Attempting the Impossible – Calculating Capitalism’s Death Toll – Guerrilla Ontology
When one sees one of those massive lists of the death toll of Communism on Tumblr, one inevitably see, if sources are included, the name RJ Rummel over and over and over again. In order to show you that Rummel’s figures are way off the wall, I will take a closer look at the dictator who’s death toll has the highest consensus – Hitler. While it is true that there is some debate about whether the Holocaust occurred or how many people perished under the Third Reich, the overall historical consensus is more stable than Stalin or Mao’s death toll which changes every year as a new book is published or new archives are explored. Not all were tried, but most of the 50,000 who were, were sent to normal prison which did not mean death. Given the lack of data on their part and their own numbers, assuming a 100% death rate, adding up to only 32,300, that is what I will go with.
The first, and most obvious, deals with the death toll that the book posits. The book, written by professor Stéphane Courtois, tries to posit that there have been about 100 million deaths due to Communism. Two of the book’s main contributors, Nicolas Werth and Jean-Louis Margolin, publicly stated that Courtois either inflated numbers for the purpose of achieving his goal of 100 million or that he cut corners and ignored deaths in some places. Of the 100 million deaths, most are due to famine which, assuming the figures are actually correct, are the result of mismanagement and stupidity as opposed to government malevolence. Assuming that the figures are accurate, the death toll of capitalism is going to outweigh this anyway.
Before I continue however, an important note must be made: unlike the death tolls associated with Communism, the deaths caused by capitalism are usually the result of capitalist constructions, be they systemic poverty, imperialism, Atlantic and post-Atlantic slavery, etc. In third world countries, the United States, on its quest for empire, has been responsible for 6,000,000 deaths.
Capitalism has a Role in Fighting Poverty
Any time of year is a good time to discuss poverty, but the subject has obvious resonance at Christmas. The Pope’s letter also took capitalism in general to task, which is troubling because the relationship between wealth creation and the alleviation of poverty is often misunderstood. Pope Francis does not make this next distinction, but his critique applies better to crony capitalism than to competitive capitalism. Crony capitalism wherever it occurs, is not capitalism properly understood, where people are free to bargain and choose goods and services – trade, in other words, an activity human beings have engaged in for much of history. Far from enhancing those who already possess wealth, competitive capitalism – and within the rule of law, property rights, other civil rights and sound currencies – allows entrepreneurs to compete in existing markets or edge out old goods with new, innovative products.
The late Angus Maddison, a British economist who famously surveyed the world economy, concluded that the growth of international trade and capital was one major reason for the reduction in absolute poverty over the centuries. The authors found that between 1970 and 2006, poverty rates around the world fell by 80 per cent. Capitalism does help reduce poverty, providing it is more the competitive type than the crony type. None of this means that some people will not attempt to combine money and power to abuse others, or that capitalism will solve every social ill. The claim is only that poverty rates would be vastly higher absent open markets and competitive entrepreneurs, as indeed such rates were when protectionism, mercantilism and socialism were more influential around the world.
Argentina today has much poverty, and that reality has informed the real-world experience of the current Pope. Pope Francis’s capitalism critique is too general, but there is indeed a problem with crony capitalism.
The compassionate state
Students of history know that communism saved capitalism after the Second World War. The welfare state enjoyed a rebirth when countries, especially those in Europe lying prostrate after the conflagrations, kindled a romance with the idea Marx and Lenin wrought. The West, including the United States, strengthened the social buoy of the poor and vulnerable although the idea dated back to the years of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the 19th century. They are the old who cannot earn any more money, the young and old who cannot get healing, the children too poor to afford books and food at schools, the disenfranchised business person who cannot get seed money to pursue the dreams of independence. I had an opportunity to sit as an observer at the state of Osun’s executive council recently and observed the essence of his style.
As Laoye-Tomori showed in her power-point presentation, in the past year the inflow into schools had leaped from between 25 percent and 30 percent. The students would now have school uniforms, spinning an industry and a jobs spur that locals are taking advantage of to tailor and provide the uniforms all over the state. The thousands of children in Osun who are abandoning idleness at home and on the streets for school are witnessing the greatest liberation: of the human mind. The state has obviously a mobile medical system where communication between the deprived and the caregiver is streamlined. What is being done for the elderly in terms of free healthcare in some states, like Lagos, Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ekiti, will help improve life expectancy.
After the U.S. won the war of independence, Jefferson accused President Washington of apostasy for creating an elite society with Alexander Hamilton when he set up institutions for a strong federal state. From the droves of children going to school in Osuns now, we know that is not true.