One of the core tenets of Marx’s work is that capitalism will be undone by internal contradictions that would manifest as ever-greater crises that would eventually destroy the system from within. If it turns out the current version of global capitalism is indeed unraveling due to its internal contradictions, it would be valuable to understand this now rather than later.
Since the failure of communism Marx has been politically incorrect even though what he had to say about capitalism could be of great value.
There are two trends within capitalism, which are wealth creation and wealth concentration. Wealth concentration at some point may hamper wealth creation if the people at the bottom have not enough money to spend to make capital profitable.
The oversupply of capital or the lack of demand caused by lagging wages Marx foresaw may be the primary cause of the low and negative interest rates we have now. After the next recession we may never see positive interest rates again.
Despite what the media would have you believe, we’re actually living in the most peaceful time in human history. There’s no doubt that the world is in a bit more chaos than it was, say, five years ago, but largely, it’s still way better than even fifty years ago. We’re just more connected than ever, giving us a direct glimpse into global human suffering we’ve never had before.
The use for development aid may be greatly underestimated. No country is so great that it can’t learn from others. For many issues some countries have found better solutions than others. And so development aid may be extended to every nation in the world, including the countries that consider themselves to be developed. This aid can be about anything, for instance improving democracy, health care, the police force, urban planning or dealing with drug addicts. It is already happening, but it can be done far more often. That isn’t always easy because the aid can fail on cultural issues.
Technological innovations spread much easier than social innovations. For instance, nearly everyone who can afford it owns a smartphone. That took only ten years. History and culture play a huge role in how countries came to handle social issues. Development aid can only be successful when those who receive it are capable and willing to work with new ways of thinking. So if a certain country is planning to copy an idea from another country, it may be good to think of how the solution fits within existing customs and beliefs within the country itself, or how those customs and beliefs can be altered.
Developed countries like the Netherlands may also benefit from development aid. For instance, the Dutch police have difficulties solving crime for decades. In 2002 the University of Nijmegen compared the police performance of the Netherlands and Nordrhein-Westfalen, a German state that is comparable to the Netherlands with regard to the number of inhabitants and the number of crimes committed. The research showed that the Dutch police only solved around 20% of the reported crime while the German police solved around 50%.1 In 2016 this issue still persists.2
As of 2007 registered crime rates in the Netherlands went down. Dutch prisons are underutilised while Belgium and Norway were renting excess Dutch prison space. Government bureaucrats are eager to frame this positively but the question remains why so much crime remains unsolved. Police officers believe that incentives to under-report crime are built into the system so that the statistics aren’t reliable.3 As a consequence many citizens don’t bother to report small crimes as they feel that the police won’t take action. This makes the statistics appear even better.
Perhaps it is time for a different approach. Why not let the Germans help to improve crime detection? That may be easier said than done. It affects politics, police organisation as well as police culture. The German police have more crime detectives than the Dutch. Political choices determine police force priorities and these differ in the Netherlands and Germany. Still, it may be that the Dutch police and politicians can learn from Germany. After all, solving crime is one of the most important tasks of the police, and society may be safer when criminals are in prison rather than on the streets.
Featured image: German and Dutch police cooperating. NOS Dutch public broadcasting society.
1. Duitsland-Nederland en de afdoening van strafzaken. WODC.nl (2002).
2. Rapport geeft onthutsend beeld recherche: ‘Probleem zit heel diep’. RTL (2016).
3. Politie manipuleert misdaadcijfers, zeggen agenten zelf. Jolanda van de Beld, Aldert Bergstra, Eline Huisman, Anouk Kootstra en Linda van der Pol (2019). De Groene Amsterdammer. [link]
Is it possible to have a free and equal society? The road to tyranny is often paved with good intentions. So can this question be asked? Or do we lack a proper vision? Perhaps there are examples that can show us the way. In the year 1142 five North American tribes, Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca, formed a league that came to known as the Haudenosaunee, Iroquois or Five Nations. In 1722 a sixth tribe, Tuscarora, joined. The constitution of the league is known as The Great Law Of Peace.
