How the left lost the great recession

I was just reading through Foreign Policy’s new report titled “who won the great recession”. First things first: It’s not who you think it is. Particularly in the area of economic thought something very interesting seems to have happened. Sure, the demise of Marxism itself was marked by a brick of the Berlin Wall falling on top of its head more than two decades ago. The whole notion of getting rid of private property at first glance seems only slightly less crazy than jumping out of space. Thought through, it’s impossible on a large scale without pulling a full Kim Jong Whatshisface. But the ongoing crisis still seemed like a big opportunity for alternative ideas to emerge. Not much of it has happened.

FP’s article on the issue is fairly pessimistic. It claims that “It is almost as if this crisis were staged to demonstrate that the only solution to a failure of capitalism is more capitalism”. Clearly, they have a different concept of what capitalism is than I do. The most recent excesses of the system seem more like a bad sequel to the Robber Barons, with more anonymous and much less classy protagonists, than what one Adam Smith was talking about. That such a system would fail (with strong benefit of hindsight) was inevitable. And yet, most movements in response to the crash focused more on fixing (or at least changing) the politics rather than the economics.

In the United States, the Tea Party movement proved simply to be crazy. Occupy Wall Street democratized itself to death, failing to ever come up with tangible proposals or even solutions. The more extremist parties that have been gaining strength in many countries of Europe share xenophobia and little else. In fact, one might be excused for believing that that is indeed the sole issue on their platform. The Arab Spring is…a mess and too early to call. And even Latin America’s Pink Tide politicians (with the obvious exceptions) seem to be becoming less red and more blue (or whatever the appropriate choice of color might be). No one in North Korea probably even knows that something like “the rest of the world” exists, but even there, reforms point right rather than left in terms of economics.

Churchhill once famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others”. Maybe the same thing applies to capitalism. Sure, the system requires fixing. A lot of fixing. But there seem to be few objections to the general principles of it. It has all boiled down to tinkering with the micro rather than changing the macro of it. In a way, we are all merely different shades of economic conservatives now. Is this really the end of the worldly philosophers? Can I get another Marx, anyone?

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