Destruction caused by profit

If leaders of the U.S. government realize that greenhouse gases are causing world temperatures to rise, why don't they do something about stopping it?

ONE OF the notable features of capitalism is that the system really does seem to promote the "hard" sciences. In the social sciences, on the other hand, academics invent superficial theories that obscure reality more than explain it.

Columnist: Paul D'Amato

Paul D'Amato Paul D'Amato is managing editor of the International Socialist Review and author of The Meaning of Marxism, a lively and accessible introduction to the ideas of Karl Marx and the tradition he founded. Paul can be contacted at [email protected].

People constantly make jokes about how economists can't really predict what's going to happen in the economy. But when was the last time you heard a joke about quantum mechanics or relativity theory not being able to explain what happens in the universe?

The reason is that capitalists need science--getting behind the appearances to try to understand, through experimentation and mathematical calculation, the inner workings of nature--in order to expand production.

That doesn't mean that there isn't wrong science. But the constant drive toward the technological innovation--as capitalists compete to find cheaper ways to produce goods and to push their competitors out of the market--makes science a necessary part of capitalist development.

Military competition between the world's most powerful capitalist states prompts governments to spend huge sums on the best means to kill the largest number of people--and that requires good science. So Albert Einstein's theories helped pave the way for the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima.

The kind of science that is pursued--and the way it's pursued--is therefore constrained by the social relations of capitalism. Scientists devote more of their time to discovering the military applications of scientific discoveries than they do to finding a cure for cancer.

Medical scientists who work for major pharmaceutical companies are concerned not with curing diseases but with producing drugs whose sale will turn a profit. There is more money in finding ways to sell a cocktail of drugs that reduces the symptoms of AIDS than there is in finding a cure.

According to the International Red Cross, only 2 percent of an global public and private biomedical research is devoted to the major killer diseases in the developing world--AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Global military spending in 1995 topped $864 billion, while spending on the prevention and control of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria was only $15 billion.

Likewise, though scientists are perfectly aware that emissions of so-called greenhouse gases are causing world temperatures to rise to dangerous levels, the U.S. ruling class regularly blocks efforts to reduce pollution levels.

Why? It would cut into profits.

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THE AIDS crisis in Africa highlights capitalism's indifference to the human suffering it causes.

Africa is home to 70 percent of the world's HlV-positive people--and accounted for the majority of the 2.6 million AlDS-related deaths that took place in 2000.

The continent receives only about $160 million a year in aid to combat HIV/AIDS, whereas it needs somewhere between $1 and $2.3 billion, according to the World Bank.

To put this fact into perspective, the cost of two B-2 stealth bombers--almost $1 billion apiece--would provide all of Africa with the money it needs to tackle the AIDS crisis.

The crying contradiction in our society is that the scientific know-how to solve many of the world's problems already exists in abundance--as well as the potential resources to solve those problems. But we live in a society where a minority of people exploits the labor of the majority for profit and where the drive for profit takes precedence above all other considerations.

And that prevents us from solving these problems. And more than that, those who run society continually reproduce the same horrific problems on an ever-expanding scale.

Earlier human societies can be excused for not knowing the unintended consequences of their methods of securing a livelihood. But the modern capitalist class has no excuse for the devastation it wreaks in its drive for wealth.

It continues to starve millions, to pollute and to allow curable diseases to spread--even though all of the resources and techniques exist to prevent these disasters.

The only solution to this state of affairs is for the working class to take over the means of production and reorganize society in the interests of human health and well-being.

First published in the February 2, 2001, issue of Socialist Worker.