From my column in Ynet: “Is There a Future for Capitalism?”
In Europe and in the United States, extreme right-wing movements are becoming stronger, in Asia fundamentalist Islam is growing, Nazism is permeating Russia. Besides that, millions of people are out of work, this trend continues to become stronger, and the world is heading toward war. How far will the world deteriorate? Rav Laitman answers in the spirit of the wisdom of Kabbalah
As a last convulsion before the death of the capitalism of today, it is flourishing and prospering, but underneath the surface, it is dying. The writing is already on the wall: purchasing power and sales capacity are fading, social mobility is frozen, technology is led by robotics, nanotechnology, and three-dimensional printers take over the job market, and the most distinct sign of all is rising unemployment. The UN’s International Labour Organization estimates that world unemployment will grow to at least another 11 million people in the next three years—and this is without considering the data on hidden unemployment and the unemployment of youth throughout the world, which is breaking new records and distort the measurement method.
It is clear that a lack of jobs accompanied by low wages will increase inequality, which is liable to force many of the young to postpone establishing a family unit, buying a home, and raising children and will encourage migration to developed nations. The economic downturn will necessarily cause the spread of the epidemic of depression and an increase in drug use and could lead to hundreds of thousands going out to the streets demanding social justice—a global trend that is growing before us.
In a world that is continuing to change and is in economic uncertainty, the question can be asked: Is it possible to prevent mass exodus to huge violent protests? Who will provide work for the millions of unemployed? And where is the world economy deteriorating to?
Capitalism’s Swan Song
The fundamental assumption of economics is that people aspire to maximal benefit with minimal investment (the assumption of rational expectations) with egoistic motives. Yet people who make a living off each other cannot exist separately from the other individuals in society. Throughout history, human development reflects the development of connections and interdependence between people. Which is to say, economics is just a copy of the system of connections and relationships between us.
According to the wisdom of Kabbalah, these relationships between people are a deeper expression of the egoistic nature of humanity—the desire to receive maximal pleasure and enjoyment even if they are at the expense of others. The egoistic nature began to grow even in the days of the ancient kingdom of Babylon around 3,500 years ago. So the foundations for the methods of trade and the use of money and taxation were laid down for the first time, modern agriculture began to take shape, and alongside them the methods for governance and control and classical processes of order and management were founded for the first time. Civilization, which had been conducted as a single family, was overthrown in an instant. The ego, which drove the Babylonians to develop, transformed them into being more self-centered and separated them. Social changes gave birth to class disparity among the populace and the phenomenon of exploitation of others began.
That created periods of slavery and feudalism one after the other, based on farming, and it split society into two classes in the Middle Ages, the prominent nobles and the serfs. The egoistic nature intensified the search for twisted ways of profiting more, and people began to develop new measures that brought far-reaching changes, known as the Industrial Revolution.
On the eve of the revolution, at the end of the 18th century in England, the steam engine was invented. For industry, this was a springboard into the modern world. Mechanization and industrialization continued to develop at a dizzying rate and caused the masses to leave their pastoral villages and move to the big cities in England, France, and later, the United States—cities that developed around modern industry.
The Industrial Revolution gradually changed the nature of society. It led to the development of two new urban classes: The bourgeoisie—the financiers, who were leaders of enterprises, banks, and commerce, and the working class (the proletariat)—simple peasants who came to the city without any education, worked hard for the wealthy and suffered alienating and exploitative employment conditions.
Karl Marx, the father of the doctrine of Socialism, who was exposed to this phenomenon firsthand, described it this way: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
“Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes” (The Communist Manifesto).
The process of the development of egoism did not stop, and in the middle of the 19th century it reached the peak of its prosperity and was wearing a new socioeconomic name of capitalism. The Capitalists demanded their own private property and free-market trade. They placed the individual at the center and formed a liberal position to justify their higher status. Their claim that when their income increased and their taxes were lowered, wealth would trickle down and provide benefit for the less established strata, has become a fiction. Marx believed that when the generation of working masses would understand that their situation was very bad, they would join together, make a violent revolution against the bourgeois regime, and bring a new egalitarian society. But he was mistaken about this turning point….
A hundred years ago, Baal HaSulam wrote that, “However, in this last point, where he promises us that after the ruin of the current bourgeois government, a proletariat government will immediately be instated, here is the flaw in his method: The new reality before us denies it. He thought that the proletariat governance would be the subsequent step to the bourgeois governance, and hence determined that by negating the bourgeois government, a proletariat one would be established instantly. Yet, reality proves that the step following the ruin of the present government is that of Nazis or Fascists. Evidently, we are still in the middle stages of human development. Humanity has not yet reached the highest level of the ladder of evolution. Who can assume how many rivers of blood are yet to be shed before humankind reaches the desired level?” (Baal HaSulam, the newspaper, The Nation).
The negative force of the egoistic nature is operating as usual, and if we don’t rein it in, it will lead us into uniting in Neo-Nazi and Fascist movements, a trend that is taking place these days in Europe and the United States. While the economy helps us live, it is not life itself. We must see how we build a new society according to the process of development through which humanity is moving, and as society changes—the economy changes.
While economists and policymakers think about how to reverse the cycle and return capitalism to its golden age, we learn from the wisdom of Kabbalah that this is something that is impossible. Capitalism made its own laws, and the laws of nature are advancing us toward a new socioeconomic model, and it is good that this is so.
A New Human Industry
There is increasing interest in the model of universal income, through which a country pays every citizen a basic subsistence allowance without any connection to his employment status; the detachment of payment from labor, is not accidental. It reflects stuttering attempts to prepare for an era in which there will be no work, but provision will be in abundance thanks to advanced robotics. But the failure of a national referendum to assure an income in Switzerland in the beginning of the year and the opposition to the new model throughout the world reflects a lack of maturity or even a denial of the fact that the entire labor market is standing before dramatic changes that are liable to undercut the entire social-political-economic order, and it is incumbent upon us to prepare in advance to avoid shocks and much human suffering.
How do we do this? Just as today, we are all the product of a formal and informal educational system, that through lectures and the memorization of principles prepare us for life in a capitalistic system, so much so that it seems natural to us. So we just have to adjust the relationships between us, which are the basis for every economic system, to the new reality and the challenges of the 21st century. Such adjustment can be carried out only by means of mass education. The public-school system was established with the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century in order to train workers to work in factory assembly lines. So it is precisely up to us to generate an unprecedented educational revolution in the 21st century, toward the formation of the new society.
Imagine that every morning we will go out to the workplace where we worked in the past or to a community center close to our homes, and throughout the entire day we sit around a roundtable learning about the global world and human nature and discuss how to strengthen positive relationships between us. The positive power of connection that is created and stabilized between us will balance the negative force of egoism and will provide every person with a life, emotionally and psychologically, in the form of happiness, joy, serenity, and peace. “social unity…can be the source of every joy and success” is what Baal HaSulam wrote in the article, “The Freedom.”
With the help of promoting an ideology calling for unity, we put an end to the problem of increasing unemployment: many workplaces will be created, as I have specified here at length, whose entire purpose will be to generate the power of positive connection. The citizens will not be concerned at all about food, clothing, health, education, housing, cars, entertainment, or any additional social services. The nation will become a big family community; the problems of nationalism and privacy will gradually be solved, and the power of connection will heal the dying human society to its complete recovery. The new social economy will finally release us from the constant concern about making a living, engaging in excessive materialism, and will free our time for personal, social, and spiritual development.
Ynet: “Is There a Future for Capitalism?” 12/6/16