TIME Spreads the Government-Wealth Meme
By Staff News & Analysis - September 07, 2010

Anatole Kaletsky: How to Fix the Global Economy … Kaletsky argues that capitalism has gone through three major eras punctuated by two near-death crises – the Great Depression of the 1930s and the stagflation of the 1970s – which forced the system to adapt in order to survive. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, he says, capitalism is morphing into a new, fourth era. Kaletsky spoke to TIME about what went wrong with the global economic system – and how to fix it. … TIME: What will be the defining feature of capitalism 4.0? Kaletsky: In the fourth era we are going to recognize that both governments and markets can, at times, make serious – sometimes catastrophic – mistakes. There was a view after the Depression that markets were dangerous and needed to be tamed by an all-knowing, benign government. In the third phase [before the Great Recession] there was a reversal: the idea was that markets are perfect and governments need to be tamed. Now we know that both government and markets make mistakes, and we won't trust either of them. – TIME Magazine

Dominant Social Theme: Government is very helpful in the wealth building process and without an enlightened regulatory bureaucracy the Invisible Hand would be fumble-fingered indeed.

Free-Market Analysis: The Daily Bell analyzes the dominant social themes of the elite. In TIME, the Wall Street Journal and other major mainstream media, a new dominant social theme is being constructed in our opinion. It is one justifying the Western economic system and the massive government interference that has taken place. We have pointed this out in several articles recently, most recently in Libertarians Seek Rahn's Ideal State where we wrote the following …

Two brand new dominant social themes in a very short space of time, or at least that is the way we see it. The state has come under tremendous attack in the 21st century and we believe the powers-that-be are pushing back. (Why wouldn't they?) In aggregate, the themes make a powerful argument that some level (perhaps a high degree) of state involvement in the economy is at least tolerable if not an unmitigated good.

We explored the first meme just the other day. It was, we believed, a sophisticated socioeconomic perspective promulgated by a brilliant young political observer, one Ian Bremmer – who had the perspicacity to focus on the idea that most of the major powers of the world today are practicing something called state capitalism … Bremmer, we decided (whether he knows it or not) is essentially creating a new dominant social theme that justifies Western capitalism not just in previous free-market incarnations but as it is today. The argument he presents, we came to believe, is one that if taken to its logical conclusion implies that instead of criticizing Western capitalism, Westerners ought to devote their energies to combating state capitalism abroad. …

Now the NEW meme (new to us anyway) buttresses what Bremmer is proposing. This suggestion is brought to us from the mainstream libertarian wing of the US sociopolitical dialogue. … [Called the Rahn curve], it postulates that data shows governments are most effective at supporting economic growth and free-markets when they comprise no more than 15 to 25 percent of total GDP. Because today governments in the West are consuming so much more of GDP to provide "services," the "Rahn Curve" claims that government is basically out of control.

We can see in both of the above that there is an effort to incorporate the government as a natural part of the larger conversation. This interview with Anatole Kaletsky in TIME magazine parallels what we have already observed. Who is Anatole Kaletsky? Wikipedia tells us that he is "a journalist and economist based in the United Kingdom. He is Editor-at-Large and Principal Economic Commentator of The Times, where he writes a thrice-fortnightly column on economics, politics and financial markets."

And Wikipedia adds, "He was named Newspaper Commentator of the Year in the BBC's What the Papers Say awards for 1996. He has twice received the British Press Award for Specialist Writer of the Year, has won the Wincott Award for economic journalism administered by the Institute of Economic Affairs, and the First Cernobbio-Europe prize. Beginning in 1990 he was Economics Editor of The Times, responsible for all economic news and analysis, and resigning in 1996 to create his consultancy practice. He remains the paper's principal commentator on economic and financial affairs, and is now Editor-at-Large writing for The Times Comment pages on Thursdays and for the Times Business section on alternate Mondays."

This sounds most impressive, and yet we have this from Wikipedia as well:

Many of his economic predictions have been proven wrong by subsequent events, and this tendency was noted by the satirical magazine Private Eye. For example, Kaletsky wrote, "… I am one of the few economic commentators who has consistently made light of the anxieties about a "day of reckoning" for British homeowners and consumers …" Predictions include that "the credit crunch seems to be ending" (June 2008) and that "there will be no US recession" (January 2008). His latest prediction is that in the United Kingdom general election, 2010, the Liberal Democrats may displace the Labour party as the "dominant party of the Left".

Wow. Here is a fellow who has won some of the most prestigious awards in his profession and yet on every significant economic event of the 2000s he was wrong. He didn't believe there would be a real-estate crash, a credit crunch or a recession – and said so in no uncertain terms. Yet not only has he kept his job, he is being held up buy TIME magazine as an economic "guru" whose words we ought to trust.

