Posts tagged ‘Elizabeth Bruenig’

Capitalism is the Problem

If I look at our greatest problems, economic inequality, global warming, and President DFF, they all have one root cause, capitalism. Now I am sure you are going to say what about equal pay for equal work, or systemic racism, or rust belt myopia, or immigration, or failing infrastructure. I would say these are all symptoms of economic inequality, as well as global warming and President DFF. And the root cause of all of this is unbridled capitalism. I would also argue that capitalism has brought us many things and improved the living conditions of many in the world, but then the problems start to show up.

I am not the only one. Remember Bernie. Remember the howling from even Hillary on this was not possible. All Bernie was trying to do was level the playing field. But in an interesting op-ed this morning by Elizabeth Bruenig, she made some points we seem to want to ignore. She started by pointing out that Liberals are in a funk:

This assumption is reflected in the blindsided, startled unease of liberals in the era of President Trump: “There are moments when everything I have come to believe in — reasoned deliberation, mutual toleration, liberal democracy, free speech, honesty, decency, and moderation — seem as if they are in eclipse,” Andrew Sullivan recently lamented in New York magazine. “For the foreseeable future, nationalism is likely to remain a defining political force,” Yascha Mounk fretted this weekend in the New York Times; “liberals should strive to make nationalism as inclusive as possible,” he warned.

Ha! Liberalism incorporating nationalism is what Democrats have done over and over to their failure, incorporating failed ideas to try to out Republican Republicans, Republicans with a softer edge. It’s a journey to nowhere. Ms. Bruenig’s description of capitalism is in fact its problem for those of us who want a level playing field and social justice. She has what I call the “Bernie moment” when she realizes that moving the chairs around on the Titanic as most “liberals” do is a waste of time:

I don’t think business-as-usual but better is enough to fix what’s broken here. I think the problem lies at the root of the thing, with capitalism itself…Americans appear to be isolated, viciously competitive, suspicious of one another and spiritually shallow; and that we are anxiously looking for some kind of attachment to something real and profound in an age of decreasing trust and regard — seem to be emblematic of capitalism, which encourages and requires fierce individualism, self-interested disregard for the other, and resentment of arrangements into which one deposits more than he or she withdraws. (As a business-savvy friend once remarked: Nobody gets rich off of bilateral transactions where everybody knows what they’re doing.) Capitalism is an ideology that is far more encompassing than it admits, and one that turns every relationship into a calculable exchange. Bodies, time, energy, creativity, love — all become commodities to be priced and sold. Alienation reigns. There is no room for sustained contemplation and little interest in public morality; everything collapses down to the level of the atomized individual.

That capitalism is inimical to the best of liberalism isn’t a new concern: It’s a long-standing critique, present in early socialist thought. That both capitalism and liberal governance have changed since those days without displacing the criticism suggests that it’s true in a foundational way.

Not to be confused for a totalitarian nostalgist, I would support a kind of socialism that would be democratic and aimed primarily at decommodifying labor, reducing the vast inequality brought about by capitalism, and breaking capital’s stranglehold over politics and culture.

Welcome to the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Well, I hate to say the Democratic Party because the establishment still does not get it and even rejected a Progressive in the Houston primary as, well, too progressive. But they are asleep to what happened in the last election when Americans rejected status quo. Hillary got the nomination because the establishment wanted her and shunned Bernie. Republicans got their radical and he won. The urge for change is stronger than ever and the Democratic Party is trying to calibrate between moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats (read moderate Republicans in 1980) and it is a failed policy. Maybe not at an intellectual level yet, but at a gut one, most of us feel capitalism is failing us. And the reality as Thomas Piketty (Capital in the Twenty First Century) showed us, unrestrained capitalism gives us growing economic inequality.

I do have to laugh though. Ms. Bruenig in her last quote above is pining for “kind of socialism that would be democratic and aimed primarily at decommodifying labor, reducing the vast inequality brought about by capitalism, and breaking capital’s stranglehold over politics and culture.” Would that not be European social democracy as they have in say Finland or Norway or Sweden. Oh, and it works.

We have grown a culture and attitude about policy that reinforces unrestrained capitalism. We learned to hate taxes, regulations, and big government. It has been beaten into our heads by Republicans, But it isn’t working. I see massive deterioration of our infrastructure which is key to our future, and our hate for taxes keeps us from doing anything. Global Warming is already impacting us and yet we turn a blind eye to it because that would be big government and regulations. Oh, and it would upset the apple carts of who benefits by ignoring it.  Economic inequality grows by leaps and bounds and so does the concentration of political power and again we can do nothing because that would require rewriting the rules, regulation, and taxation. And yet the majority of us know it is not working. We got President DFF because Americans rejected the status quo, but he is a mindless moron who is still a creature of the 1980s.

As Ms. Bruenig points out, it is time for a different approach. I hate to keep repeating this, but Republicans, all of them have to go. So do most moderate Democrats who have the same conservative ideas only kinder and gentler. Conservatism has run its course and has proved defunct. If we want change, if we want to do something about economic inequality that touches all inequality, if we want to attack our problems with solutions that work, it is time to throw off the old mantle of unrestrained capitalism. This won’t happen with Republicans because they have become radicals of the me, me, me, and captured creatures of the monied. It is time for a new approach, and the only ones who are going to get us there are today’s new progressives.