Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's capitalism, stupid!

Why should Main Street bail out Wall Street? The answer, in short, is that if the owners and rulers of America's economy don't get to play the game their way--or if the game isn't as rewarding as they think it should be--they will simply refuse to play until things look better. As a result, we all suffer.

That's what is basically happening when the stock market falls: If investors aren't guaranteed the profits they think they so richly deserve--you know, because of all the "risks" they are supposedly taking--they take their marbles and go home. Unfortunately, the entire economy is organized around their whims. Thus a nation with more than 300 million people, with enormous resources and talents, can go into a tailspin and take the entire world down with it.

The Democrats and Republicans who voted against the bailout did so for varying reasons, but in many ways theirs were the more principled votes. Conservative Republicans argued that the free-market was in peril, and raised the spectre of "socialism;" liberal Democrats suggested that the bailout represented socialism, true, but only for the rich. But underlying their votes was a rebellion among their constituents, that is, among Americans themselves, who are rightly distrustful of being stampeded into something they will deeply regret in the morning.

I've been a socialist all my adult life, although the last time I was sure about what socialism in America might look like was the early 1970s. Since then, I haven't had a clue, nor very high hopes that I would ever see socialism in my lifetime. In addition, by now I have seen enough allegedly "socialist" societies--from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, to China, to Cuba, to Chavez's Venezuela--to reject any and all notions that elite "vanguard parties" can be trusted to lead us to the promised land (I have also seen just how many so-called leftists are still ready to endorse the suppression of civil liberties, as in Cuba and Venezuela today, in the name of liberating "the people.") And I am very leery of any kind of social arrangements that would dampen down the sparks of innovation and creativity that seem to thrive best under capitalism, even if we could, and should, debate how the benefits of such inventiveness should be shared among the members of society as a whole.

Karl Marx, pictured above, was wrong about a lot of things, but he was right about the most important thing: Capitalism is a system of exploitation in which a few people get rich off of the labor of the many. We may not be able to do as much as we would like about that unfair arrangement, but we can certainly put up stiff resistance when those who have been the most reckless with the economy we have reluctantly entrusted to them ask us to pay for their mistakes. That's what the more courageous Americans are doing right now, and I say more power to them.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Capitalism drops dead? Barbara Ehrenreich has some similar thoughts in The Nation.

All hail King Warren! Buffett, that is, who seems to be buying up the country at bargain prices--today he is taking a $3 billion stake in G.E. and last week he bought up $5 billion of Goldman Sachs stock. Charlie Rose is interviewing him tonight on PBS television, perhaps he will enlighten us about his plans for our future.

Palin paranoia: A lot of Obama supporters are losing sleep over the possibility that Sarah Palin won't do too badly during tomorrow night's debate, or that Joe Biden will make some sort of gaffe(s) that will make her look good in comparison. This is because "expectations" have been so lowered that if she doesn't make a total fool of herself voters will somehow see her in a better light. Perhaps so. Let's just hope that at least 50% of voters have a higher standard for a potential President of the United States than "not too bad" and "not a total fool." On the other hand, George W. Bush has won the last two presidential elections, so anything is possible. I recommend making a big bowl of popcorn and hoping for the best--um, I mean, the worst.

McCain gives up on Michigan. This is huge.

Font feedback? I received a message from a reader today saying that the font of this blog is hard to read. So as an experiment I have increased the size two notches. I know that its appearance varies from computer to computer and between Firefox (which I use) and Internet Explorer. If any reader out there has comments and/or suggestions about this, I would be grateful to hear from you--and please let me know if you find the new size pleasing.


Richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard said...

...and re-posted

Thanks for that, Michael. Not a lot of people know how Wall Street works, but most have a sense that it's a goddam big casino, constructed on their backs. When the speculators drop their chips, they should stay dropped.

When I see a Goldman Sachs executive begging on the street, as I hope to, soon, I won't just pretend he's 'financially-deprived' and ignore him; I'll kick him in the whatsits.

(Sorry - plain white anger doesn't lead to much reasoned argument).