“Imagine a violent solar flare that washes over our planet with a powerful electromagnetic cloud and, in a nanosecond, wipes clean all computer records: checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, tax bills, loans, mortgages, pension funds, contracts, investments, insurance polices. All gone. Wiped out in the blink of an eye. Because of the financial meltdown, we are fast approaching just such a moment, when all those numbers in all those computers will be as meaningless as a Statement of Account from Bernie Madoff.” – The Coming Global Coalescence, page 3, print edition.
Whenever I’m in a bookstore and I spot a book with a title that sparks my curiosity, I have found it most useful to turn to the end of the book and read the last few paragraphs when the author wraps up the whole story and lays it in your lap for you to ponder. In that spirit, here are the final paragraphs of each of the remaining articles in the Capitalism in Crisis series.
A perilous path to prosperity, by David Pillling: “‘If you look at China, this really shows the power of capitalism, the power of market mechanisms, and incentives,’ says Mr. Rhee. ‘Some elements of capitalism are clearly necessary.'”
We are all going to hell in a shopping basket, by Robert Reich: “As a result, consumers and investors are doing increasingly well but job insecurity is on the rise, inequality is widening, communities are becoming less stable and climate change is worsening. None of this is sustainable over the long term but no one has yet figured out a way to get capitalism back into balance. Blame global finance and worldwide corporations all you want. But save some of your blame for the insatiable consumers and investors inhabiting almost everyone of us, who are entirely complicit.”
A real market economy ensures that greed is good, by John Kay: “A successful market economy emphasizes [the creation of new wealth] and restricts [the appropriation of wealth already created by other people] through rules and institutions, in a structure that has evolved slowly and requires constant defense against those who would use economic and political power to subvert it. Success or failure in that endeavour is the central explanation for why some societies are rich and others poor. Crony capitalism is very different from the market economy.”
Leaders who generate diminishing returns, by Philip Stephens: “These [suggestions] are not quick fixes. The danger is that what started out as a crisis of financial capitalism will give way to a new age of nationalisms – a backlash against globalization and a return to zero-sum politics. The better route would be an effort to extend and refurbish the multilateral order to match economic integration with great global governance. But, for the moment, we are as far from that as from a serious attempt to remake the rules of capitalism.”
The long march ahead to a truly capitalist China, by Qin Xiao: “The spread of economic crisis across the capitalist world has cast the future of the free market into doubt. Yet China’s story does not support the case against free-market institutions. On the contrary, the past 30 years’ success was due to market reform. To keep progressing, it must now transform its government’s economic role and continue reform into a free-market system. This is its unfinished mission.”
Too big to fail undermines the free market faith, by Otmar Issing: “Notwithstanding a number of encouraging improvements, such as higher capital requirements and greater transparency, this task is anything but completed. The challenge butof strengthening the fundamentals of market economics and free societies continues. History never ends- except in the minds of those who believe in the inevitabiity of the Mayan calendar, which preiddctshe end of the wrl in December 2012.”
A rather civil partnership, by Andrew Hill: “Nobody is counting out shareholder-owned companies, which, despite the blow to their reputation inflicted during the crisis, have proved their adaptability over time. But Tomorrow’s Company, a London-based think-tank, points out that equity market capitalization as a proportion of gross domestic product has fluctuated in developed countries in the past century. In other words, even the listed company model goes in and out of economic fashion. As political leaders survey the racks of options for capitalism’s next season, it is hardly surprising that the electable virtues of John Lewis – popular, durable, reliable and middle-of-the-road should catch their eye.”
Charity needs capitalism to solve the world’s problems, Bill Clinton: “Because of these developments and in spite of current economic conditions, I am hopeful for the future. The problems we face are solvable: we have the mens. What we need is innovation, imagination and commitment. The most effective global ciizens will be those who succeed in merging their business and philanthropic missions to build a future of shared prosperity and shared responsibility.”
How much better I feel now with all those positive, reassuring, comforting, triumphal words ringing in my ears!
Did any of those final words make you wonder what marvelous ideas had preceded them, make you wish you could read the entire article? If you could, I can assure you that you would have been disappointed. The facts of capitalism’s crisis are well known. The events that led to the crisis are well-documented, and there are only so many ways they can be recounted. Reading one article after another, and coming upon just another recitation of the same facts, you begin to say to yourself: Yeah, yeah. I got it. It’s a mess. Everything is falling apart. The problems are serious and getting worse. Yeah, I got it. But now what? Silence.
Meanwhile, at the annual World Economic Forum now being held in Davos, Switzerland, the world’s movers and shakers are trying to come to terms with a world that is suddenly turned on its head. They are becoming increasingly aware of the power of social networks and they fear what they see.
From today’s NY Times: “Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us,” according to Klaus Schwab, the chairman of the Forum. “We have failed to learn the lessons from the financial crisis of 2009.”
I have no idea what the Financial Times hoped to accomplish with their Capitalism in Crisis series. Shouting “Crisis!” doesn’t do much for confidence in the system. However, by a strange twist, it is possible that the banal and lifeless approach the writers took to the discussion will turn out to be reassuring. The writer’s may be shouting “Crisis!” but the fact that they are not even attempting to come up with a possible solution that comes anywhere near matching the magnitude of the crisis indicates that they don’t really believe it is a crisis. How comforting is that?
Sing it again Bing: “Brother, can you spare a dime?”