Until A few weeks ago, supporters of free market capitalism were confident enough to proclaim that their system was the only way that the world could be organised. Now their certainties have vanished.
The economic crisis that started in banking and finance has spread quickly to the wider economy. Now it threatens to engulf whole countries, bringing untold misery to millions.
Belarus, Hungary, Iceland, Pakistan and Ukraine all stand on the brink of bankruptcy. Beyond them are even bigger countries – including Poland, Russia, Argentina and Turkey – whose economies are in danger of collapse.
As their currencies slide and exports falter, all of these countries have been forced to borrow heavily just to ensure that they can pay their bills.
Some have so little in their foreign exchange reserves that they will only last a matter of weeks without an injection of cash. They have been forced to beg the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency loans.
But the IMF – an organisation dominated by the rich countries of the West – will only extend its help at a price.
During past crises, it has demanded swingeing cuts in government budgets, privatisation of industries and the liberalisation of markets. Struggling nations are now preparing themselves for the worst.
In Pakistan, where already millions cannot afford food or the fuel to cook it with, the government has announced the ending of fuel subsidies and the removal of a cap on gas and electricity prices. This is to be accompanied by big cuts in government spending.
In Hungary, the government has suggested a massive assault on its state pension and the slashing of pay as part of the bailout of the economy.
If the past is anything to go by, the IMF will endorse these measures but demand much more for its money.
The economic shockwave that is spreading across the world is not confining itself to poorer economies. Already the Bank of England estimates the cost of the financial crash at $2.8 trillion – a sum so big that it defies comprehention.
And despite the billions spent on bank bailouts, scores of British firms announced major redundancies this week.
We are told that these shutdowns are inevitable and that it is pointless to resist. There is simply a lack of a demand for the goods that are produced, it is said.
But while goods pile up unsold and workers are laid off, millions of people go without the things they need because they can’t afford to buy them.
And the skills and machinery in each closing factory could offer solutions to some of the greatest problems facing humanity. For example, engineers who once made cars could be employed to make generators for alternative sources of energy.
We have the resources to build a better world. So far, the stranglehold of capitalism has been a barrier. Now it is up to us all to ensure that its hold is broken.