25 Apr '16    home | home | more politics

Questioning Capitalism: a reply to an article in Salon

Politically we are pretty much binary (composed of, or involving two things), Democrat or Republican, left-of-center or right-of-center – with the center susceptible to shifting across generations. Conservatives who run for office as a third party candidate usually fail, and this year we have Bernie Sanders running as a Democrat, presumably because he thinks he has would have better success than if he were running as an independent or a Social Democrat.

Today the website Salon gets too binary in an article online that headlines: " Bernie's greatest legacy: suddenly, it's OK to question capitalism! What? Are Sanders supporters questioning capitalism in the absolutistic sense of being for it or against it?

As see it, questioning capitalism's functionality has always been okay. I have on my website a description of Joyce Appleby's great book The Relentless Revolution, which she could not have written without questioning capitalism.

The Salon article, by Andrew O'Hehir, begins:

For the first time since the end of the Cold War — and perhaps since the beginning of the Cold War — large numbers of Americans have begun to ask questions about capitalism. Questions about whether it works, and how, and for whose benefit. Questions about whether capitalism is really the indispensable companion of democracy, as we have confidently been told for the last century or so, and about how those two things interact in the real world.

The question should not be whether capitalism works but how well it works and what laws should be written to improve it, to help make it something different from what it was in the 19th century. The Bolsheviks led by Lenin were a bit too absolutistic on the issue. They wanted to eliminate the bourgeoisie as an economic class. This meant outlawing small businesses as well as giants and eliminating also the bagmen who trod from village to village trading in goods. Bolshevik socialism under Stalin became too binary.

O'Hehir writes of the Sanders insurgency having exposed the Democratic Party as not representing the material interests of most of the people who vote for it. He writes:

...the Democratic Party has spent the last few decades prostrating itself before the temple of Big Money – a process greatly accelerated under the husband of its current frontrunner – and renouncing any semblance of class-based politics or egalitarian economics.

He adds:

The Sanders campaign was an attempt to seize power in the Democratic Party, largely from outside, and renounce its allegiance to capitalism and its subservience to the entire package of economic, ideological and military imperialism sometimes called the “Washington consensus.” 

Nothing is said here about Sweden and Denmark, to a degree capitalist societies. It's unfortunate that simplistic binary thinking invades our politics in a way that is unproductive. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton can agree on the need for tax reform (for the sake of a better distribution of wealth) and taking the money out politics (described last night on Sixty Minutes, regarding soliciting). We have a number of specific issues that need addressed. The question of the big abstraction of capitalism itself is too much. It's for people lost in the tendency to swing to simplistic, ideological absolutisms.

It's unfortunate that simplistic dichotomies are inevitable among people within political movements, but I wonder whether a significant number of Sanders supporters are actually questioning capitalism as O'Hehir suggests.

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