Creeping Capitalism

By Singer, Daniel | The Nation, October 1, 1990 | Go to article overview

Creeping Capitalism


Singer, Daniel, The Nation


Creeping Capitalism

Europe's landscape is changing -- dramatically in its Eastern half, which is groping toward capitalism, and less spectacularly in the Western part, which is on the road to a single market. The following notes on recent transformations suggest that the two trends are not unconnected.

Big if Not Beautiful. The announcement on July 30 of the long-heralded takeover of International Computers, Britain's champion in this field, by Fujitsu, the big Japanese specialist, creted quite a stir in Europe. It was a reminder that in several fields European corporations cannot compete with the giants of the international marketplace. But Fujitsu's move was taken as a challenge not to Europe's big producers of mainframe computers -- the German Siemens, the French Groupe Bull and the Italian Olivetti -- but to I.B.M., the American giant.

There is no complaint about the invasion of American capital for the simple reason that for some time now money has been flowing across the Atlantic in the opposite direction. The only novelty, according to a recently published study, is that in the past few years Freench companies, particularly state-owned ones, were the leaders in this trans-Atlantic transfer of capital. While new, this development should not be surprising. In the earlier phase of the Industrial Revolution business concentration had proceeded much further in Britain and Germany. It is now the turn of French, and also Italian, corporations to catch up, and the state is helping them to reach the size needed for international competition.

We are approaching the final state of capitalist concentration on the international scale, with giants swallowing giants. The tales about capitalism with companies on a human scale were just tales. Small may be beautiful but our god, Mammon, is on the side of the big batallions.

East for South? Western Europe's "economic miracle" after the last war was partly due to the mass migration of impoverished workers ready to fill less-rewarding jobs. In the mid-1970s, the economic crisis put an end to this movement and in some countries even led to a reversal. But globally, immigrant workers had come to stay and, indeed, judging by the latest report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the movement has now resumed to some extent, notably because of a growing demand for labor in the service sector.

The immigrants no longer come from the same places. The Italians, the Spaniards and the Portuguese are not emigrating in such large numbers as in the past. Besides, since their countries are now members of the European Economic Community, they, and the Greeks as well, can legally seek jobs throughout the Common Market. The new outsiders are the Turks and, above all, the north Africans. The threat of a Muslim "invasion" from the Maghreb, which has been raised by right-wing groups, has been inflated by simply projecting into the future huge fertility rates from the past. Those forecasts must be revised downward since the Algerian birthrate is dropping dramatically, following the pattern set in Tunisia and Morocco. It is doubtful whether even the fundamentalists can reverse this trend.

Whatever the future, at present the combination of a young population and an insufficient supply of jobs spells out a dramatic surplus of labor. The rate of emigration fron North Africa would be even greater if unemployment in Western Europe were not still failry high. soon the North Africans may also be hindered by Eastern European competition. Last year more than 700,000 Germans immigrated into the Common Market, half of them ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe and the other half coming from East Germany.

Admittedly, with Germany united, the latter will not figure in next year's immigration statistics. But they will keep on migrating. Capitalism's first blessing from Central and Eastern Europe has been the gift of unemployment. …

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