Sunday, January 24, 2016

Capitalism's Crisis . . . .

Economic and political instability are often impulses to change. Long waves of capitalism (originally outlined by Nikolai Kondratiev and then taken up by thinkers like Joseph Schumpeter and Ernest Mandel) have low and hi points. When you are headed to the bottom of one of these waves, capitalism is headed for a structural adjustment. This occurred in the wake of the first "Great Depression" (or what is now sometimes referred to as "The Long Depression") in the late 19th century. One of the reactions to this depression was the Progressive Movement, and one of the legislative responses was the anti-trust (or what should be called the anti-monopoly) laws. Another structural change came in the 1930 when smart capitalists realized that capitalism was a threat to itself and if it wasn't adjusted we were headed toward chaos. The smart centre-left politicians like FDR knew that a safety net was needed to make capitalism more functional. Meanwhile even smart Conservative politicians like Churchill understood that the one of the threats of a declining capitalism was the rise of Fascism.

When the long post-war boom ended, capitalists took the opportunity to shift the socioeconomic system away from the gains of the 1930s, and they used the process of globalization to make it difficult for nation-states to respond to the growing inequality and middle-class stagnation. But with the depression ushered in by the 2008 crash we see a new process of adjustment. Once again capitalism has become a threat to itself. In the wake of bank corruption, wealth decline, and staggering inequality, the Neo-Liberal narrative is clearly breaking down. The retreat of governance away from attempts at generalized wealth creation, at fair taxation, at infrastructural investment (as well as health and education) has meant that our governments have actively conspired to impoverish the people (something governments have always been good at). But the timing of this conspiratorial relationship is optically poor because it has placed government squarely in the role of being a point man for the rich at precisely the moment when capitalism is failing the vast majority of the world's population.

The threats that we now face are multi-fold. It is not clear that capitalism's growth at all cost impetus can be reformed at all, let alone reformed in time to save us from total environmental disaster. In the short term, perhaps the more pressing question is whether we can avoid the mistakes of the 1930s and the fall into fascism. If you take a rational view of fascism, it is not at all clear that we are avoiding this fall. The current crop of GOP candidates in the US demonstrates that the Americans are slipping fast and I am certain that Sinclair Lewis is spinning in his grave. Russia has been lost to fascism for some years already and China is a fascist dictatorship par excellence. Canada has already had a ten year dalliance with this ideology and with Kevin O'Leary on the horizon (a man who has threatened to outlaw unions and jail their supporters, something he couldn't do without martial law), we are teetering on the edge of a precipice.

In capitalism, as with any system, sometimes cooler head prevail sometimes they don't. The appeal of rightwing populism (the foundation of fascism) is obvious when you are dealing with a monstrously ignorant population under which seethes hidden feelings of racism. Though Canadians managed to reject this attitude in the last election, we see how easily and quickly racists and fascists come out of the woodwork once a political leader offers them the space by legitimizing hate speech. In the US, the rapid decline toward fascism is even more obvious and circus-like. We will know in a few months from now just how bad things are. Considering that even the more moderate GOP candidates are frighteningly fascist in tone and strategy, it doesn't look good.

Capitalism is in the trough of a wave. But this time the trough could end the world. It will take a great deal of courage from Socialists and Social Democrats to avert disaster, and there is no way capitalism in its present form can survive much longer.

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