H/T: David Horstkoetter
Category Archives: Capitalism
We believe in one Market, the Almighty,
Maker of heaven on Earth,
Of all that is, priced and branded,
True growth from true growth,
Of one being with the Economy.
From this, all value is added.
We believe in Deregulation, once and for all,
The only way to prosperity.
For us and for our salvation,
Reagan and Thatcher were elected
And were made gods.
In their decade they legislated
To take away our economic sins.
They were crucified by the Liberal Media,
But rose again, in accordance with their manifestos.
They ascended in the polls
And are seated at the right hand of Milton Friedman.
We believe in the Invisible Hand,
The giver of economic life.
It has spoken through our profits.
It proceeds from the Law of the Deregulated Market,
And with the Market is worshipped and glorified.
We believe in one Globalised Economy.
We believe in one key business driver
For the increase in Gross Domestic Product.
We acknowledge one bottom line
For the measurement of wealth.
We look for the resurgence of executive compensation packages
And the life of the financial years to come.
Some interesting points here about the nature of the whole uproar about “socialism” among right wing rabble-rousers we keep seeing on the news. The main issue that needs to be recognized is that the whole uproar about “socialism” in American discourse is a profoundly racial matter:
As real socialists laugh at these clumsily made broadsides, and as scholars of actual socialist theory try and explain the absurdity of the analogies being drawn by conservative commentators, a key point seems to have been missed, and it is this point that best explains what the red-baiting is actually about.
It is not, and please make note of it, about socialism. Or capitalism. Or economics at all, per se. After all, President Bush was among the most profligate government spenders in recent memory, yet few ever referred to him in terms as derisive as those being hurled at Obama. Even when President Clinton proposed health care reform, those who opposed his efforts, though vociferous in their critique, rarely trotted out the dreaded s-word as part of their arsenal. They prattled on about “big government,” yes, but not socialism as such. Likewise, when Ronald Reagan helped craft the huge FICA tax hike in 1983, in a bipartisan attempt to save Social Security, few stalwart conservatives thought to call America’s cowboy-in-chief a closet communist. And many of the loudest voices at the recent town hall meetings — so many of which have been commandeered by angry minions ginned up by talk radio — are elderly folk whose own health care is government-provided, and whose first homes were purchased several decades ago with FHA and VA loans, underwritten by the government, for that matter. Many of them no doubt reaped the benefits of the GI Bill, either directly or indirectly through their own parents.
It is not, in other words, a simple belief in smaller government or lower taxes that animates the near-hysterical cries from the right about wanting “their country back,” from those who have presumably hijacked it: you know, those known lefties like Tim Geithner and Rahm Emanuel. No, what differentiates Obama from any of the other big spenders who have previously occupied the White House is principally one thing — his color. And it is his color that makes the bandying about of the “socialist” label especially effective and dangerous as a linguistic trope. Indeed, I would suggest that at the present moment, socialism is little more than racist code for the longstanding white fear that black folks will steal from them, and covet everything they have. The fact that the fear may now be of a black president, and not just some random black burglar hardly changes the fact that it is fear nonetheless: a deep, abiding suspicion that African American folk can’t wait to take whitey’s stuff, as payback, as reparations, as a way to balance the historic scales of injustice that have so long tilted in our favor. In short, the current round of red-baiting is based on implicit (and perhaps even explicit) appeals to white racial resentment.
Its actually quite an important point. The whole discussion of “socialism” and “captitalism” needs to be diagnosed as the racialized discourse that it is.
The brand new encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI is out and there are a smattering of responses about the blogosphere. Whatever we may want to say about the merits or liabilities of Benedict’s claims in the encyclical, no one could do worse than Michael Novak in his pathetic response over on the First Things blog:
What Benedict XVI has not spelled out yet is another forgotten lesson from St. Augustine: the ever-corrupting role of sin in the City of Man. Augustine points out how difficult it is even for the wisest and most detached humans to discover the truth among lies—and how even husbands and wives in the closest of human bonds misunderstand each other so often. The Father of Lies seems to own so much of the real world.
What are the most practical ways of defeating him? The Catholic tradition—even the wise Pope Benedict—still seems to put too much stress upon caritas, virtue, justice, and good intentions, and not nearly enough on methods for defeating human sin in all its devious and persistent forms.
So, according to Novak what we need is to stop trifling with all this stress on “caritas, virtue, justice, and good intentions” and starting looking for some new “methods for defeating human sin.” Not only is his whole thing about the “Father of lies” owning the “real world” straight up Manicheaism, Novak clearly just doesn’t think Jesus is worth bothering about in any significant sense whatsoever. Fuck charity, justice, and virtue, I need an effective method, dammit! In short, for Novak, Jesus simply doesn’t save.
