Volkswagen? Not just an exception, but the rule of modern capitalism
Capitalism must become the business of everybody again because it is in the hands of a miniscule minority who have taken charge. An imperceptible shift has occurred since the beginning of the ‘80s: the power of money having passed from the hands of the captains of industry to those of high finance. Because of this, the financial oligarchy has progressively extended its domination and has ended up, by the mid 2000s, reigning over the entire economy which has become totally addicted to it, by means of the lever of financialisation. This financial crème de la crème (having given birth to the subprime crisis of 2007 onwards) figured out how to make itself indispensable to the economy by showering it with cash resources. The totality of businesses and economic agents has since then adopted the market as a supreme reference tool without realising that this financialisation in fact came from an accrued monopolisation of powers. Powers which had imperceptibly passed from the hands of the captains of industry and entrepreneurs (who had at least gained familiarity with their workers and production) into the hands of a financial elite. The entrepreneurial tradition had until then created a real and added value to our society. And the technological revolutions left a deep imprint, having constituted the authentic driving forces which allowed the prosperity of societies and realisation of the individual. In fact, profit had only ever been an instrument of businesses and not the ultimate goal as it is for finance, since it was constantly being reinvested, albeit in the interest of these entrepreneurs, but also of the whole participating human chain.
Today, profit is the only vista of this financialisation which has contaminated everything in its path and which now considers businesses as simply profit-generating machines, or slot machines in a global casino which buys and sells businesses, employs and lays off workers, with the only criteria being the predicted profits. The dichotomy between industry and finance has in fact totally disappeared. The very recent Volkswagen scandal endeavours, as need has it, to convince us that production is in the end just an accessory, fit to justify and serve a financial sector with turns out to be more lucrative than traditional activity. The mixing of these disciplines thus became global, utterly in favour of finance and contemptuous of all commercial interest and industrial strategy. It is the whole spectrum which today finds itself contaminated by financialisation: energy, property, foodstuffs. All facets of economic activity are thus tangled together in a complex web woven by financialisation. Moreover, areas of business mean nothing to this financialisation which is now capable of coming down hard on any given sector and abandoning it without warning in favour of more profitable investment. The one and only objective being to as quickly as possible make resounding, staggering profits: this is its ultimate specialisation, with no other aims.
Orchestrating understaffing, forsaking work conditions, and reluctantly modernising production tools – such has become the guidelines for the managers of these modern enterprises which now operate under the thumb of the financiers. This sole objective of making profit, elevated to the status of pragmatic religion, has defined new codes which the whole of society must soak up and take inspiration from. This is why Germany is concentrating entirely on the gains of productivity as its one and only means of reducing deficits. Since the only tolerated improvements are those which affect productivity, all criteria, optimisation and solutions are scrutinised and dissected with productivity in mind. This supreme contempt for the value of work, which we all accept in the interest of swelling, speculated revenues – is it not the sign of the decadence of our society ? With the aid of ever more sophisticated products, finance has ground management and the workforce into the dirt, which have since then been considered as simply a negotiable variable which will rise or fall according to the needs and profits at the time. Work has become simply a commodity, a stock raw material, deprived of all moral and even human consideration. As it happens, companies that lay off workers are nearly always compensated thanks to an increase in their status on the stock market, whereas, at the same time, those who take on workers run the risk of being judged with great circumspection by the armada of financial analysts who do so from the comfort of their recliners.
From the intense pressure put on their workers (at all levels of the hierarchy) to attain and surpass their objectives, to the constant stress that general management is subjected to with regards to the price performance on the stock market of the company that employs them. From returns on investments and figures relative to their national and international sales, to savings on operating costs. Violations of the law and corruption seem to now make up part of the rules of the game for these companies and the world of finance, which are only interested in making profits, beating competitors, and conquering new markets and clients up until the point that some of them get “nicked”. Morals and ethics have been gleefully crushed, duly eclipsed in the face of promotions, bonuses, accounts and falsified reports. Volkswagen is in this instance just another example in a long line of corruption and scandals which have involved (for nearly 15 years now) the likes of Worldcom, News Corp and Walmart… It is therefore the whole global spectrum of work (and not just finance) which finds itself infected by conflicts of interest, fraudulent accounting, false statements and breaches of individual privacy. Is modern capitalism thus condemned to create monsters? Milton Friedman asserted that capitalism is liberty. It is – provided that this liberty remains the privilege of a miniscule minority which coexists with and above an ocean of serfs.