Should we? It is Kaletsky theory (as we can see from the article excerpt that began this analysis) that there have been three major eras in terms of the West's perception of capitalism. During the Great Depression, he argues that "markets were dangerous and needed to be tamed by an all-knowing, benign government." The second era was during the 1970s, an era of stagflation when capitalism had to readapt to survive. After that came a third era during which the idea took hold that "markets are perfect and governments need to be tamed." What has been the result of all this? A fourth era as follows: "Now we know that both government and markets make mistakes, and we won't trust either of them."

This fits right into the meme we have already discerned – arguments that go out of their way to incorporate government involvement in the marketplace. We would argue this is a pro-active theme, a fear-based promotion that is gradually building in power and persuasiveness via the mainstream media. Like many such themes it is being pursued at a number of levels and in a number of guises. The idea is always to suggest a number of possibilities and then see which is the best received. That is the one then to receive the most promotion.

We have an alternative point of view that we will suggest however. It is one that goes back to the Greeks and has as its basis the idea that government ought to be rigorously disciplined and pruned. This idea of severely limiting government found resonance in Britain with the Magna Carta and was soon married to the idea that the free-market itself was the driving force behind prosperity. Adam Smith suggested this with his concept of the Invisible Hand. Not much later with the founding of the Austrian School, the idea that the market was the fount of prosperity began to accumulate theoretical backing.

We now have some 200 years of neo-classical theorizing, beginning with the boundary between classical and neo-classical economics – the theory of marginal utility that shows comprehensively that wealth is created and accumulated via free-markets (the freer the better) not via the guidance of government. Ludwig von Mises presented this clearly in his great work Human Action, which postulated that it is the individual, operating freely and within the ambit of the larger marketplace, who makes the decisions that drive prosperity, not the government bureaucracy.

And then we have this – what we have pointed out ourselves – that the great Western nation-states seem to come from inchoate and small entities competing side by side and sharing the same language and culture. In such instances, governments are likely to be quite cautious because citizens can move from one region to the next and thus avoid draconian laws, regulations and taxes. We have pointed out this pattern as regards the Greek city states, the Seven Hills of Rome, the city states of the Italian Renaissance and of course the 13 US colonies.

These are all historically valid points in our view and their frame of reference is millennia. Why is it then that Kaletsky writes a book that attempts a historical analysis of capitalism in less than a century? If you read the interview, you will see for yourself, dear reader. Over and over Kaletsky returns to the idea that government is a necessary part of any economy. If one examines the economic and political history of thousands of years, one sees that this is not necessarily so. But Kaletsky, an astonishingly bright man, is determined for some reason to look at only about 100 years. We would argue this foreshortened frame of reference is partially responsible for what we consider to be flawed conclusions.

But we think unfortunately that it goes deeper than that. The usual mainstream suspects in Britain and America have launched yet another promotional campaign using various intellectual justifications to ensure that people are reminded that government is a necessary part of any economic adventure and that wealth cannot be gained without the presence of government. What does Kaletsky tell us? "The crisis has made it fairly clear that the deregulated, noninterventionist model of capitalism can't cope with extreme fluctuations. America will pragmatically conclude there is a need to invent a new system, crucially one in which government is necessary."

Kaletsky's solution is an aggressive one indeed and features another element of the West's current command-and-control economy – central banks. Here is what he proposes: "There is another alternative: monetary policy. Central banks could do more. We already have short-term interest rates near enough to zero all over the world. But there is still a view that this is a temporary emergency situation that isn't going to last very long. What central banks can do — and I think will do — in the next several months is offer clear assurances that interest rates are going to be at or near zero for many years to come, perhaps the rest of the decade. … That's really the most plausible formula for a return to decent economic growth all over the world."

We disagree with this. We think central banks fix the price of money and always do so wrongly causing terrible booms and busts. We think central banks are a big part of the problem. Why doesn't Kaletsky? We have no idea. We are not even prepared to say that he is a knowing part of what we discern as a new elite dominant social theme for the 21st century. In fact, we have no idea how these promotions work at the upper levels. We are fairly sure that individuals such as Kaletsky are not given direct orders to pursue this or that intellectual endeavor. Kaletsky and the others may be therefore entirely sincere in their premises and conclusions. But nonetheless, these fear-based promotions evidently and obviously take place.

After Thoughts

We believe the three examples cited in this article begin to show once again how these memes are promulgated and how sophisticated they can be. They do exist in our view and the solutions they offer are always, at least, quasi-authoritarian. The idea is ever to advance centralized governance and inevitably a global form of it. They worked better in the 20th century than today.

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