What other method could there be for dealing with sin other than love, justice, and virtue we ask? I can only assume it must be some sort of coercive power. What else is there?
I mean seriously, this prick is saying that there’s far too much stress being given…to justice. WTF??
Novak has very openly declared his own apostasy. His god is Adam Smith and his religion is neocon capitalism. For goodness’ sake, he even acknowledges in his quote that it is outside of “the Catholic tradition”! Thanks for proclaiming your heterodoxy, Novak, old boy. At least now we don’t have to argue with you about it anymore.
Just to be clear, I’m not posting this because I support any of the current economic policies that are active in Washington. I do not. However, it does serve as a helpful correcting to the hand-wringing and wailing that comes from the far right these days about how America is becoming the next USSR.
H/T: Andrew Sullivan
Since socialism is the great fear of the day among many conservative Christians, here’s an interesting approach to the matter from an oft-claimed hero for conservative Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike:
Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?
The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”. But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.
The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice. Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces. [Italics added]
~ Pope John Paull II, Centesimus annus, §42.
What might have been reasonably called a risk at the close of the Cold War is stark reality today, I’m afraid.
Not according to John Médaille at FPR, who is in the midst of an essay on the economics of distributism which looks to be quite interesting:
. . . there is a certain amount of resignation among distributists, the feeling that they are facing a system that “works,” and that our major task is to add a moral dimension to an already fully functioning system. For example, Daniel M. Bell writes, “The empirical question put to capitalism cannot be ‘does it work?’ The obvious answer is “yes.” At first glance, Prof. Bell’s statement would appear to be true: we do see a working system around us, however imperfectly. However, the working system we see is not capitalism, but Keynesianism. The best one can say from the empirical evidence is that Keynesian Capitalism works. But to say this is to already destroy the argument of the capitalists, or at least of the pure capitalists. If capitalism is a system that requires massive government intervention to balance supply and demand, then it’s purely economic claims must be called into question.
At Adbusters, Micah White argues that “capitalist-materialist disenchantment of the world” must be undone by “a vision in which mystery has a place.”
All that is wild about the world has been systematically penetrated, catalogued and destroyed. The explicit intention of the scientific mindset, to pierce the mysteries of Being, has led to a world empty of excitement in which not even endless consumption can fill the void. We are both cut off from the natural environment, enclosed in sprawling concrete cities, and cut off from any previous philosophical or religious conception of the world that celebrated possibility, contingency and mystery. How would it change things if we rallied in support of nature not because of climate change (an abstraction identified by science and therefore conceivably able to be “fixed” by science) but instead because the nymphs Socrates felt at the river are no longer with us.
Just look at the left’s demands for a new world: we want “clean” energy, full employment, a middle-class standard of living for everyone and “green” corporations. To acquire these desires, we insist that more scientific research must be funded. All our dreams for the future rely on scientists, technocrats, capitalists and the highly educated. That is a fundamental error. Unless the revolution can be accomplished by us, each of us as we are right now, whether we be poor or rich, educated or not, literate or not, then we will continue to perpetrate the myth that only Western style progress is the way forward.
What we need now is a spiritual rebirth that grants the magic back to the world. Only then, through the development of a parallel culture, will we be able to see that the way forward may be to go back.
But the problem is that our spirutal feelings/experiences/rebirths are the very commodities that are traded in the current economy of global capitalism. What is ultimately decisive about capitalism is that no one needs to believe in it, but we all must participate in it. We need more than this to posit anything truly revolutionary.
The always interesting and entertaining Terry Eagleton has a fascinating article in the latest issue of Commonweal entitled “Culture and Barbarism.” A couple quotes:
Islamic fundamentalism confronts Western civilization with the contradiction between the West’s own need to believe and its chronic incapacity to do so. The West now stands eyeball-to-eyeball with a full-blooded “metaphysical” foe for whom absolute truths and foundations pose no problem at all-and this at just the point when a Western civilization in the throes of late modernity, or postmodernity if you prefer, has to skate by on believing as little as it decently can. In post-Nietzschean spirit, the West appears to be busily undermining its own erstwhile metaphysical foundations with an unholy mélange of practical materialism, political pragmatism, moral and cultural relativism, and philosophical skepticism. All this, so to speak, is the price you pay for affluence.
The idea, touted in particular by some Americans, that Islamic radicals are envious of Western freedoms is about as convincing as the suggestion that they are secretly hankering to sit in cafés smoking dope and reading Gilles Deleuze.
