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Guest Post: Capitalism, Socialism or Fascism?

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By George Washington of Washington’s Blog.

What is the current American economy: capitalism, socialism or fascism?

Socialism

Initially, it is important to note that it is not just people on the streets who are calling the Bush and Obama administration’s approach to the economic crisis “socialism”. Economists and financial experts say the same thing.

For example, Nouriel Roubini writes in a recent essay:

This is a crisis of solvency, not just liquidity, but true deleveraging has not begun yet because the losses of financial institutions have been socialised and put on government balance sheets. This limits the ability of banks to lend, households to spend and companies to invest…

The releveraging of the public sector through its build-up of large fiscal deficits risks crowding out a recovery in private sector spending.

Roubini has previously written:

We’re essentially continuing a system where profits are privatized and…losses socialized.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb says the same thing:

After finishing The Black Swan, I realized there was a cancer. The cancer was a huge buildup of risk-taking based on the lack of understanding of reality. The second problem is the hidden risk with new financial products. And the third is the interdependence among financial institutions.

[Interviewer]: But aren’t those the very problems we’re supposed to be fixing?

NT: They’re all still here. Today we still have the same amount of debt, but it belongs to governments. Normally debt would get destroyed and turn to air. Debt is a mistake between lender and borrower, and both should suffer. But the government is socializing all these losses by transforming them into liabilities for your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What is the effect? The doctor has shown up and relieved the patient’s symptoms – and transformed the tumour into a metastatic tumour. We still have the same disease. We still have too much debt, too many big banks, too much state sponsorship of risk-taking. And now we have six million more Americans who are unemployed – a lot more than that if you count hidden unemployment.

[Interviewer]: Are you saying the U.S. shouldn’t have done all those bailouts? What was the alternative?

NT: Blood, sweat and tears. A lot of the growth of the past few years was fake growth from debt. So swallow the losses, be dignified and move on. Suck it up. I gather you’re not too impressed with the folks in Washington who are handling this crisis.

Ben Bernanke saved nothing! He shouldn’t be allowed in Washington. He’s like a doctor who misses the metastatic tumour and says the patient is doing very well.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz calls it “socialism for the rich”.  So do many others.

Fascism?

Some, however, argue that the economy is more like fascism than socialism. For example, leading journalist Robert Scheer writes:

What is proposed is not the nationalization of private corporations but rather a corporate takeover of government. The marriage of highly concentrated corporate power with an authoritarian state that services the politico-economic elite at the expense of the people is more accurately referred to as “financial fascism” [than socialism]. After all, even Hitler never nationalized the Mercedes-Benz company but rather entered into a very profitable partnership with the current car company’s corporate ancestor, which made out quite well until Hitler’s bubble burst.

And Italian historian Gaetano Salvemini argued in 1936 that fascism makes taxpayers responsible to private enterprise, because “the State pays for the blunders of private enterprise… Profit is private and individual. Loss is public and social” (page 416).

This perfectly mirrors Roubini’s statement about the American government’s bailout plan.

Remember that one of the best definitions of fascism – the one used by Mussolini – is the “merger of state and corporate power“.

That could never happen in America, right?

Consider:

  • The government has given trillions in bailout or other emergency funds to private companies, but is largely refusing to disclose to either the media, the American people or even Congress where the money went
  • The head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the former Vice President of the Dallas Federal Reserve, and two top IMF officials have all said that we have – or are in danger of having – oligarchy in the U.S.

Looting

As Examiner.com pointed out in May (it is worth quoting the essay at some length, as this is an important concept), looting has replaced free market capitalism:

Nobel prize-winning economist George Akerlof co-wrote a paper in 1993 describing the causes of the S&L crisis and other financial meltdowns. As summarized
by the New York Times:

In the paper, they argued that several financial crises in the 1980s, like the Texas real estate bust, had been the result of private investors taking advantage of the government. The investors had borrowed huge amounts of money, made big profits when times were good and then left the government holding the bag for their eventual (and predictable) losses.In a word, the investors looted. Someone trying to make an honest profit, Professors Akerlof and Romer [co-author of the paper, and himself a leading expert on economic growth] said, would have operated in a completely different manner. The investors displayed a “total disregard for even the most basic principles of lending,” failing to verify standard information about their borrowers or, in some cases, even to ask for that information.

The investors “acted as if future losses were somebody else’s problem,” the economists wrote. “They were right.”

The Times does a good job of explaining the looting
dynamic:

The paper’s message is that the promise of government bailouts isn’t merely one aspect of the problem. It is the core problem.Promised bailouts mean that anyone lending money to Wall Street — ranging from small-time savers like you and me to the Chinese government — doesn’t have to worry about losing that money. The United States Treasury (which, in the end, is also you and me) will cover the losses. In fact, it has to cover the losses, to prevent a cascade of worldwide losses and panic that would make today’s crisis look tame.

But the knowledge among lenders that their money will ultimately be returned, no matter what, clearly brings a terrible downside. It keeps the lenders from asking tough questions about how their money is being used. Looters — savings and loans and Texas developers in the 1980s; the American International Group, Citigroup, Fannie Mae and the rest in this decade — can then act as if their future losses are indeed somebody else’s problem.

Do you remember the mea culpa that Alan Greesnspan, Mr. Bernanke’s predecessor, delivered on Capitol Hill last fall? He said that he was “in a state of shocked disbelief” that “the self-interest” of Wall Street bankers hadn’t prevented this mess.

He shouldn’t have been. The looting theory explains why his laissez-faire theory didn’t hold up. The bankers were acting in their self-interest, after all…Think about the so-called liars’ loans from recent years: like those Texas real estate loans from the 1980s, they never had a chance of paying off. Sure, they would deliver big profits for a while, so long as the bubble kept inflating. But when they inevitably imploded, the losses would overwhelm the gains…

What happened? Banks borrowed money from lenders around the world. The bankers then kept a big chunk of that money for themselves, calling it “management fees” or “performance bonuses.” Once the investments were exposed as hopeless, the lenders — ordinary savers, foreign countries, other banks, you name it — were repaid with government bailouts.

In effect, the bankers had siphoned off this bailout money in advance, years before the government had spent it…Either way, the bottom line is the same: given an incentive to loot, Wall Street did so. “If you think of the financial system as a whole,” Mr. Romer said, “it actually has an incentive to trigger the rare occasions in which tens or hundreds of billions of dollars come flowing out of the Treasury.”

In fact, the big banks and sellers of exotic instruments pretended that the boom would last forever, siphoning off huge profits during the boom with the knowledge that – when the bust ultimately happened – the governments of the world would bail them out.

As Akerlof wrote in his paper:

[Looting is the] common thread [when] countries took on excessive
foreign debt, governments had to bail out insolvent financial institutions, real estate prices increased dramatically and then fell, or new financial markets experienced a boom and bust…Our theoretical analysis shows that an economic underground can come to life if firms have an incentive to go broke for profit at society’s expense (to loot) instead of to go for broke (to gamble on success). Bankruptcy for profit will occur if poor accounting, lax regulation, or low penalties for abuse give owners an incentive to pay themselves more than their firms are worth and then default on their debt obligations.  Indeed, Akerlof predicted in 1993 that the next form the looting dynamic would take was through credit default swaps – then a very-obscure financial instrument (indeed, one interpretation of why CDS have been so deadly is that they were the simply the favored instrument for the current round of looting).

