Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Animal Farm Redux: A tale of global economic inequity in 2024

As we navigate the complex landscape of the global economy in 2024, parallels to a novel set forty years ago in what was then the future are unceasingly alluring for many. However, while George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four will forever reverberate through the passage of time as a quintessential critique of authoritarianism, his Animal Farm offers us a far more compelling critique of the power dynamics, manipulation, and pitfalls of unchecked authority associated with the ultimate authority – the one in which all fascist and ‘communist’ systems have hitherto existed: capitalism.

The story of Animal Farm unfolds as a group of farm animals revolt against their human oppressors, led by the idealistic pigs Snowball and Napoleon. The revolution promises equality and prosperity for all, yet as time progresses, the pigs, who initially championed the cause of the oppressed, succumb to the allure of power and wealth. Over time, the pigs consolidate power, betraying their initial ideals and creating a hierarchy that mirrors the oppressive regime they replaced.

Sound familiar? Naturally one can chart these porcine similarities in the development of capitalism – particularly in the transformation of the ‘“start-up’” into the multinational corporation. In the spirit of Animal Farm's pigs, these entities, once heralded as champions of economic freedom and innovation, have come to wield disproportionate influence over global and human affairs. One need only read a tweet from Elon Musk to understand why billions were wiped off a particular company on the New York Stock Exchange on a particular day or read the latest struggles of Amazon workers to wrest back control of their bladders from Jeff Bezos to understand the severity of this influence. Sadly, these latter-day Napoleons have since emerged as today’s elite, having manipulated capitalist conceptualisations of progress and innovation to the extreme.

In Animal Farm, Napoleon and Snowball are at first portrayed as comrades, sharing a vision of a utopian society. However, Napoleon's lust for power becomes evident when he orchestrates the expulsion of Snowball, eliminating dissent and consolidating authority. One would also do well to recall the condescending hero-worshipping stage rallies of other capitalist exploiters like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates – seemingly once essential ingredients in the faux revolution of the nineties tech boom – and see in them the earlier manifestations of this elitist cunning. There, they extolled the cutting-edge popular utility of their technologies, encouraging perceptions that new tech would lead to a more transparent, equitable, and empowered society. To the contrary, tech giants like Apple and Microsoft have since amassed colossal wealth, buying out competitors, exploiting tax loopholes, and engaging in questionable labour practices. As Orwell wrote, ‘"All animals are equal’” but as the pigs consolidate power, this commandment undergoes subtle modifications, ultimately becoming ‘"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’."

Here, Orwell's work highlighted the manipulation of language to control perception, with the pigs modifying the commandments to justify their actions. Similarly, in the global economy, terms like ‘“free trade’”, ‘“globalisation’", ‘“innovation’”, ‘“aspiration’”, and ‘“growth’” are employed to cloak a system that often perpetuates inequalities. At the global level, both developed and developing nations find themselves in positions of vulnerability, exploited by powerful economies and multinational corporations in a manner akin to how the pigs exploit the other animals on Animal Farm. Meanwhile, individuals are oppressed in every conceivable manner, from the chiming of the alarm clock signalling the commencement of the day’s shift to the incessant blaze of propaganda, emanating from every screen or frequency, affixed to every block or bus. We are told at every turn that we must have something to be someone – an exercise in the all-consuming tawdry display of capitalist accumulation.  

If one should take anything from Orwell's tale, it is that complacency and conformity breed danger. The animals on Animal Farm gradually accept the pigs' changing principles, rationalising their own subjugation. In the contemporary global economy, there's a parallel in how the masses often accept economic policies that favour the wealthy, believing in the illusion of trickle-down prosperity. Reaganomics sadly remains the chief allure of our acquiescence. A totem under which we willingly swallow the erosion of workers' rights, precarious labour conditions, and the widening income gap between rich and poor, if only for the chance to receive an extra portion of the workhouse gruel. Capitalism’s greatest achievement is our complicity. The Musks, Bezos’s, Jobs’s, and Gates’s of this world fully intend to feed us with the automatic updates necessary to ensure our continued function as the best software version of capitalism (indeed, helpfully Mr Musk has now developed and tested a brain chip, possibly with the idea capable of absolving us of the last vestiges of self-awareness!).

 In conclusion, as we assess the global economy in 2024, the parallels to George Orwell's Animal Farm offer a sobering reflection on the persistence of economic inequity and the concentration of power. The pigs' gradual descent into corruption, the betrayal of revolutionary ideals, the consolidation of corporate influence to the manipulation of language and the erosion of democratic principles, Orwell's cautionary tale resonates in the dynamics shaping our contemporary economic landscape. It is a timeless critique, every bit as vital as Nineteen Eighty-Four, that prompts us to critically examine the principles guiding our societies and question whether they truly uphold the values of equality, justice, and genuine progress. The challenge remains to achieve a global working-class consciousness which strives for a more equitable and just global economy. World Socialism, in which we eradicate hierarchy, participate in decision-making, and produce according to need is the only viable alternative.


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