Capitalism Is Not The Problem
Gloom, doom and revolution are in the air:
France paralysed by a wave of strike action, the boulevards of Paris resembling a debris-strewn battleﬁeld. The Hungarian currency sinks to its lowest level ever against the euro, as the unemployment ﬁgure rises. Greek farmers block the road into Bulgaria in protest at low prices for their produce. New ﬁgures from the biggest bank in the Baltic show that the three post-Soviet states there face the biggest recessions in Europe.
It’s a snapshot of a single day – yesterday – in a Europe sinking into the bleakest of times. But while the outlook may be dark in the big wealthy democracies of western Europe, it is in the young, poor, vulnerable states of central and eastern Europe that the trauma of crash, slump and meltdown looks graver.
Exactly 20 years ago, in serial revolutionary rejoicing, they ditched communism to put their faith in a capitalism now in crisis and by which they feel betrayed. The result has been the biggest protests across the former communist bloc since the days of people power.
Europe’s time of troubles is gathering depth and scale. Governments are trembling. Revolt is in the air.
Capitalism, of course, is the reason, or at least the cause used by European socialists, to lay blame for this crisis. Forgotten, of course, is the standard of living capitalism has brought to these same people over decades despite their every effort to blunt and subvert it’s bounty through government.
Forgotten by those in the east who survived communism 20 short years ago is the marked difference they found between the east and west and how long it took them to recover from the ravages of communism.
I’ve always heard we human beings have very short memories. And I’ve also heard we always believe that the times we live in are the worst. Ever.
How else do you explain this belief that suddenly the world’s problems can be traced to evil capitalism? But it is truly under attack around the world.
In some places the attack on its foundations is blatant. Consider Bolivian President Evo Morales’ recent speech to the UN:
I think that that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity and if we do not change the model, change the system, then our presence, our debate, our exchange, and the proposals that we make in these meetings at the United Nations will be totally in vain.
Capitalism has twins, the market and war. The market converts life into commodities, it converts land into a commodity. And when capitalists cannot sustain this economic model based on looting, on exploitation, on marginalisation, on exclusion and, above all, on the accumulation of capital, they rely on war, the arms race. If we ask ourselves how much money is spent on the arms race — we are never concerned about that.
This is why I feel that it is important to change economic models, development models, and economic systems, particularly those in the western world. And if we do not understand and thoroughly discuss the very survival of our peoples, then we certainly not will not be addressing the problem of climate change, the problem of life, the problem for humanity.
Morales, of course, attempts to blame all the ills of colonialism and its aftermath exclusively on capitalism, while ignoring any benefits accrued. He also manages to ignore the oppressive nature of that colonial period and the simple fact that it really didn’t represent capitalism as much as rule by oligarchs. The oligarchs, in many cases did “loot”, “exploit” and “marginalize”. But not under the auspices of a system called “capitalism”.
A simple and rational examination of what capitalism is versus what his country experienced would help Morales understand that capitalism isn’t the cause of his people’s suffering. And while I can empathize with his concerns for the rights of indigenous people and the environment, the system which provides those rights and the wealth necessary to address both issues isn’t the populist brand of socialism to which he and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez subscribe.
And while Chavez and Morales provide the more obvious attacks on the capitalist system, there are much more subtle ones ongoing in Europe and the United States. The article I cite above is a good example of that trend. The fact that Europe was brought so quickly to the precipice isn’t because of capitalism, but instead because so much of life is dependent on the state. And when finally the state – as we saw with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union – can no longer carry the financial load it has burdened itself with, the whole system eventually collapses.
Funny that the less capitalistic nations of Europe where the state has assumed a more intrusive role in its citizens life seem to be facing a deeper and more immediate financial crises than are others.
But that’s not because the same sort of attempt to subvert capitalism even more isn’t at work here as well. Some time last year, I grabbed a quote from Stephen Bainbridge’s blog (forgive me, I don’t have a link) and it distills well the essence of the evolution of blatant socialism, which is rather unpopular, to a more stealth version of the ideology which we have been seeing for some time. This was written during the recent campaign:
When I think about Obama, I am reminded of Richard Epstein’s observation that in order to remain politically viable modern socialists no longer advocate direct government ownership of production. Instead, modern socialism operates on two different levels: “At a personal level, it speaks to the alienation of the individual, stressing the need for caring and sharing and the politics of meaning. At a regulatory level, it seeks to identify specific sectors in which there is a market failure and then to subject them to various forms of government regulation.” Sounds a lot like Obama’s stump speech to me.
Sounds very much like the government that has formed and is now operating. Isn’t the Obama administration forming a “Middle Class Task Force”? If that doesn’t speak to framing “alienation” I’m not sure what does. And we’re presently hip deep in the ramping up of a new regulatory regime aimed at ensuring we never suffer a new bout of failed markets no matter how many banks they eventually have to nationalize and despite the fact that government was a big part of the problem.
Consider Epstein’s main point above – In order to hide old school socialism enough to make it acceptable today, the populist message had to be tweaked. With the failure of socialism/communism in the USSR and eastern Europe, “direct ownership of the means of production” came to mean two things – gross inefficiency, the mega-state and crushing oppression.
People everywhere came to identify socialism/communism with those damning characteristics. That forever removed it from the pantheon of acceptable ideologies, although (see Chavez in Venezuela who is unapologetic about it) there are still a large cadre of true believers who are sure that the only reason socialism hasn’t worked is it hasn’t been properly done yet. And, of course, they’re the people to do it. For the most part, these people are found on the left side of the political spectrum.
Facing utter rejection, at least in the US if the “S-word” is used, it has become necessary to hide it in a populist message and, then, create a victim class and a villain. It is no longer the proletariat who suffers under the yoke of the oppressive monarchy, but instead, the “bitter and frustrated” voters of rural America. Or the middle class.
As Epstein points out, it is necessary to paint a picture of alienation of the individual from the system in order to attack the system. Establish that narrative and suddenly “hope” and “change” take on a new and easily manipulated meaning.
Once that narrative is established, then the “enemy” has to be identified. The entity or entities which are responsible for the alienation of these individuals have to be identified and called to task in order to establish the framework necessary to make the collectivist premise of bigger and more intrusive government palatable.
Wall Street. Big Oil. Big Pharma.
Ironically, the mega-state remains the answer to the dilemma which it helped create. The narrative necessarily asks how successful, without government intrusion, a small-town voter (aka “the victim”) can be in standing up against the legions of Washington DC lobbyists writing bad law or greedy “big oil” sucking your wallet dry and paying outrageous CEO salaries?
Victim class, oppressor, superhero (the government) to the rescue. Never mind that the superhero has been a much a part of the problem as any other entity involved and more so than most. This too is a classic part of the cycle. Government causes a problem, identifies the victims and the transgressors (without government being counted among that group) and it gathers the power necessary – or, more likely, has it ceded to it – to “right the wrong”. Of course, it never gives up the power it gathers.
End result – bigger government, more government power, more government intrusion.
If you can’t see that on the horizon right now, then you are indeed politically blind and will probably do well under the new state regime which is presently being built.