The hegemony of capital is nothing new. From the earliest days — in fact, the start of written history — the ruler of the tribe was the person who controlled land, hunting tools, plowing implements, and other basic items for life. Then, after the transition to communal living from Stone Age cave dwelling and hunting and gathering, the village leader controlled food and water distribution and basic trading. This was essentially the start of trade by barter.
With the transformation of community into larger and more complex societies, the tools and implements created by man evolved to increase the quantity and quality of food, water, heating, clothing and shelter. The rule of capital, even at its most primitive, empowered landowners, who in turn paid a proportion in crops and livestock to kings and nobles for protection from hordes living outside the village walls. That was the beginning of government, and the establishment of law and order.
Socially and economically, medieval society was about the ownership of land and the peasant labourers who worked that land. Land, livestock, implements and peasant labour was capital that generated wealth for the kings, lords and nobles of the time.
The struggle between the haves and have-nots became a feature of history as communities increased in size and new skills and markets developed. The slave and peasant as suffering underdog is part of the narrative of history. The underdog of ages past has evolved into the working classes in today’s West — and the impoverished masses in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia.
The evils of social inequality are age-old. The tussle between capitalism and socialism — capital and social equality — has been an ongoing story, especially from the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s through to the age of industrialisation.
‘Capital has won’
In the 21st Century, however, capital has won that war. Capitalism has prevailed over opposing ideologies and cultures. That is the cold reality.
Today, capital has been so successful that the capitalist fears that the capital mix may no longer require the human element. Science and technology may replace that human element. The debate about artificial intelligence embodies that fear.
The conflict between capital and the drive for greater human equality has driven modern history from the end of feudalism and absolute monarchy to the present-day science and technology epoch, with its relatively complex forms of governance and human engagement. In fact, the wars of the 20th Century, including the Cold War, have as underlying theme the power of capital to drive international hegemony and geopolitics.
After the Industrial Revolution came the rise of the nation state and modern republics, the Bolshevik Revolution and communism, war and peace in the 20th Century, social capital, liberal economics, and now the rise of the multinational corporation, tech, and the rule of the billionaire. Capitalism has emerged triumphant.
Contemporary economics news has centered on the question of whether there is a fundamental flaw in capitalist society owing to concerns about growing inequality. However, the inequality question has become mere rhetoric. History has been essentially the story of capital and its evolution in its various forms. Inequality and the struggle for greater equality by humanity is a feature of written history. History is nihilistic.
Capitalism has been the great survivor of the ravages of history and of all the conflicting ideas and ideologies of the 19th and 20th Centuries. There has always been inequality, and the ownership of capital is as old as written history.
Today, there is no escaping that we are all at the mercy of business, finance and technology — all forms of capital. Capital drives government and the deficits that power governance. Global capital rules the space and marketplace in modern times, as the most basic forms of land ownership and organisation ruled in centuries past. Capital is borderless and moves at the speed of light in the 21st Century.
Today, wealthy countries dominate poor countries. Rich rule over poor. Science and technology drive war and peace. Above stands the multinational corporation and powerful investor with the world as their stage.
Once upon a time, Jack the Capitalist was a fixture of western society alone. Today, the investor and capitalist rules in every country — east and west, north and south — and exists under every social and political system.
The history of humankind may well end with capitalism.