Is Looting A Thing of the Past?

Now that Wall Street has been humbled by this financial crash, and the dangers of CDS are widely known, are we past the bad old days of looting?

Unfortunately, as the Times points out, the answer is no:

At a time like this, when trust in financial markets is so scant, it may be hard to imagine that looting will ever be a problem again. But it will be. If we don’t get rid of the incentive to loot, the only question is what form the next round of looting will take.

Bottom Line

So what do we really have: socialism-for-the-giants, fascism or an economy which calls itself “capitalism” but which allows looting?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. They are just different brand names for the same basic type of economy. All three systems allow giant businesses which are friendly to the government to keep enormous private profits but to pass the losses on to the government and ultimately the citizens.

Whether we use the terminology regarding socialism-for-the-giants (“socialized losses”), of fascism (“public and social losses”), or of looting (“left the government holding the bag for their eventual and predictable losses”), it amounts to the exact same thing.

Whatever we have, it isn’t free market capitalism.

Note: Yves Smith has called the financial services pay arrangement of “heads I win, tails you lose” looting, and has also argued that our form of capitalism is evolving into Mussolini style corpocracy, meaning fascism. But the label most often pinned on the Obama administration is socialism.

The bottom line is that I don’t put much stock in what socialists might label a system, any more than what fascists or corporate looters would label a system. Whatever you call it, if the giants get all the benefits and pawn all of the losses off on the public, it is a very dangerous system.



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66 comments

  1. mmckinl

    Words are important …

    The misuse of the word “socialism” is yet another attempt to confound and confuse the issue while denigrating the word “socialism” itself …

    Social Security, Medicare, Your Local fire department and other government programs are by definition “socialist” in nature as they are redistributions of income.

    What we see here a concerted effort by the right wing and the corporatocracy to mislabel and misinform the public as to the real diagnosis of our affliction.

    We have fascism … straight up, pure and simple. So far it has been the velvet glove variety but just look at the Constitutional Rights that have been curtailed or eliminated, they can spy on anyone at any time without warrent, as well as the economic shenanigans …

    George Washington needs to look at the entire picture … WORDS ARE IMPORTANT …

    1. Greg

      Im not sure I’d agree that SS ,Medicare and fire dept are socialism. They are INSURANCE. Now many economists say insurance is a lousy way to pay for things but I think insurance is a better description of SS/ medicare/fire dept.

      You are absolutely correct on the affects of/attempts to label socialism by the reich wing. Words do matter, especially when they come from “authorities”.

      1. mmckinl

        “Im not sure I’d agree that SS ,Medicare and fire dept are socialism.”

        Sure they are, because they are mandatory government programs. There is no opt out.

      2. mmckinl

        “I’m not sure I’d agree that SS ,Medicare and fire dept are socialism.”

        Sure they are, because they are mandatory government programs. There is no opt out.

  2. George Washington

    mmckinl,

    My point is that all “isms” are merely labels, and that – as my old karate teacher used to say – you have to look at people’s feet to see where they are really going, not get distracted by feints with their hands.

    I am open to improving my use of words, if you think I am being inaccurate.

    Please suggest revisions/explanations…

    1. George Washington

      Remember that ALL governments will put out stories saying they are promoting the good of the people.

      If the government claims it uses free market capitalism, then it will say we have a free market, and it is good.

      If the government claims it is socialist, it will say we have true socialism for the good of the people. Stalin said that, but killed millions and wrecked the Soviet economy.

      If the government is fascist, it will say the strong leader is only acting to protect the people, and the people must be bound together (look up the root meaning of “fascism”) for the common good. Hitler and Mussolini did that, but killed millions and wrecked their economies.

      Talk is cheap.

      1. George Washington

        One more point (and then I’m off the computer for a while).

        If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, look at who established the communist regime in the USSR.

        And take a look at the root of the Neoconservative movement in the U.S. (most of them were previously Trotskyists).

        1. mmckinl

          I appreciate your response …

          It is because governments and those that deceive misuse words that we must call them on it … We must not condone nor enable their deception … even through cynicism.

          As far as the neocons, totalitarians will always be totalitarians …

          What we don’t have is government running business, we have the opposite through political donations, lobbyists and promise of largess through high paying positions for individuals, families and friends.

          What we have is Fascism. At this point the actions of the government and the economy are intertwined through revolving doors, subservient law and regulation and bailouts. This can hardly be called socialism or mere opportunistic looting. What we have is systemic corruption for the benefit of the business-government-political axis. The nullification of our rights to privacy and travel are further proof … We have FASCISM …

          And by the way your columns on the economy are truly excellent … just don’t try to tell me that the terms socialism and fascism are interchangeable.

  3. Victor Grauer

    You are just as naive as all the others. To call the entire governing system corrupt is pointless, because the only cure would be a non-corrupt system, which will never magically appear on its own.

    Marx was right. The only answer lies in class consciousness. To promote class consciousness is to promote effective change. And there is no real choice in the matter, because the only sane recourse we have at this point is socialism. Real socialism of course, i.e., people’s socialism, aka government of the people, by the people and for the people (sound familiar?). NOT socialism for the rich, which isn’t socialism at all, as you clearly see. NOT Soviet style socialism, i.e., socialism for the ruling class, which was never socialism either.

    When all else fails, the people clamor for their government officials to work on THEIR behalf for a change (pun intended). THIS is socialism!

  4. Joseph

    “Capitalism only triumphs when it become identified with the state, when it is the state” Fernand Braudel

    Three core ideas characterize the myth of our society:

    1. Free market
    2. Capitalism
    3. Democracy

    The conceptual error that people make is to think that they are compatible, or indeed represent aspect of the same thing. In fact they are all deeply antagonistic towards each other. It is the miracle of post-war society that we managed to hold them in balance for so long. That balance has now been destroyed.

    A simple example of the contradiction, and the one that the over-socialised right finds most confusing, is the contradiction between capitalism and the market. Capitalism is a system of ownership; the market is a system of distribution. The perfect world for the capitalist is one in which they are price setters in terms of the commodities they produce and labour they employ – ie a state of monopoly. Each individual capitalist seeks the destruction of the market.

    What has occurred over the past year is not corruption; it is the triumph of capitalism. The market and democracy have been defeated.

    Not socialism, not fascism, not looting….this is capitalism unbound. Rand’s unknown ideal has at last been realised. Finally you have achieve that which we have dreamt of … and now the nightmare begins.

    Sleeper Awake!

    1. kievite

      Thank you for your very profound thoughts. I fully agree that this a triumph of capitalism (“jungle capitalism” to be exact) over both free market and democracy.

      Actually Ann Rand with her confused neo-Nietzschean Uberman nonsense explicitly called for the “separation of the state and economics” (alluding to separation the state and religion) without any understanding what a monster “jungle capitalism” is.

  5. rkka

    When Brezhnev was running things, a worker had a wide range of benefits and guarantees not available to an average American worker: subsidized housing, and often free use of a half hectare of land on the outskirts of town for a weekend cottage and a major garden, health care, a pension, cheap public transportation, and as for corruption, when Brezhnev’s son in law made off with a few thousand bucks it was a major national scandal. Point is, the benefits were spread around.

