British geographer and social theorist David Harvey, a special guest at the opening of L’Alternativa independent film festival, visited the CCCB to explain the relationship between modern capitalism and the political impact of Donald Trump’s election win
After over forty years spent teaching Marx’s Capital – now also from his YouTube channel – Harvey’s view on the free market system reveals itself as clear, organised and categorical. We interviewed him to find out more about what his assessment is of the latest political changes.
Why Donald Trump?
For David Harvey, the question should be turned around: Why didn’t Hillary Clinton win? The fact that anyone can read in the media that “Clinton went to talk for Goldman Sachs and received 270,000 dollars for one speech” gave a lot of fuel to Trump’s arguments. On the basis that voters in the big cities – such as New York – are more inclined to vote Democrat, it was in rural areas and among the most vulnerable social classes where the American magnate’s discourse made the deepest impression.
According to Harvey, on a popular level, typical people talking in bars, it was felt that Hillary Clinton was not the kind of person who was going to work for them. The determining idea that led to Trump’s electoral victory was that “he made his own money”, which furthermore embodies the old ideal of the American dream. Meanwhile, Clinton was viewed as a person who, favoured by her position of power, was in politics purely to make a lot of money.
The economic boom
Capitalism has always been about growth. According to this British professor, the growth rate of societies with a free market economic system, since it always follows an exponential curve, can reach an inflection point. A point where the curve can no longer hold out. Harvey uses China as an example of the country that has grown most significantly and that has also kept global capitalism stable since 2008, thanks to a massive urbanisation programme
In fact, between the years 2011 and 2013, China consumed 45% more cement than the United States consumed in the whole of the 20th century. So, what will Trump do? “Nobody knows exactly what he’s going to do, but what I can guarantee is that he’ll try to create a boom in the US economy through urbanisation programmes, just like China did. He has to provide answers to all the people on low wages who voted for him”, comments Harvey.
Transition to a zero growth economy
The consequences of this urbanisation process, if it really does happen, may be very different. But the key, according to this geographer, is that we are going to move towards a new inflection point in the economy. “The growth will have to stop, inevitably. And copying the Chinese model, apart from the consequences it may have for the environment and socio-political contexts, creates political fighting and all the social tensions that we are seeing today”.
“There are very good reasons to be anti-capitalist right now”, Harvey affirms. The situation that a new mass urbanisation process could lead us to should make us think about what we will do when that inflection point arrives. “We have to say to people explicitly that we need to manage this transition to a zero growth economy and it must be done in a way that is socially equitable”.
So now what?
Leaving aside the racist solutions offered by the Trump side, we still find other alternatives. Harvey points out that in the United States what might happen, for example, is that the political faction led by Bernie Sanders, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the primaries, may become dominant inside the Democratic Party. “This may lead to solutions in terms of building something that truly responds to the problems of growth”.
In the United Kingdom, something similar is happening with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Here is the case of a politician with little support among Labour MPs, but tremendous support from the mass party. This antagonism within the party itself has grown very quickly, along with new memberships to enable people to vote for him in internal processes.
Meanwhile, in relation to Barcelona and similar cities, Harvey observes certain movements with a popular base that, on a municipal level, are making the effort to change the nature of the urbanisation process and the effects of mass tourism. In this sense, these movements are becoming a response to one of the great challenges of the current time: “building cities to live in, as opposed to cities to invest in”.
The lecture by David Harvey at CCCB is available here.