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by Jens Jessen
Wednesday, Oct. 05, 2011 at 8:24 AM
No promise of salvation can be imputed to capitalism any more.. The market is regarded as a natural law and power of fate. Nothing but Darwinism was left of the liberals' hope for progress. That Darwinism rejoices in the survival of the fittest and the sorting out of weaker debtors.
UNDERWAY TO PLUTOCRACY: FINANCIAL CRISIS
Shameless Wealth and Defrauded Citizens: The Raging Market Endangers Democracy
By Jens Jessen
[This article published on: ZEIT Online, 9/3/2011 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.zeit.de/2011/36/Finanzkrise-Demokratie.]
The 1970s when capitalism was generally described as a “filthy system” was long ago. At least in the West, capitalism had a human face and could be easily defended against its critics. Unlike socialism, it promised prosperity for everyone and even seemed to fulfill this hope. It provided education, social ascent and the economic participation of everyone. In factories and in society, it sought to remove the grounds for class hatred and class struggle. One could even say capitalism was ready to be tamed to win all people for its growth and prosperity and ward off the socialist temptation. Entrepreneurs were willing to renounce on part of their profits to ensure acceptance of the system and its long-term survival.
However one judges the relation between employers and employees and politics and the economy at that time, capital’s readiness to bear the acceptance costs has disappeared. Instead the taxpayer must pay for bailing out the banks that causes the financial crises of the last years. Today taxpayers pay to ensure the profits of speculators who bet on the bankruptcy of these states and bailing out debt-heavy states. Incidentally this is not even deplored.
No one can impute a salvation promise to capitalism any more. The market, it is said, now exists to test the survival capacities of states, firms and people and to free the strong from the burden of the weak.
That is the core of the doctrine that is generally and perhaps wrongly called neoliberal. In any case, neoliberalism has only a faint resemblance to the classical liberalism that saw the freedom of the individual as the freedom of the strongest market actor and plunged everyone else into distress. The liberal expected vague benefits for the public welfare from market competition. He may have been a dreamer – in his hope in the magical power of the market to make everything better – but he was not a cynic. In the banking crisis, this changed when there suddenly had to be calls for the state that the liberal always wanted to keep outside as a troublemaker. The impression was so overwhelming that the public interest had to serve the market and the market did not have to serve the public interest and that the eulogists of capital momentarily dropped their humanly-friendly promises.
However this does not mean the governments will allow any of the urgently necessary regulations of the market. Rather the market is now regarded as a natural law that eludes all human desires for happiness or morality. The market has become the power of fate. All complaints only revealed the incompetence of the complainants who could not stand up against that. Nothing but Darwinism was left of the liberals’ hope for progress. Darwinism rejoices in the survival of the fittest and celebrates the sorting out of weaker debtor, weaker states and weaker workers.
In retrospect, people will probably say it was the fall of socialism that dis-inhibited capitalism and led its smooth-talkers from smooth-talking to a rhetorical severity. The system competition was cancelled. Capitalism thought it did not have to worry about its acceptance. This could prove a serious mistake. No revolution is called. The demonstrators who take to the streets in London, Athens and Madrid are alarmingly apolitical. Against whom are they protesting? Do they think they can influence the stock exchange with their demonstrations of rage?
The peaceful and speechless rampaging protest marches are a picture of vast despondency like sheep bleating on the way to the slaughter. They only reflect the position of their governments in the financial crisis whose message to the multitude of citizens is: endure, hang in there and pay the damages that they did not cause. But the political evaporates and there is no democratic address any more where mute toleration remains the only recommended stance.
Democracy is meaningless when an enormous area of life like the economy that still determines many other areas is removed from creative social organization. A democracy limited to issuing smoking prohibitions in restaurants or discussing the helmet obligation of cyclists leads citizens by the nose but is unable to control the one great power tying everyone to its apron strings is not worth the paper on which its basic law is written.
The paralyzing feeling of powerlessness, the de-politicization of youth, has its origin there. Elected governments do nothing in the voters’ interest. Who extorts the politicians? Who bribes them? Who are the bear trainers leading them through the circus ring? The fear of an election defeat is nothing compared to the pressure exerted on politicians by the economic circles.
In fact, politicians have nothing to fear from an election. Citizens who punish politicians for betraying their interests will not find any party in the [German] democratic spectrum ready to champion their interests against the economy. In Germany, the SPD can be exchanged for the CDU, the CDU for the SPD or both against the Greens without changing anything in the scraping before capital. The reason is simple. When regulating is imminent, capital can move around the globe to make the most of prosperity and jobs. The threat of job losses and the financial power to speculate whole states into the abyss give capital a political power that is far more threatening than everything that a fine-tuned capitalism criticism has formulated about estrangement and other long-term mental effects.
Jobs could seep away and prosperity could be redistributed from bottom to top in a way that is not a promise any more to the multitude of citizens. In other words, the capitalist dynamic of profit maximization could do something that the sharpest critics of the system have not done up to now: drive out all promises of happiness. When this disillusionment covers the globe, capital that sees itself as a timid deer cannot find any little place any more to embed its sinister limbs.
The disillusionment is already spreading. The sobering-up does not know any party lines or any borders between left and right. Even conservative observers admit a reorganization of America in favor of plutocracy is occurring under the cloak of market rhetoric. Taking away this little cloak and freeing us from the idea that the economy as it is is our fate and quarreling with it equals blasphemy seems infinitely hard. This demonstrates the success of market-fundamentalist brainwashing. All the economic professors and economic journalists declare the market the final authority of our existence and the business consultants who subject schools, universities, theater, sports and all areas of life as well as firms to the law of profitability or subsidize them as suppliers for the goals of the economy collaborated in the great reeducation by drumming into us that only profit has ultimate importance.
Hans-Peter Kettel, president of the German industry association BDI, gave an example of this thinking when he acclaimed the success of the Libyan rebels with the words: “The freedom that millions of people win also offers economic chances for German businesses.” Something is there in the view of the German economy to deal with scarce necessities: Thanks be to God, freedom in Libya has economic advantages and is not an end-in-itself.
Sometimes little things have great effects. Perhaps there must be a few cynicisms of this kind until the whole contempt for human beings of this economic mentality is revealed.
- RELATED LINKS:
Greive, Martin: The Economy Sinks in a Deep Crisis of Meaning, August 2011
Video: Harvey, David: The Crises of Capitalism
Harvey, David: The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis This Time, 2010
Keen, Steve: Debunking Economics – Predicting the Unpredictable
Keen, Steve: Misunderstanding the Crisis
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