The impact of the league on world history is considerable. Unlike Europeans the Haudenosaunee had equality and liberty for all. This was not uncommon for tribal societies but the Haudenosaunee influenced the European colonists settling in the United States, and as a result, important 18th century European thinkers. Freedom, equality and brotherhood became the motto of the French Revolution and still amongst the most important values people believe societies should be based.1
The formation of the league
According to legend three people made this happen. They were Dekanawida, known as the Great Peacemaker, Ayenwatha also known as Hiawatha, and Jigonhsasee, known as the Mother of Nations, whose home was open to everyone. The league was proposed to make an end to the constant warfare between the neighbouring tribes. The warrior leader Tododaho of the Onondaga kept on opposing the idea.
Deganawidah then took a single arrow and asked Tododaho to break it, which he did easily. Then he bundled together five arrows and asked Tododaho to break them too. He couldn’t. In the same way, Deganawidah prophesied, the Five Nations, each weak on its own, would fall unless they joined forces. Soon after Deganawidah’s warning, a solar eclipse occurred. The shaken Tododaho then agreed to the alliance.
The Haudenosaunee absorbed other peoples into their cultures as a result of warfare, adoption of captives and offering shelter to displaced peoples. During the American Revolution two tribes sided with the revolutionaries while the others remained loyal to Great Britain. The tribes were forced to take sides. They needed the favours of the winning party for disease had reduced their populations. After the war, the league was re-established.
The principles of the league
The Great Law Of Peace consists of 117 codicils that deal with the affairs between the Six Nations. The league is based on the consent of the peoples that are part of the league. When issues come up that need to be decided upon, the male chiefs or sachems of the clans are summoned to gather at the council fire in the territory of Onondaga.
The league aims for consensus. Decisions require large majorities of both the clan mothers and the sachems. This puts pressure on individual members of both groups not to impede decision making with insignificant objections or frivolous considerations. Referendums are held on matters of great importance.
Women have considerable influence. They are entitled to the land and its produce. The clan mothers deal with the internal affairs of their tribe. They elect the sachems of their tribe and can remove them from office. Hence, the sachems heed the advice of their female relatives.
Compared to the despotic European societies of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Haudenosaunee was a liberal form of government. In the first two centuries of European colonisation there was no clear border between natives and newcomers. The two societies mingled and Europeans could see from close by how the natives lived. They had a level of personal freedom common to tribes but unseen in Europe.1
As for the Haudenosaunee, the colonial administrator Cadwallader Colden declared in 1749 that they had such absolute notions of liberty that they allow no kind of superiority of one over another and banish all servitude from their territories. Colden had been an adoptee of the Mohawks. Other Europeans complained that the natives do not know what it is to obey and think that everyone has the right to his own opinion.
Social equality was as important as personal liberty to the North American natives. They were appalled by the European division into social classes. The French adventurer Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce, Baron of Lahontan, lived in French Canada between 1683 and 1694, noted that the natives he visited could not understand why one man should have more than another and why the rich should have more respect than the poor.
Some early colonists preferred to live with the natives. The leaders of Jamestown tried to persuade natives to become like Europeans. That didn’t happen. Many English joined the locals despite threats of dire punishment. The same thing happened in New England. Puritan leaders were horrified when some members of a rival English settlement began living with the local tribes. As Franklin lamented in 1753:
When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return. [But] when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, though ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a short time they become disgusted with our manner of life … and take the first good opportunity of escaping again into the woods, when there is no reclaiming them.
The European colonists had to adapt or they stood to lose their people to the native tribes. And so American society became more free and equal than societies in Europe. The European philosophers of the 18th century took their ideas of freedom from the native Americans and this eventually led to the French Revolution. Freedom and equality have now become the basic principles of democratic nations.
The ideals of liberty and limited government influenced the United States Constitution. The ideals of equality and consensus however did not. The US Seal features a bald eagle holding thirteen arrows bound together representing the thirteen founding states reminiscent of the bald eagle and the five arrows from the legend of the Five Nations.
Featured image: The flag of the Iroquois Confederacy. Mont Clair State University website (Montclair.edu).
1. New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005). Charles C. Mann. Knopf. [link]