    I don’t see our Masters of Mankind being quite so generous in their pursuit of their vile maxim “Everything for myself and nothing for Other People”

    1. kievite

      rkka:

      ===

      When Brezhnev was running things, a worker had a wide range of benefits and guarantees not available to an average American worker: subsidized housing, and often free use of a half hectare of land on the outskirts of town for a weekend cottage and a major garden, health care, a pension, cheap public transportation, and as for corruption, when Brezhnev’s son in law made off with a few thousand bucks it was a major national scandal. Point is, the benefits were spread around.

      ===

      That’s a naive and dangerous illusion. Benefits were highly concentrated in upper middle and high classes (nomenclatura). You should watch a couple of Soviet era films to get rid of it. Say http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Does_Not_Believe_in_Tears

      The USSR was essentially an occupied country with the Communist Party as an occupying force. It’s funny that “nomenclatura” was not that different from the USA banksters and have the same firm grip over the country and propensity to destroy everything for their own enrichment and career promotion. The inequality level was actually higher then in the USA not lower. Workers lived and worked in worse conditions, comparable only with working conditions for illegal immigrants or, say, China working conditions and such.

      Subsidized housing was available but lines were prohibitively long: 5-10 years. Square footage for a family apartments was similar to Japanese standards, say 500 square feet for a family of three, 200 square feet for a single person. Forget about owning a house: that was for elite and countryside folks only.

      Free use of half-hectare of land was mainly limited to middle and upper classes. The same was true for a car — most workers in the USSR was not able to own even a single car in the family. And trains that were available to such areas were not cheap and extremely overcrowded. Plus you need to walk a mile or two from the train to get to your “dacha”

      Health care was free and treatment for minor illnesses pretty good, actually better then in USA with its abuse of antibiotics and other useless or harmful medicines promoted by big pharma. Were the USSR was really better was children care. Also a doctor can be called to come home for a patient and sick leave of five days for a mother was commonly granted is a child got a flu and other common illnesses. Maternity leave was four month (2 before +2 after) with one year of unpaid leave extension. But quality of hospital care was rather poor and lines were long. Diagnostic equipment was rather primitive, although the level of professionalism of doctors was rather high.

      Quality of dental care was simply horrible by western standards. For workers another heath problem was state subsidized alcoholism which was considered the way to alleviate social pressures by ruling elite and keep “masses” in fold.

      Pension was available for everybody, but provided only a subsistence level. The USA social security plays a very similar role so this is wash here.

      Cheap public transportation was available only in major cities. It was extremely overcrowded.

      All-in-all the US workers were/are enjoying much higher standard of living that workers in the USSR. And the USSR had hidden unemployment — good jobs were rather scares commodity and competition for them very high.

  6. freedom_fries

    So “George Washington” thinks socialism is an “ism” to be dismissed as something only nutters would support. The majority of the governments in power in the West are *SOCIALIST*. To dismiss democratic socialism — an economic and political system — that is older than Marxist collectivism — shows just how ignorant many americans are. I suppose you’ve never heard of Robert Owen or Charles Fourier. I daresay you’ve never noticed the rose featured in the logos of the major socialist/labour parties in europe:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_International

  7. Bruce F

    This is a lazy, and poorly argued, smear of “socialism”.

    You go out of your way to note that Experts acknowledge that losses are being socialized while the gains are privatized. How does that become Socialism? You’re intentionally ignoring the gains.

    What would you call a system where both gains and losses were socialized? That seems like a more honest definition of socialism.

  8. Tomas

    I find the argument in this article odd. What is the point?

    Looting is not an ideology, it needs no ideological explaination at all. Selfinterest will do just fine. So what does fascism and socialism have to do with anything?how is the discussion of ideologies who noone in power professes to follow relevant at all?

  9. Advocatus Diaboli

    Kleptocracy

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kleptocracy

    Kleptocracy, alternatively cleptocracy or kleptarchy, from Greek klepto (theft) and kratos (rule), is a term applied to a government that extends the personal wealth and political power of government officials and the ruling class (collectively, kleptocrats), via the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service. Political corruption is closely tied to the internal workings of a Kleptocracy.

    Characteristics

    Kleptocracies are often dictatorships or some other form of autocratic and nepotist government, or lapsed democracies that have transformed into oligarchies. A kleptocratic ruler typically treats his country’s treasury as though it were his own personal bank account.

    Effects

    The effects of a kleptocratic regime or government on a nation are typically adverse in regards to the faring of the state’s economy, political affairs and civil rights. Kleptocracy in government often vitiates prospects of foreign investment and drastically weakens the domestic market and cross-border trade. As the kleptocracy normally embezzles money from its citizens by misusing funds derived from tax payments, or money laundering schemes, a kleptocratically structured political system tends to degrade nearly everyone’s quality of life.

    In addition, the money that kleptocrats steal is often taken from funds that were earmarked for public amenities, such as the building of hospitals, schools, roads, parks and the like – which has further adverse effects on the quality of life of the citizens living under a kleptocracy. The quasi-oligarchy that results from a kleptocratic elite also subverts democracy (or any other political format the state is ostensibly under).

  10. gordon

    Whatever you call it, it looks like the return of taxation without (effective) representation. This should be a situation not entirely unfamiliar to Americans.

  11. Praedor Atrebates

    If this were truly Bernie Sanders socialism we would be better off than what we have (“National Socialism, aka, NAZISM/fascism). TRUE socialism socializes the profits and socializes the losses. The big money being “made” today wouldn’t go into Blankenfein’s pocket, it would go out to everyone.

    What we DO have is corporatocracy, aka, FASCISM. By definition. This is only different from Hitler’s fascism in that Obama isn’t really pulling the final string the way Hitler did/could, the bankers are. The thieving CEOs and other execs of Wall Street firms are in 100% control and Obama is simply dancing like an old-time Sambo to their music.

    There is only one way to make it right and it entails guns, bullets, and rope. Lots of rope.

  12. Frank Ruffing

    … “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” – Benito Mussolini

    Pretty much sums it up. BTW, what’s Larry Summers done with Paul Volker? Check the icebox in Brookline….

  13. craazyman

    Dear Correspondent,

    I have recently toured America in my Lambroghini and I have done a thorough investigation of the state of affairs in your country.

    According to my research, you have three general conditions of society:

    Socialism for the rich
    Capitalism for the poor
    And Fascism for anyone dumb enough to have a savings account

    Now for my lap dance.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Benito T. Musseleenie, PhD, MA, BA, GED

  14. don

    This is absolutely ridiculous.

    What we have doesn’t even come close to fascism, no matter what loose definition you wish to you. Read up on the history of fascism. Does anything like that resemble what exists in this country? No.

    Nor is this even close to socialism. Go search it out; what you refer to as socialism (for the wealthy, I guess), isn’t socialism at all.

    A more accurate description would be state capitalism.

    1. kievite

      Extremes meet. Paradoxically “state capitalism” was the most proper description of Soviet system as well. In essence, the USSR was one, huge, poorly managed corporation.

    1. mmckinl

      “But the label most often pinned on the Obama adminstration is socialism.”

