutral about preferencing profit over people and planet. By the Treasurer's own admission, capital requires incentivising and subsidising before it will do what is necessary to preserve life on the planet. As if having a future that is not scorched by drought, buffeted by storms, drowned by sea level rise and starved by famine was not incentive enough! In the past few weeks the insidious forces of rampant capitalism have shown themselves in this Chamber. Government members stood up and argued against improving the conditions for female workers in trade industries, undoubtedly because it would cost a bit more to make sure that women had a clean, safe and accessible toilet.

Both major parties voted against a motion to make it slightly easier for people with a disability to visit or live in a home because it might cost less than 1 per cent more when constructing that building. The Government will not even ensure a proper and timely clean-up of toxic waste from coal-fired power stations that leaks into our groundwater and lakes. My clean air bill went through an inquiry and that report was released this week. The overwhelming majority of all submissions itemised in extreme scientific detail the chronic and often-fatal health effects of the toxic emissions from coal-fired power stations. There is a simple fix to protect the life and health of this State's residents, and it could be done immediately, but it would cut into the profit margins of the coal‑fired power station operators. We will have to wait and see whether the Government will take the side of profiteering capitalists or the side of the people.

The climate emergency punishes the many and is driven by a political and economic system built by and privileging the few. A better, kinder, fairer world is possible, but we will not get there through the relentless pursuit of profit whether or not we rebrand it. Capitalism is still capitalism regardless of the words we put before it. We can do much better than that outdated and destructive economic system. A progressive economic system is possible and we are more than capable of embracing it. Now more than ever we must look past capitalism and build a fairer, sustainable and compassionate world.


The full transcript can be found in Hansard, here.

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