The Universal Notebook: The coming collapse of capitalism
Now that news has become a form of satirical entertainment, it’s not surprising to find some of the most profound insights into world affairs turning up as jokes on "The Colbert Report," "The Daily Show" and "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live."
On SNL last week, for instance, faux-news anchor Seth Meyer reported that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a speech to the United Nations, had predicted the defeat of capitalism.
“Predicted?” quipped Meyer. “At this point it’s more like he noticed.”
Is capitalism dead? Are we destined for planned economies and state-owned businesses? Is President Obama really a socialist after all? No, no, and no.
But, with any luck, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of corporate capitalism.
Though we want to believe that the worst of the recession is over, there are rumors from on high that the mortgage crisis and credit crunch may just have been tremors warning of a much more cataclysmic event yet to come.
We hear talk these days about pension funds that will need to be bailed out, Social Security going bankrupt, university endowments evaporating, hospitals not being reimbursed and laying off personnel just as Baby Boomers enter old age. Beyond that there are prospects of states and nations unable to meet their financial obligations and the world economy imploding under the weight of debt, devalued currencies and trade imbalances.
The steps taken by the Obama administration and the Democratic-led Congress – bank bailouts, stimulus spending, shoring up the auto industry, new regulations on the financial markets – have at the very least delayed the worst and may actually have avoided it.
But if you just want to get it over with, if you want to destroy the existing economic order entirely, by all means vote Republican in November. If we put people back into power who would have let the banks fail in 2008, they will surely precipitate the economic end game.
The irony, of course, is that the tea party tub-thumpers, who have taken over the GOP in hopes of ending all entitlement programs, privatizing social services, and further deregulating the financial markets in the name of free market capitalism, would essentially preside over the collapse of the very free market capitalism they say they revere.
You think it’s bad now? Just imagine what would have happened if McCain and Palin had won. They would let all of our institutions sink or swim on their own in the name of individual liberty, thus ensuring their failure and that of capitalism itself.
What we saw during the laissez-faire years of the Bush administrations, when financial markets were unregulated and left to their own creative schemes to profit the few, is just what is wrong with unrestrained free-market capitalism. It is a system that rewards risk over responsibility and profit over productivity.
Essentially, the United States has evolved an economic culture of death, one predicated on a bloated defense industry, insurance industry gambling, non-renewable energy, boom-and-bust real estate speculation, borrowed money, easy credit, instant gratification of advertised desires as opposed to demonstrated needs, over-medication driven by big pharma, and unhealthy and unsustainable agribusiness.
The values underlying this corporate capitalism are all wrong. They reward short-term bottom-line thinking over a long-term investment in providing good products and good jobs. It is this sort of thinking that has shipped most of the good-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S. overseas, where U.S. corporations can exploit cheap labor and lax environmental laws.
There is a fundamental dishonesty and dysfunction about making money by charging exorbitant interest rates, over-leveraging investments, and gaming the system for a fast buck the way day traders, currency speculators, and hedge fund managers do. They create nothing of value other than paper profits for themselves.
The silver lining to the coming collapse of corporate capitalism, however, is that, as the tea party seems to desire, we may be headed back to the 19th century.
With capitalism and globalization in ruins, we may, of necessity, rediscover the social virtues of a merchant economy based on small-scale family farms, locally owned businesses, local goods and services, and reliance on self, family and community for our survival.
Our standard of living will suffer, of course, but we may find our quality of life improving once we stop outsourcing our existence.