      Exactly correct … and just what would your economic analysis look like if you believed the corporate media and the bought and paid for pundits?

  15. tgmac

    This article more than anything else I’ve read during what I’m now starting to call the American crisis rather than the global economic crisis exposes the utter inability of many US commentators to face up to their plight without going into hyper superficial analysis of other economic systems in order to perpetuate some sort of Capitalistic mythology. It wasn’t socialism (even the trite propogandistic analysis used by the author) nor facism that created the conditions for this crisis. It was an extreme brand of Capitalist ideology based upon a novelist’s idea of how so-called free markets should operate. Your former Fed chairman was an exponent of this doctrine, as were many influential financial and government officials.

    Maybe there is a common problem that both Capitalists and Socialists face. Neither economic system has a concrete set of principles upon which to rely. There are coherent subsets, such as revolutionary communism or libertarianism, but no one unifying theme. Marx never wrote a schematic for a socialist economy. He critiqued Capitalism but never provided a blueprint for a workable socialist economy. Most Western Socialists were relieved that the Soviet state fell. Lenin’s ideas fell apart in practice, due in no small part by the human tendency of greed for posession and power. Socialism is about people commanding the economy – not the reverse.

    Likewise, Capitalism lacks a coherent unifying centre. It has many variants. We’ve just lived through one variant. It doesn’t work so well. Americans can decide to set up some sort of bogey men, via another economic doctrine, as a diversion or it can analyse and reform, such as it did after the Great Depression. The US has a very workable democracy but it needs to take back power from vested interests. It has to decide how it will distribute income in the future.

    These are the same dilemmas that face Socialism. We inhabit a world where resources are not inexhaustable; where pollution and over population are important factors; and where we need a greater ethical foundation upon which to focus human energy. Socialists, unlike Capitalists, haven’t created a workable model yet; although it must be said that Capitalism hasn’t created a self sustaining model based upon the number of crises we’e witnessed over the decades. In either case we need to create economic room for entrepenuers, create wage based jobs for millions, and re-energise our democracies.

    Telling ourselves that others are somehow worse off because of the doctrine they adhere to doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. It’s time for humanity to mature a wee bit more and stop looking for bogeymen under the bed.

    1. Michael

      “… starting to call the American crisis rather than the global economic crisis exposes the utter inability of many US commentators to face up to their plight without going into hyper superficial analysis of other economic systems …”

      Don’t be too harsh on the yanks – they’re a product of a system they personally (for the most part) had no hand in shaping. A system which would of course blame the individual for their own situation, ironically enough.

      It was a pretty poor piece though, the facts don’t support the arguments or conclusions. ‘socialism for big banks’ != socialism, and saying you don’t care how socialists define socialism would be all well and good if you didn’t get it so wrong yourself. And the whole section on looting is based on the same facts as the section on ‘socialism’, that is, private profit, ‘shared’ loss. In reality I suspect even that is `shared more equally’ amongst the politically weak …

      “It’s time for humanity to mature a wee bit more and stop looking for bogeymen under the bed.”

      I fear we may be too late. Hunger and thirst may soon take talking and politics out of the solution space.

  16. Edwardo

    This is a complex issue, but to even suggest that what has occurred to date is socialism is monstrously stupid. Taleb and those like him need to stay within their area of competence, which clearly does not include the ability to properly identify political ideologies in real time.

    1. kievite

      I agree, but only if we exclude “national socialism” or fashism from other forms of socialism.

      From wikipedia

      Franklin D. Roosevelt in an April 29, 1938 message to Congress warned that the growth of private power could lead to fascism:

      The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.[64][65][66]

      From the same message:

      The Growing Concentration of Economic Power. Statistics of the Bureau of Internal Revenue reveal the following amazing figures for 1935: “Ownership of corporate assets: Of all corporations reporting from every part of the Nation, one-tenth of 1 percent of them owned 52 percent of the assets of all of them.”[64][66]

      1. mmckinl

        “I agree, but only if we exclude “national socialism” or fashism from other forms of socialism.”

        ~~~

        Socialism is not a form of fascism. The Nazi’s “national socialism” was indeed propaganda of the most cynical kind and indeed a form fascism. Not the so far velvet glove fascism we see growing in America but was the iron fist variety from it’s very beginning …

  17. Bas

    “if you have corrupt people running the system, you will have a corrupt system.”

    It’s actually the other way around: a system that allows corrupt people to run it will always be a corrupt system. We can not hope to change man, so we should try to change the system, in order to limit and control the damage he does.

    As Joseph notes above (although he makes an unhelpful distinction between market and capitalism), democracy and market-capitalism are natural antagonists. Market-capitalism is powered by self-interest. A democratic system is founded on common interests among (parts of) the polity. The ‘invisible hand’ directing the first is either absent or highly visible in the last.

    The trend towards permanent campaigning financed by wealthy interest groups, combined with powerful and exclusive networks of politicians and corporate leaders, has polluted the democratic process and lead to regulatory and legislative capture.

    Conversely, in a country with the world’s reserve currency, monetary policy need not be restricted by economic expediency (inflation), but can be determined according to political expediency. So the democratic process starts polluting the market as well.

    The first step is to separate state and market as rigorously as we separate state and church.

  18. Penn

    Great post.

    Stalinist Russia definitely wasn’t socialist. In fact, Stalin’s First Five Year Plan was run by Albert Kahn, Henry Ford’s chief architect.

  19. Fernando Philadelphia

    It is interesting that virtually no courses in Marxism exist in our country, yet, like talk show callers, everyone has an opinion. When it became clear that divine right monarchies were ridiculous, given the example of our country and eventually others, such as France, the great task of reconstruction of human society was set as a scientific endeavor. A rational basis for organized humanity would necessarily distribute the wealth to everyone participating in the work of building and sustaining the social order. Does the word commonwealth ring a bell? I live in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and it was not started as a communist plot. Marx, to give your readers some beginning point of reference said that humanity lives in pre-history, because we all subjugated by the will of kings and priests, not our own self determination. When we finally begin to act in our own self interest and derive the benefits of the common enterprise, we begin to plan and act towards future results that we control by our consent. That is when history begins, when slavery ends. Hobbes, seeing a terrible problem in his eyes for kings, saw that individuals must willingly submit to some order, if not the rule of the king. That massive state that would guarantee our personal security in exchange for a measure of our willing suspension of a part of our personal sovereignty, would be the leviathan. The modern nation state, or the American National Security State would fit the bill of leviathan. Despite Ben Franklin’s concern over the liberty / security trade off, a problem remains. Namely, with 300 million sovereign individuals how do we govern the relations of the one against the many or one against one. We have submitted our lives to the rule of law and give our consent at the ballot box to specialists who will govern the social order. In the USA,those who see government as the problem are anarchists. Those who want to micro manage, with commissars or priests at every turn, are totalitarians. The sort of political suppression has names, like fascism, which has strong elements in our country, but socialism, communism, etc are not forms of political oppression, except in the dictionary of people with another word for their own brand. Trying to get the benefits of the whole populace is not a form of corruption or oppression, but a new social order built on rational principles with people’s consent. Redistribution of the wealth is not the hall mark of socialism, but of capitalism. Predatory lending, bait and switch, planned obsolescence and every other means of organized force to keep people economically stratified and impoverished is the order of the day for capitalism. Calling the USSR or China socialist states is obviously a misnomer, the economic models were/are monopolies of the state, where the benefits, while somewhat distributed, not redistributed, have accumulated for a class of what essentially are oligarchs and who pay themselves like princes, bishops or American CEO’s

  20. LeeAnne

    its clearly embezzlement on a shall we say a “world class” scale as in “Embezzlement is the act of dishonestly appropriating or secreting assets, usually financial in nature, by one or more individuals to whom such assets have been entrusted.” -Wikipedia

  21. Himmler's leering skull

    Don’t forget to weigh in that you’ve set aside the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth amendments, posse comitatus, and habeas corpus. The PATRIOT Act and your indefinite state of emergency allow government to criminalize just about any act by clicking its heels three times and saying “terrorist.” I think that looking back after the collapse, you’ll be more upset about the fascist bits.

