News & Analysis
Capitalism Lies in Shambles, and the Left Has Gone Awol
Just one thing is missing from the financial drama that has captivated us for the past year. Yes, the meltdown of the markets has been thrilling, the run on Northern Rock was spectacular, and the scalp count of chief executives is rising nicely. But where in this bonfire of capitalist certainties is the left? Lefties, progressives, social democrats: however wide you want to spread the net, you still won't catch any. In this debate, they've gone awol. Gordon Brown is mesmerised by his plunging poll ratings and hidebound by the orthodoxy of light-touch regulation. Labour backbenchers haven't fizzed with ideas, either. The most radical policies have instead come from a former Shell economist turned Lib Dem MP: Vince Cable. There's been barely a squeak from progressive thinktanks. Capitalist crisis usually spells opportunity for progressives – their moment to point out errors and suggest remedies. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal is the famous example, but more recent is the Asian crisis of the late 90s, when the left teamed up with local activists to attack the International Monetary Fund for mishandling an entire continent. Ten years on, the IMF still hasn't recovered its authority. Who is diagnosing the credit crunch? Well, try whoever wrote this: "One way of looking at the present situation would be to see it as the ultimate breakdown of that phase of western economic development known as 'financial capitalism'." Did it come from a venerable Marxist academic on New Left Review? No, the author is Stephen Lewis, an economist at a City firm trading derivatives. He's not the only financier doing some hard thinking. Josef Ackermann, the boss of Deutsche Bank, confesses: "I no longer believe in the market's self-healing power." The former head of the US central bank, Paul Volcker, is blunter still: "The bright new financial system, with all its talented participants, with all its rich rewards, has failed the test of the marketplace." – Guardian
Dominant Social Theme: There is an argument to be made against capitalism. Let's make it, guys!
Free-Market Analysis: This is a great article from the leftist British Guardian because it shows so clearly how the left/right paradigm is falling to pieces. Much as the non-biblical Catholic theology was left in tatters after the invention of the Gutenberg press, so much of the left/right paradigm is shredding now thanks to the Internet.
In modern times, the "left" part of the paradigm has been ignited by the intelligentsia; why is it failing now? Maybe because it's hard to light a fire when the intelligentsia has been made aware of its own manipulation and foolishness by the latest great publishing tool, the worldwide web.
Prior to the arrival of the Internet, those who were doing the manipulation could find ready fodder in bright, active people who could easily be led into a leftist cul de sac. But it's a lot harder now because anyone with the aptitude to take a political position is going on-line to educate himself or herself. In doing so, they're running into some incontrovertible facts, and finding that much of what constitutes "leftist" thought is hardly credible anymore.
We would venture the new "hot" ideology is libertarianism, which is, at the very least, an intellectually sound concept, one that stands up to scrutiny in an Internet era. In the United States the Libertarian resurgence is led by free-market Austrian economist Ron Paul, who is also a Texas Congressman. But he is hardly alone in the US or in the Western world for that matter.
Leading leftists, meanwhile, are finding it an increasingly "tough go." Why can't Barak Obama "close the deal." Maybe because there are not enough people who believe in the high-tax/activist government nostrums he's peddling. Of course, the right-wing candidate, John McCain, is offering nothing that seems much better to the Libertarian camp. As we've pointed out – and as most free-market thinkers are well aware – McCain's Libertarian positions (such as they are and lately arrived at) are more than offset by his continuing support for America's wars which have cost up to one half trillion dollars – and ticking higher.
It's not just the leftist paradigm that's crumbling, or even the rightist one. What's going on is that the whole edifice is beginning to topple.
The idea of thesis-antithesis, with both sides as mirror images of each other, is rapidly becoming discredited. In simplest form, it looks like this:
LEFT .................................. RIGHT
Another way to look at the paradigm is as follows:
(government activism-economic)......(government activism-social military)
The Internet has introduced generations to a completely different paradigm. It looks like this.
RIGHT LEFT .................................. FREE MARKET
Another way to look at the paradigm is like this:
(more government).....................(less government)
Conclusion: Most of us would agree that the more government/less government paradigm offers a good deal more contrast than one that features a choice between various kinds of government activism (economic or social-military).
Let's travel back to childhood and put it in the most basic terms. If someone offered you a choice between having the school yard bully beat you up during the day or the evening – versus the choice of whether or not to be beaten up at all ... well, you would probably find the second alternative a good deal more profound than the first.
So how did we get to a place where the only alternative being offered to most voters in the Western world is what kind of governmental activism they chose? That's fodder for another issue. But we better hurry! It's becoming less and less compelling all the time. And that's bound to be worrisome to those who've spent a great deal of money and effort building it.