That problem encompasses a contradictory fact: the more capitalism flourishes on a global scale, the more multiculturalism threatens to loosen the hold of the nation-state over its subjects. Culture, after all, is what helps power grow roots, interweaving it with our lived experience and thus tightening its grip on us. A power which has to sink roots in many diverse cultures simultaneously is at a signal disadvantage. A British defense think tank recently published a report arguing that a “misplaced deference to multiculturalism” that fails “to lay down the line to immigrant communities” was weakening the fight against political extremists. The problem, the report warned, was one of social fragmentation in a multicultural nation increasingly divided over its history, identity, aims, and values. When it came to the fight against terrorism, the nation’s liberal values, in short, were undermining themselves.
H/T to Horstkoetter.
From Douglas Haddow:
The monolithic notion of a “brand” – an infinitely dependable symbol of prosperity, happiness, comfort and security – is over. For nearly a century brands acted as the definitive medium through which we experienced capitalism. A brand’s strength came from its ability to transmit a consistently identical static message. Brands gave our reality a strong foundation: symbols dotting our mental and physical landscapes that we could use to navigate our way through life. But then brands began to show their age. They started to rust, chip, degrade, fall apart. All of a sudden brands cease to be the impenetrable fortresses of consumer relations we thought they were, and anyone could start a brand and do whatever he wanted with it. Gen X created flexible brands that catered to subterranean audiences, prompting Gen Y to embrace the idea of the “personal brand” – individuality expressed through a marketable system of identifiable signifiers.
And so these slick little icons – towering planets that represented entire universes of product experience – were slowly deconstructed to a point of irrelevance. Our daily lives are now inundated by a torrent of dead images and meaningless symbols from a bygone era, leaving us with one very important question to answer: What’s next?
An Adbusters editorial thinks it might indeed:
Young people in the West are pissed off as they stare into an increasingly empty and precarious future. If Obama’s stimulus packages fail and Sarkozy’s “new capitalism” doesn’t catch hold, “hope and change” will be mere campaign slogans — bearing no connection to reality. Left with forfeited promises, ravaged planetary ecosystems and forced to deal with the massive debt left to them by their parents, no amount of rhetoric will douse their generational discontent. Out of this frustration and anger, a charismatic new leader — a “Lily the Red” — may suddenly appear in Berlin, or Berkeley or maybe Beijing and spark a wave of protests around the world.
The recent food riots may also be a harbinger of things to come. The world’s one billion slum dwellers are the real victims of the economic collapse and it’s only a matter of time before a leader emerges from among them to call for a jihad against the decadent West. His fiery speeches will trigger massive protests against the richest one billion, whose economic philosophies and immoral five-planet lifestyles are accelerating climate change and propagating misery and inequity throughout the world. He will lead the call for a radical new frugality in Western lifestyles, repayment of the West’s ecological debt and a democratic overhaul of the UN Security Council, the IMF and World Bank.
This year, or maybe next, our neoliberal world order will explode like a million fireworks against the night sky and we shouldn’t doubt or fear, but celebrate, because one dream is ending and another being born.
Daniel Larison has some great comments about the relationship between the American neoconservative right and the issue of globalization/secularization. The American right constantly laments the secular erosion of the distinctively American. What Larison rightly points out is that it is incongruous for the right to embrace the economics of globalization and then decry its cultural outworking:
It seems to me that globalists would argue that national economies and regulatory schemes will tend to become more like one another as globalization continues, but so far as I can tell there are very few people on the right at the moment criticizing the policies that foster and encourage globalization, which is the process that will lead to the increasing convergence of our economic model and the European economic model insofar as one can generalize about a European model. To the extent that there is a distinctive American model, that distinctiveness will be eroded by globalization (just as the once far more socially democratic western Europe has become more like the U.S. in the last 30 years). Left-liberals in America and the modern center-left in Germany and Britain are simply embracing the full logic of that process both culturally and politically. Those who want to shore up and preserve distinctive national economic and political systems cannot simultaneously endorse the main force erasing differences between national systems.
Here is the basic contradiction at the heart of the American right’s embrace of technological progress and globalist trade policies: the cultural and political values and the economic model that conservatives claim they wish to preserve are necessarily going to be changed by globalization, and this process is going to be quickened by technological change. To a large extent, conservatives will have brought this fate upon themselves with their embrace of the economic (and, through hegemonism, the political) side of globalization. Like their predecessors forty years ago, the American right wants to have it both ways by enjoying the economic benefits of globalization, real or imagined, while insisting that no cultural price has to be paid and no political sacrifices need to be made.