  22. Hugh

    It has always been part of American Exceptionalism that standard tags like fascist and socialist could not be used to describe politics in this country. This is not only silly but obscures a lot of what has and is going on in our politics. We had socialists in this country often involved with the union movement who called themselves socialist at the end of the 19th century. Eugene Debs was a union organizer and ran for President on a Socialist ticket. We also have had overtly fascist groups like the Bund before WWII. Much of Roosevelt’s federalism was just socialism by another name. The 8 years of the Bush Administration were not capitalism unbound. They were fascism pure and simple.

    The idea that a few wingers can call a conservative like Obama who is, in fact, continuing most of those same Bush policies a socialist is just pooh flinging. It has no basis in reality. When people talk about privatizing gains and socializing losses, they are not talking about socialism. Quite the opposite, this tight relationship between corporations and the state defines fascism. Let us remember that the Nazis were fascists but they called their party National Socialist. This did not make them suddenly socialist.

    Who stands for what and political labeling has been completely debased in this country. It leads people to condemn socialism and praise Social Security and Medicare in the same breath. It places a progressive such as me not just on the left but the far left. I find this very strange since my commitment is to solutions that work and which help ordinary Americans. Is that or has that become such a radical concept?

  23. charles

    Yves,

    It is worth looking at NT’s words in the context of your recent post where you wanted to make a charitable contribution to a family in debt.

    “After finishing The Black Swan, I realized there was a cancer. The cancer was a huge buildup of risk-taking based on the lack of understanding of reality. …
    … Normally debt would get destroyed and turn to air. Debt is a mistake between lender and borrower, and both should suffer.”

    You see ? Excessive debt is a cancer. I don’t question the fact that you are a good person and want to relieve suffering of people when you see it. But what they need is chemiotherapy, even if debilitating, not palliative care.

  24. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    I am trying to figure out what hunting-gathering is. Is hunting-gathering is capitialism, socialism or fascism?

    Or is it just huntingism and gatherism? I like huntingism and gatheringism.

  25. US PERSON

    The founders of communism Marx and Engels predicted this phase of capitalist evolution would be a “dictatorship of the oligarchs” where powerful capitalists subvert the organs of government to their own ends, the amassing of yet more capital and avoidance of risk. Later writers such as Lenin referred to this condition as “state capitalism” as opposed to democratic socialism–a ‘preversion’ of the true socialist state.

  26. Pommes Fritz

    The key sentence is:
    “Whatever we have, it isn’t free market capitalism.”

    So how should we call it?
    Why not answer it the Soviet way? These shrewd guys called their system “Real Socialism” (in order to distinguish it from “theoretical socialism”), which was of course a truism.

    So instead of only dreaming of some kind of “free market capitalism” (which is just a theoretical concept after all, may even call it wishful thinking), let’s face reality and simply call it “Real Capitalism”.
    Voilà, it’s made up of socializing losses, corporatism, looting and many more interesting phenomena.

  27. tgmac

    Having read the original post in a state of disgust, I find the responses of Progressives and other utterly bewildering but expected. I didn’t define Socialism, beyond a passing reference to a democratised economy; saying there are many variants of Socialism. You do have redistribution of income from the present system unless you stop time, via a revolution, and implement a new distribution system of value. Big Deal. Complete bullshite. The questions one asks now: is what do you do for workers whose wages are under pressure or might lose their jobs? how do you ensure a better distribution of value throughout society in the future? how do you create sustainable economies taking into account diminishing resources, over-population and the like? how do you break up or avoid creating monopolies or near monopolies? how do you make sure fixed assets are available for distribution to new entrepeneurs? Dozens of questions need answering.

    Modern Parable

    What’s the difference between 5 Socialists and 5 Capitalists standing before a forest? The 5 Socialists will argue about if they’re seeing a forest or if they’re seeing individual trees. The 5 Capitalists will see unlimited resources and start cutting down trees for heat and lumber to make homes and furniture; hunting as they go along.

    Eventually, the 5 Socialists will have broken into 5 subcommittees to report about such lofty topics as the phallic significance of trees and its impact on feminism. Meanwhile, one far sighted Capitalist will convince the other 4 to stop felling trees in return for some free lumber, and will import new workers whose pay in lumber is just enough to survive. He’ll hire a disgruntled and hungry eco-Socialist to plant fast growing pines which can’t sustain the former diversity of wildlife, and also plan how to import more workers so that his/her empire of lumber can grow at a faster rate irregardless of eco-sustainability or the poverty of workers.

    Far from dissing Americans, I find that US Progressives are practical about choosing their fights. They’re more honest, imaginative and logical in their approach to the political economy. They have a greater sense of democracy and belief in their fellow human beings. European socialists, especially those who’ve spent countless hours pouring over Marx’s work without ever diverging into practical and modern solutions, are on the whole often complete assholes. Socialism is often just a name of convenience in Europe. On the other hand, we’re often left with the legacy of revolutionary Communists whose greatest desire is to argue about how many workers they can get to balance on the head of a pin, quoting Marx as if he was some messiah.

    Marx’s adherence to Hegelian philosophy was underpinned by its core concept: people see the world differently or with different emphasis. This implies plurality at its very basis. More importantly, there is no right or wrong way to practice or understand Socialism. There is only the workable, which achieves greater democratisation of the economy, or there is the unworkable, such as revolutionary communism. In the absence of Socialism, there is only Capitalism in its many variants.

  28. Toby

    Another important discussion on the heels of another helpful post from George Washington. Here’s my two bits.

    The two problems all socio-economic systems that rely on money to distribute goods and services face, are; 1. money’s logical bond with scarcity, and 2. the system’s need for a very high proportion of its working population to earn a wage. I’ll start with money and scarcity.

    Humans are not born greedy and competitive. These behaviours exist in us nascently, to be brought to “fruition” (or not) by environmental conditions. (See “St. Kilda, Island at the Edge of the World,” and “The Original Affluent Society” for examples of societies where greed and competition were vitrually unknown.) Where there is money there is also necessarily scarcity, and where there is scarcity there is necessarily competition over the scarce and desired things. This leads to greedy and hoarding behaviours, and in some of us to corruption. Where there is money there must be rich and poor, and rich will mean – to the vast majority of people – being more successful, and perhaps happier, than the poor. Wealth is sought, poverty avoided, often by hook or by crook. No monetary sytem can escape this dynamic. No monetary system can prevent corruption, no matter how well conceived, no matter how purely it starts out, no matter its laws. If we want to keep material distribution fair, keep peoples’ chances of a happy and healthy life equal for more than just a few generations, we must do away with corruption; we must do away with scarcity. Technically we can most likely do this today. Psychologically we are miles from ready for it.

