Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes Fotografie
Is capitalism doomed to collapse? That was the leading question during the talk show with the anthropologist Paul Jorion last Wednesday, organised by Studium Generale. The auditorium on the Minderbroedersberg was quite full, mostly with students. Interviewer Joan Muysken, UM professor of macroeconomics, wants to know immediately. Is there going to be a collapse?
“Yes,” says the Belgian abruptly.
Muysken: “Okay, that's clear then.”
The answers that follow are less concise. They are more like scholarly mini-lectures of some twenty minutes, often starting in Greek antiquity or the Renaissance. Jorion (1946), a student of the famous Claude Lévi-Strauss, who died in 2009, has published a great deal about kinship systems but also about economics and capitalism – these days also in the form of a popular blog. He was a professor in Brussels and Cambridge.
The debt crisis, according to Jorion, is the forerunner of the total collapse that results from a flaw in capitalism: the concentration of wealth. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. “In the year 2000, one per cent of the Americans controlled almost one third of all wealth; by 2012, this has increased to as much as 40 per cent. But how do you sell your products if the poor have suffered a decrease in wages and hence their spending power? Ensure that they borrow money! This is what has happened, hordes of people got themselves into debt. At the same time, the rich began to speculate, with devastating effects on the prices of oil, bread, cotton. It is these types of trends that will blow the system up. The explosion is near.”
Why are governments not doing anything, Muysken asks? “Because the members also belong to the 1 per cent who own the wealth and power. Moreover we lack politicians of stature, like De Gaulle, Roosevelt or Churchill. They were leaders who occasionally took a hard line, and shouted: ‘Enough is enough!’.”