The Guardian • Issue #2046

Overproduction – Crazy capitalism

A worker is smashing the capitalist system. Faithfully adapted by mAlkAv from the Vladimir Mayakovsky’s original.

In 1867, Karl Marx wrote of capitalism’s inherent tendency towards overproduction and underconsumption (not enough goods reaching those that need them). No more vulgar example can be found in recent news than the company Funko’s decision to send $40 million worth of stock to the rubbish tip. Funko produces “Pop! Vinyls,” a popular line of licensed collectible figurines spanning a huge range of pop culture including Disney, NBA, and Whitney Houston.

The company claimed in its fourth quarter earnings report that the demand for these toys has fallen and the stock on hand is more expensive to store than it is to dispose of. Forced to rent storage space to cover the excess stock, the diseconomies of capitalism are laid bare; instead of a rational distribution of toys to those in need of them, the toys are thrown on the tip, with the company paying for the disposal instead of distribution. It goes without saying that the working people who produced these products did not have a say in the fate of these toys either.

Sadly though, this is not the worst of the most recent examples. An investigation performed by the UK’s ITV in 2021 found that Amazon UK fulfilment centres are throwing away millions of items every year. And unlike Funko, who consider their disposal of the products of working people to be a temporary, once-off action, Amazon have reportedly built this waste into their operating procedures.

“From a Friday to a Friday our target was to generally destroy 130,000 items a week,” says an anonymous ex-Amazon employee. The waste from a single fulfilment centre is staggering, but not to fear, says Amazon.

“The landfill site also has a recycling centre and none of [our] items go to landfill in the UK,” Amazon told ITV. A small comfort for those concerned about the environmental impacts but little for the workers whose labour never finds a use, and a slap in the face to a growing number of poverty-stricken UK citizens unable to afford three meals a day.

Food banks within the UK have recently revealed that a record number of households are now reliant on their services, with food inflation in the UK coming in at 16.7 per cent for the year. “We regularly have people who come in that may not have eaten for 2 [to] 3 days. We didn’t use (sic) to see that before,” explained one UK food bank volunteer. As the economic crisis deepens, British capitalism has repeatedly been shown to be just as inclined to throw its own people in the trash as the goods produced by the very same people

It must be mentioned that in response to the ITV investigation, Amazon have now rolled out a new program to “give unsold inventory a new life” – allowing third party sellers on the platform to on-sell some returned goods. This program is of course at the discretion of the third party seller.

Closer to home another example can be found when early last year, Queensland farmers dumped truckloads of avocados, leaving them to rot amidst massive rises in food prices. Later on in the year another report revealed that thousands of kilograms of oranges were being left to rot, unable to be sold on the market. “I don’t understand, I guess, what people are eating if we can’t sell our produce,” remarked one NSW orange grower to 7NEWS.

More recently it has been revealed that the collapse of a trucking company may eventually result in the disposal of $500 million worth of frozen foods as the receiver attempts to move the frozen stock to other storage locations.

With the company going into administration, 1200 workers have lost their jobs shipping frozen goods across the country whilst supermarkets struggle to deal with frozen food shortages.

Meanwhile, more than two million households or 21 per cent of Australians have run out of food in a period of 12 months, says the Foodbank Hunger Report 2022 from Foodbank Australia. This figure increases for households with children, with 37 per cent of single-parent families skipping meals or abstaining from eating all day at some point in the year.

“So that means now we have to cut down on groceries. Adults go without meals so the kids can eat. So, cutting down on groceries is our only option,” says a mother in Queensland. In the same year, Coles group posted over $1 billion in profit, with the Woolworths group posting $1.5 billion (both after taxes and costs).

It would be a mistake to assume farmers could produce such incredible volumes of fruit every single year, but a system that produces hunger while farmers and growers throw away food, and logistics are incapable of transporting food to the hungry is clearly indicative of a dysfunctional economy unable to fulfil the most basic needs of its people.

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