    Technological unemployment, regardless of what classical economics says about it, is real, and a serious long-term problem for monetary systems. While it is true that increasing productive efficiency leads to increasing demand for labour, it is only temporarily true. Surely falling weekly hours over the last hundred years, flat real wage growth over recent decades, rising natural unemployment levels over the last century, and weakening union power are together evidence of labour’s diminishing bargaining power, of falling demand for human labour?

    Technological unemployment is the consequence of humans replicating, via technical means, what they can do in the workplace, with ever increasing skill and success. It is not a lump of labour fallacy, nor is it left wing technophobia. We have made manual labour in agriculture largely unnecessary, likewise in manufacturing, and the services sector is experiencing a similar erosion of the need for human labour – Artificial Intelligence is in its infancy, as is nanotechnology. Is it silly to suggest we will one day be able to replicate technically almost everything humans can do? I believe not, and further that this process is unstoppable. It would be almost wholly a good thing, if we start to make plans to transition, carefully and slowly, away from all monetary systems and towards a non-monetary, or post-scarcity, or resource-based economics. Demonstrating the potential benefits of such a system would be one of the first steps in preparing ourselves philosophically and psychologically for the demands made of us by such a radically different world. This transition, if undertaken, would likely be a multi-generational process.

    As for “free” market capitalism, rightly pointed out above as a conflation anyway; it is a monopoly/oligopoly creating machine. Where money makes the world go round, it cannot be prevented from taking over, from running government, the media, education, etc. Does history give us any evidence to the contrary? Regardless of the name of the monetary system, money ends up sitting in the driving seat steering culture where it will. If I’m wrong on this, I sure would like to learn how.

    Your friendly voice from the fringe.

  29. Patrick Neid

    “Whether we use the terminology regarding socialism-for-the-giants (”socialized losses”), of fascism (”public and social losses”), or of looting (”left the government holding the bag for their eventual and predictable losses”), it amounts to the exact same thing.

    Whatever we have, it isn’t free market capitalism.”

    I will leave it to all the wannabe comrades here to work out the definitions of the gulag they feel they live in here in Amerika but perhaps we can agree on the last sentence–we don’t have a free market. However, we appear to have a “free market” when we are looking for an excuse for the recent economic collapse. Apparently as Krugman et al’s conveniently posit–it was runaway free markets! LOL.

  30. dearieme

    This debate will not get far if people keep confusing fascism and nazi-ism.

    Anyway, isn’t what you’ve got now more like old-fashioned all-American gangsterism?

  31. Thomas McGovern

    George Washington shows an ignorance of fascism when he titles his essay “Guest Post: Capitalism, Socialism or Fascism?” Fascism is a type of socialism; it is extreme socialism based on national identity. The name of the German fascist party of the 1930s and 40s, “Nazi,” is short for National Socialist. Communism is extreme socialism based on class identity, i.e., the “workers” are good and everyone else is evil. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia on the Italian Social Republic:

    The Italian Social Republic (Italian: Repubblica Sociale Italiana or RSI) was a puppet state of Nazi Germany led by the “Duce of the Nation” and “Minister of Foreign Affairs” Benito Mussolini. The RSI exercised official sovereignty in northern Italy but was largely dependent on the Wehrmacht (German military) to maintain control. The state was informally known as the Salò Republic (Repubblica di Salò) because the RSI’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mussolini) was headquartered in Salò, a small town on Lake Garda. The Italian Social Republic was the second and last incarnation of a Fascist Italian state.

  32. Pat Shuff

    The former isms have been rendered obsolete, supplanted by televism. Winston Smith: I like to watch.

  33. George Washington Post author

    I made another edit. Added Stiglitz and others saying its “socialism for the rich”. If you disagree, fine. But Stiglitz, Roubini, Taleb and others are saying it.

    Personally, I think its much more like fascism than socialism. But I STARTED with what many people are saying, not necessarily what I believe.

  34. Doug Terpstra

    GW’s qualifiers about these economists statements re: the perverse application of the term “socialism” are important, because they are clearly saying that we are witnessing anti-socialism,(implicitly sociopathic, a fair description of the “American Psycho” on Wall Street).

    But GW’s larger point is a very good one: as Orwell noted, language is important, and by using the term socialism, even to underscore a hideous perversion of it, is to undermine its value in a true democracy. These economists use of the term socialism for its opposite, however qualified (for a literate audience), really helps to support the propaganda of the current fascist kleptocracy. We don’t have Winston’s Big Brother state yet, but it is not far off.

  35. Doug Terpstra

    Alan Greesnspan’s statement—-that he was ‘“in a state of shocked disbelief” that “the self-interest” of Wall Street bankers hadn’t prevented this mess.”—-quite frankly made me feel sick. This was either an incredible admission of utter stupidity or an evasion of criminal prosecution.

    Remember, after “retirement” Greespan went right to work for Paulson & Company (no relation to Hank), a hedgehog firm that made BILLIONS shorting real estate stocks and financials in ’07-’08. It’s about as obviously-conflicted a case of revolving door fascism and self-dealing corruption, as one could invent. So is Greenspan a high-functioning, hyper-articulate moron or is he a liar and a crook? Is there an alternative? Is such ideological, Ayn Randian blindness honestly possible?

  36. JTFaraday

    Fed/Greenspan fuelled Ayn Rand acolytes who assert that power and manipulation makes right even unto defrauding the national treasury—and then keep on doing it with impunity–seems like a working definition of “fascism, American style” for my money. Paulson pulled off a coup this time last year, and the Obama administration consolidated it.

    To me, it’s this legitimation process that makes this chapter in mass kleptocracy different–thus far, anyway–from say the prior S&L crisis, where there were mass indictments and prosecutions.

    It doesn’t help that Obama is supposed to be a constitutional scholar.

  37. cheese_eating_social_democrat_surrender_monkey

    “European socialists, especially those who’ve spent countless hours pouring over Marx’s work without ever diverging into practical and modern solutions, are on the whole often complete assholes.”

    Interesting…

    Could you please elaborate on why the british labour party and the german SPD are marxists or assholes.

    “Socialism is often just a name of convenience in Europe.”

    And this statement is a perfect example of congnitive dissonance and exceptionalist rubbish.

  38. Robert Dudek

    Free markets don’t exist in reality – and never have. The term should be banished for all time.

  39. Vinny G.

    Excellent, excellent post! Thank you very much.

    To me, America looks more like a mixture of fascism and corrupted plutocracy. It lacks the law and order aspect of most fascist states, but it retains the corporate takeover of government. And, of course, the looting is completely out of control.

    Starting with the S&L crisis, I began to sense that the US was taken over by a gang of thieves that will not stop until they steal the last dollar. The way they operate is simple: they set their eyes on a pile of money (i.e., Social Security), do whatever necessary to steal it, and then move on to the next pile of money.

