Saturday, October 11, 2008

Time to Rethink the Economic System

"We're all socialists now, comrade," blared the star columnist of Britain's Telegraph newspaper yesterday, mocking the precipitous fall of major banking institutions into government tutelage. Perhaps this is the way capitalism was destined to synthesize its contradictions into socialism, rather than what happened in 1917.

Here in the United States, as in Iceland and elsewhere, de facto nationalizations became the prevailing response to the present economic emergency -- with more apparently to come. Karl Marx certainly believed socialism would be the outgrowth of developed forms of capitalism.

The Leninist state need never have occurred, save for two things: the obduracy of Russian monarchic despotism and its industrialized Western capitalist backers, on one hand; and the backwardness of the nations that adopted it, on the other.

Much more natural is the bloodless, so far seamless movement this autumn with Fannie, Freddie and several European banks: a simple takeover by the only social institution financially able -- knock on wood -- to do so, the government.

Was the historic slump in Wall Street trading last week the plutocrats' reaction? Do they still think, despite their egregious failures that, as one trader put it, "capitalism ought to be allowed to work things out"?

Does anyone? Does anyone really expect that the "free market" (which is free only some) can resolve the allocation of resources needed to fulfill all of society's basic needs?

Think of a few of the most urgent needs looming in the United States alone: the retirement and aging of the huge baby boom generation, the growing underclass without access to health care, and the deteriorating physical infrastructure. Consider, in global terms, the pervasive conflicts abroad fed in large part by gross economic inequality and unimaginable suffering.

Can anyone really pretend that the free market on Wall Street is no more than a select garden club for a very tiny few, entirely disconnected from the real needs that exist in the nation and abroad?

Isn't it time to begin thinking of democratizing the economy, of enshrining economic rights on a par with the civic rights already in the U.S. Constitution? Shouldn't it be that just as every citizen is entitled to political equality in the eyes of the law, that every human being is entitled to the basic material conditions that make for a dignified life?

Americans are accustomed to dreaming of being rich, without bothering to think much of those outside their immediate family. Isn't it time we dreamed of living in a society where no one is poor?

Couldn't the Human Dream become the hope of shared freedom from want?

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