Lately the “culture of death” rhetoric has been heating up among many conservative commentators in reference to the issue of Obama’s lifting the ban on stem cell research. This has become yet another occasion for many to rail against abortion as the great moral evil of our time. Now, I don’t really actually disagree with this, and I’ll have some more words on this shortly, but I think Eugene McCarraher makes the ultimately important point about this sort of reflexive rhetoric of opposition to abortion in an interview from a couple years back in the Other Journal:
As for abortion, I think we have to stop seeing it as the primary culprit in a culture of death. Abortion becomes conceivable as a moral practice once we take individual autonomy as the beau ideal of the self; but to recognize that is, if we’re logical, to indict not only abortion but also our cherished idyll of choice or freedom. But that, then, is to indict capitalism, which employs a similar language of sovereignty both to legitimate itself and to obscure the remarkable lack of creative freedom at work. I know that I’ll catch a lot of hell for saying this, but I think that a lot of opposition to abortion is sheer moral sentimentality which turns the fetus into a fetish. (You’ll notice that I think fetishism of some sort or other is a pretty salient feature of the contemporary American moral imagination.) Many of the same people who oppose abortion are champions of laissez-faire capitalism, and they either don’t see or don’t care to see the linguistic and cultural affinities between themselves and the pro-choice advocates they fight. They’ll retort that capitalism doesn’t kill anyone in its normal operations, but first, that’s just not true—capitalism has never been instituted or maintained anywhere, not even in the North Atlantic, without considerable coercion and violence—and second, it doesn’t matter, because the exercise of market autonomy has devastating effects on individuals and communities regardless of whether or not they wind up dead. (“Yeah, the company cut your medical benefits or cut your job or left your town a mess, but hey, you’re still alive!”) When I say this, a lot of people retort that I’m changing the subject. In one way, yes, I am, but for a reason—because I want them to see that it is the same subject in a different guise. Talking about abortion is a way of not talking about the autonomous individual, the latest ideological guise of libido dominandi, discussion of which would topple quite a few idols and not just reproductive choice.
Long story short, you can’t rail about abortion and in the same breath deploy your theology to legitimate capitalism.
Über conservative apologetics aficionado, Doug Groothuis is tired of everyone bagging on capitalism these days, and so he points us to a speech given by Ronald Nash in 1985 about capitalism and socialism. If you want a nice theological walk down Cold War memory lane, its quite entertaining:
The alternative to free exchange is violence. Capitalism is a mechanism that allows natural human desires to be satisfied in a nonviolent way. Little can be done to prevent human beings from wanting to be rich. But what capitalism does is channel that desire into peaceful means that benefit many besides those who wish to improve their own situation.
I suppose Nash might be able to be at least partially forgiven for statements this silly, given that he’s a born and bred cold warrior writing at the height of onslaught of Reagan’s archenemies, the evil Soviet empire. Nevertheless, seriously? Free markets=nonviolent exchange? Clearly Nash doesn’t know much about being poor. He might have a different view of the relative nonviolence of free market economics in such an event (though if you read the speech he clearly doesn’t have much interest in the poor at all–they seem to really annoy him actually).
But whatever historical grace we might give Nash, Groothuis is so utterly without excuse that the very act of commending this article seems to make him into the ultimate walking caricature of middle America’s freakishly uptight conservative evangelical wing. At least it makes for an interesting case study. Of some kind.
A recent CNN article has some interesting things to say about how the economic crisis is effecting the cultural view of possessions and spending amidst the upper and upper middle class in America:
With the economy in shambles and so many people losing their jobs and homes, it is no longer considered cool to brag about possessions and purchases.
For many during a deepening recession, conspicuous consumption is out and frugality is the new black.
“People have long used the way they shop and what they buy as a way to communicate with other people about their values, their tastes and their interests,” said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California.
“A year ago, what was considered the ultimate status symbol would have been the chicest bag or the most luxurious outfit,” Yarrow added. “Now what’s chic is being the most knowledgeable and efficient at saving money.”
Yarrow said that despite the tough economic times, there are many Americans who still have disposable income.
Those people are choosing not to spend, she said, or making more thoughtful purchases.
This just underscores an utterly important point, especially in relation to Christian critiques of capitalism that turn into tirades against over-consumption. Frugality, thriftiness, and the old fashioned American work ethic is the stuff global capitalism is made of. Far from being a virtue, having people with disposable income stashing it neatly away because thriftiness is the new black is pretty damn sick.
The culture industry is remarkable efficient these days, wouldn’t you say?