    As far as I can see, the only setback this gang had so far was Bush W’s failure to privatize Social Security. However, those who remember, he pushed it so incredibly hard, it looked downright weird. I remember how pathetic he looked going to townhall meetings all over the country pushing privatization of Social Security, long after it was obvious the American chumps were not interested in doing it. It seemed odd that he put so much energy into that, unless he was under tremendous pressure from the aforementioned gang of thieves to do it. I still laugh when I recall the picture of “W”, with his proverbial deer-in-the-headlights look, trying to convince people that privatizing Social Security was a good idea. Now, what if that did pass then? Where would we be now? Wow!

    Anyway, it is obvious what is happening in this country, and that the US is no longer a democracy, but rather a cheap-looking, fascist banana republic.

    Vinny G.

  40. Mostar

    “Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. They are just different brand names for the same basic type of economy. All three systems allow giant businesses which are friendly to the government to keep enormous private profits but to pass the losses on to the government and ultimately the citizens”

    I would like to say that you have wonderful posts but above statement is foolish. There is huge difference, between socialism and fascism.

    I grew up in socialism (and than US and EU come and totally destroyed country), but, not Soviet type. The Orlov guy is best explained difference in his blog, I wholeheartedly recommend to read it. You can see difference for yourself.
    The problem for majority of Americans, the Norway is socialist country, too.

    http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/search/label/socialism

    Second thing, Karl Marx in his Capital from 1867 wrote:

    “In a system…where the entire continuity of the…process rests upon credit, a crisis must obviously occur — a tremendous rush for means of payment — when credit suddenly ceases and only cash payments have validity. At first glance, therefore, the whole crisis seems to be merely a credit and money crisis. And in fact it is only a question of the convertibility of bills of exchange into money. But the majority of these bills represent actual sales and purchases, whose extension far beyond the needs of society is, after all, the basis of the whole crisis. At the same time, an enormous quantity of these bills of exchange represents plain swindle, which now reaches the light of day and collapses; furthermore, unsuccessful speculation with the capital of other people; finally, commodity-capital which has depreciated or is completely unsaleable, or returns that can never more be realized again. The entire artificial system of forced expansion of the economy cannot, of course, be remedied by having some bank, like the Bank of England, give to all the swindlers the deficient capital by means of its paper and having it buy up all the depreciated commodities at their old nominal values. Incidentally, everything here appears distorted, since in this paper world, the real price and its real basis appear nowhere, but only bullion, metal coin, notes, bills of exchange, securities. Particularly in centers where the entire money business of the country is concentrated, like London …the entire process becomes incomprehensible.” — Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 30, “Money-Capital and Real Capital”, 1867.

    Just as somebody above said: “word are important”.

  41. Kifaru

    The State is a monopoly. As long as monopoly states exist, there will never be free markets. The solution is to abolish the State. Let individuals voluntarily establish competing societies.

    Socialism and fascism are variations on the same theme: central control. As the State grows more powerful, so does the corruption.

    The term that most accurately describes the situation in the US now is ‘corporatism’. Big Business and Big Labour and Big Government collude to keep their members rich and safe from prosecution. Entrepreneurs succeed only on the scraps left behind or by inventing an entirely new kind of business (such as microcomputers).

  42. Mickey, Akron, Ohio

    Certainly one of the more interesting discussions I’ve read in a long time. Kudos to all for their cogent remarks.

    But I would argue that what we’re experiencing is clearly not SOCIALISM because there is both an egalitarian and democratic thrust in this doctrine that does not apply to the “trickle-down” politico-economic policies of the past three decades. We certainly have not become more equal and the “creeping authoritarianism” – right and/or left – is obvious to all. Mere state intervention in the economy is NOT socialism either! And so long as profits are privatized and costs are socialized it does not qualify as SOCIALISM by definition. LOOTING perhaps.

    FASCISM by its very nature is LOOTING of one group by another, whether nation and/or class. A previous comment pertaining to the “velvet glove” Fascism variant reminded me of Bertram Gross’ characterization “Friendly Fascism.” But whether gloved or not, Fascism is hardly friendly! It is also limited to a specific historical context and of limited use as a result. The new fascism – if that’s what it is – will be different from that witnessed in Germany and Italy. It behooves us to delineate these differences because of the historical baggage associated with FASCISM. Likewise with “STATE socialism” in practice – the former Soviet Union – and socialism [democratic] in theory. The authoritarian/totalitarian dimension of the former is undeniable.

    CORPORATISM? Perhaps this concept is applicable in Western Europe where BIG LABOR actually exists, but in the US the role of organized labor has declined precipitously with the decline of manufacturing. If anything, it is disorganized labor in the private sector that is the problem in the United States. And the publis sector unions’ future isn’t bright.

    So, the concept that captures it best is STATE CAPITALISM. Marxists will recognize this as an alliance between Government and Business where capitalist interests are promoted against those of the public at large/working class in general and, at times, specifically designed to promote the business interests of a particular group of capitalists. The military-industrial complex is an example of both. If workers benefit it is more by accident than design. But even this concept isn’t whole.

    Missing in this concept and the others is the all important cultural component – the religous/ideological underpinnings – of these concepts and their specific historical context. Antonio Gramsci, a Marxist who died in Mussolini’s Italy, was one of the first Marxists to analyze these forces. Earlier I alluded to the creeping authoritarianism witnessed in American society since the late 60s. But this has to be coupled with the emergence of global corporations during this time as well, some of which rival the STATE. Is it a coincidence that the STATE now appears hapless or powerless to control such large private organizations in their quest for capital accumulation on a global scale? Witness Wall Street. If anything, watching state and local governments vy for new plants/offices with tax holidays/incentives, right-to-work, employment-at-will, etc. is hardly consistent with the free-market capitalism of yore, if ever the case, suggesting the evolution of something more akin to STATE-sponsored CAPITALISM where profits are privatized – shareholders and top management – and costs of production – plant closures, unemployment, social dislocation, pollution – are socialized in a zero-sum game.

    Now that investment is decoupled from the production of goods and services in a particular locality or country, gravitating to the lowest cost producer, the NATION-STATE may be withering away, but not as Karl Marx predicted. What is emerging is a neo-fuedal corporate world order in which the techno-peasantry labors on corporate-owned manors dispersed throughout the global fiefdom. The world is or has become the capitalists’ oyster. But naked force alone will not hold this new order together. Indeed, it is only employed in the periphery… The glue in the United States States is the hegemony of religious, national patriotic, sport, pop cultural themes all welded into support of the capitalist accumulation process. Perhaps it is similar to the totalitarianism of the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. Even dissent/reform is allowed/tolerated but the game is the same. Capitalism as the dominant mode of production is not threatened and will not be for the foreseeable future. Hence any use of concepts to describe what we are experiencing must try to capture this cultural component as well.

    How ’bout STATE CAPITALISM evolving towards SOCIETAL TOTALITARIANISM? The latter is intended to recognize that the large TBTF corporation is the other “Big Brother” in the room that Hayek/Friedman did not factor into their thinking. The private corporation is not bound by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights does not apply to it. Indeed, the Supreme Court may rule whether “corporations” are individuals, having the same rights accorded to the latter – not a decision likely to favor the individual human being!

    The concept of totalitarianism has always evoked the all powerful STATE – Germany and the Soviet Union – as the primary motive force. But what if the totalitarian impetus emerges from the seemingly fractious cultural/political/economic forces rooted in civil society with capitalist hegemony forever the end result? This form of totalitarianism is more sinister because the STATE is not the primary motive force. Herbert Marcuse may have touched upon this but since then the global expansion of production has been of such magnitude to alter the playing field. Are we witnessing the first stage/phase of SOCIETAL TOTALITARIANISM?

  43. tgmac

    Mickey-Ohio, more power to your elbow. This is a fantastic survey of what is actually occurring the world. For a while now I’ve been thinking along the same lines but without the clarity you brought in the post. I’ve had the feeling that nation states, especially in the West, have been required to provide a social net to alieviate business cycle crises but are also squeezed by big corps into granting tax concessions and so on. States have been put in this position, or have willing adopted this stance in tandem with business interests, simply because big corps are can or allowed to game tax systems and offshore jobs; leading to such things a privitisation of public services and thereby increasing costs to individuals as tax revenue declines through tax avoidance and offshoring.

    Do you have a blog or site?

    I’ll quickly answer cheese person.

    UK Labour and the SDP are merely using Socialism as a name of convenience. Just like the Irish Labour Party this year, they’ve severed or diluted ties with Unions – good for unions, imho, but indicative of these parties stances. Irish Labour has gone as far as to say that people should not strike due to offshoring, agentisation of labour, or just plain protecting their wages against the backdrop of economic devasation caused by the current system. These parities are hardly the stuff of Marx, are they?

    As for Euro Marxists, I can understand why Marx didn’t call himself a Marxist at the end of his life. Marxist study has become elitist. In fact, Euro Marxists probably commit the gravest crime of all – bourgeoisification of ideology. Not in the sense that one views events from an owners viewpoint but rather through the codification and nitpicking adherence to “the one true path”; which nobody can agree upon anyway.

    As any Marxist scholar would know, Das Kapital was only the half way point to what Marx wanted to analyse and critique, and he only finished volume 1! It has been suggested his final work critiquing International Capitalism would have pulled all his works into one summation. We’ll never know. Marx’s writings are excellent references but incomplete. They are a jumping off point for an ever evolving situation. Sure, Marx himself often put off writing until events unfolded sometimes, and he’d never have let himself be constrained by anything than utter clarity of analysis and the ability to adapt his core logic to changing circumstances.

    1. Mickey, Akron, Ohio

      tgmac

      No, I’m not presumptuous enough to believe my comments warrant a blog, etc. But I did go back and reread your previous comments. What we call this present phase of capitalism is really of little consequence as it distracts us from the real issue: WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?

      Clearly, the first state-wide experiment in socialism – state socialism in the USSR – failed. Indeed, its failure has contributed to the current hegemony of capitalism as the only viable economic system for most Americans. Thinking otherwise, outside the box, is simply not an option. And I have no patience with the free-market utopian anarchists… the acolytes of Hayek and Friedman. The democratic – both egalitarian and participatory streaks – inherent to socialist theory still appeal to me. But translating them into practice is the difficulty.

      There are two themes or propositions I have come up with that you might want to consider. I’ve spent the better part of the past 30 years or so bouncing these ideas off of friends … losing some along the way, working out the “theory”.

      The first is an attempt to establish the boundaries/paramters within which an ALTERNATIVE to present day capitalism might be framed. I have termed this ESP – EQUITABLE, SUSTAINABLE, and PROFITABLE. There must be a working balance between all three concepts. Equitable – not equal – in the sense that owners, workers, the community [stakeholders] all have legitimate claims on the goods and services created/produced. At the same time, the production of these good/services must be sustainable over time, particularly as this pertains to the environment – the commons – on which we all depend. Lastly, the three Is – Investment, Invention, and Innovation – have to be rewarded as well – profitable. And so long as “profit” is the result of a production process that is both equitable and sustainable it is viable. Hitherto, profitability [largely in material terms and power] has been the only concern with the equity – distribution of output – and the environment dismissed by economists as externalities. The emphasis on ever expanding economic growth is merely a means of avoiding any serious discussion of equity and sustainability. The resultant wealth will lift all boats – rowboats and yachts alike! The trickle down “theory” of economic growth. But clearly, the latter is neither equitable nor sustainable – at least not for the AVERAGE person.

      And the latter is integral to my definiton of PROGRESS which I define with one simple question: Is everyday life/existence getting better/improving for the average person/family or more difficult? If it is getting better/easier than it qualifies as PROGRESS. If not, then it does not. How much progress have WE – the average American – experienced in the past 40 years? Depends on who you ask. Material consumptiom – toys – has increased perhaps but are we better off spiritually? The trade off between them is AFFLUENZA… But I digress. Back to PROGRESS. So long as the ruling elites’ definition of PROGRESS remains dominant and goes unchallenged I do not see how present day capitalism can be transformed jnto ESP.

      Now, the hard part: How do we replace the current paradigm of PROGRESS with that of ESP? Here I rely on the WHEEL OF PROGRESS. It is comprised of three primary spokes: LABOR, GENDER, and ENVIRONMENT. Initially, like any “good” Marxist, I was preoccupied with LABOR. But as I’ve gotten older, the other two have become more central to my thinking, perhaps as ESP has evolved. If the relatonship between males and females becomes more equitable, wouldn’t it have wide ranging ramifications for society-at-large over time? Likewise, as environmental concerns and the issue of sustainabilty become more prominent, the traditional defintion of PROGRESS loses its grip. So, focusing on each spoke turns the WHEEL of PROGRESS. It’s just a question of which direction the wheel is pushed and the role each spoke plays. But like a any wheel it can go either forward or backwards or NOWHERE. It must be pushed!

      The merit of this approach – ESP coupled with the WHEEL OF PROGRESS – is that it empowers average individuals to push the wheel on their own one day at a time. working out the specifics. It is evolutionary more than revolutionary, working with what exists to transform it. And most importantly it is from the bottom-up like one drop of water becoming a rivulet which becomes stream and so on… eventually becoming a tidal wave that tranforms the landscape. Yes it will take time! But it took the “Christians” 300 years to conquer the Roman Empire. Think beyond one’s lifetime… It’s only by pushing the WHEEL OF PROGRESS forward one day at a time that we’ll get there. We are all teachers whether we like it not, leading by example. I’ve had enough of centralized, top-down change …

      Chew on it. Tear it to pieces. Add to it. LOL … But comments are always welcome.

  44. Bobby The Hat

    From William Graham Sumner “What Social Classes Owe to Each Other” – first published 1883 but still in print:

    “There is a plain tendency in all civilized governments toward plutocracy…A plutocracy would be a civil organization in which the power resides in wealth, in which a man could have whatever he could buy, in which the rights, interests and feelings of those who could not pay would be overridden…The old constitutional guarantees were all aimed against kings and nobles. New ones must be invented to hold the power of wealth to that responsibility without which no power whatever is consistent with liberty…Nowhere in the world is the danger of plutocracy as formidable as it is here (in the United States).”

    Maybe another ism? Plutocratism?

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