Saturday, November 20, 2010

Capitalism is not immoral–updated

Please see the update below, a quote from Chris Floyd.

But it isn’t moral either. It’s an economic system that is amoral. Moral values and ethical systems can be attached to capitalism, but I don’t think they inhere in capitalism itself; they come from somewhere else. Which is why Stephen B. Young’s recent trip to China to (apparently) flog his book Moral Capitalism and his report of his trip in today’s Strib caught my eye. Early in the op-ed piece, Young makes this sad observation:

Does China's leadership really propose to replace a Western imperial order with its own "celestial" one?

Could be. I sense that part of China's leadership is coming down with "greatpoweritis."

Britain, France, German, Japan and Russia all went though bouts of this disease. Even the United States had what I would call a mild infection in the late 19th century.

You are invited, boys and girls, to consider especially that last sentence. Now, raise your hand if you’ve heard or read the term “last remaining superpower” any time in the 21st century. I see a lot of hands.

Young reports that the Chinese weren’t sufficiently deferential to him when he went to China as an evangelical of “moral capitalism.” Apparently, they went all Boxer Rebellion on poor Missionary Steve.

I was in Shanghai recently speaking at the launch of the Chinese translation of my book "Moral Capitalism." The respondent to my overview was introduced as a "businessman." But he was not just an ordinary real-estate speculator. He had what Shelley called the "sneer of cold command," the condescending bearing of a senior party cadre. His take on me was dismissive -- I was, in his words, coming from a declining, has-been power and peddling nonsense to justify a decadent cultural system inappropriate for the Chinese people. [emphasis added]

I took this in stride and gave as good as I got in this unexpected clash of civilizations in front of some 100 young Shanghai intellectuals.

His counterargument to my thesis that capitalism can be ethical and responsible was to fall back on the Chinese notion of heaven and of an emperor who presided over "all under Heaven." Since, he said, the Chinese have always believed in heaven, they have no need today to think in terms such as "globalization" or "universal values" -- a code word for human rights.

This all must have been a great shock to one of America’s great moral missionaries. Not to mention a dose of reality therapy. China certainly is the ascendant power in Asia, and maybe the world. And we have very little to teach it these days, at least economically.

You really have to ask yourself: who is the more infected with hubris, the Chinese business man or Steve Young?

Update: In a post about abuses in the microfinance “industry” in India, Chris Floyd says this:

Now here is another blatantly obvious, common-as-dirt fact: The market is designed to make money. If you rely on the market to achieve social goals -- such as the alleviation of poverty, or the provision of public services necessary for the common good -- then you will fail. And these failures [  ] will generally be catastrophic, exacerbating the problems they are intended (or purporting) to address.

Orginal post 11/12.


Phoenix Woman said...

He's been soaking in the American exceptionalism doctrine since his birth, and it's worked out swimmingly for him.  He might have had a different take on it had he born in 1945 Hanoi instead of 1945 America.

James K said...

And again there was another, in this case, editorial in the Strib calling for US workers to take pay cuts "in order to compete." 

Alec Timmerman said...

Everyone should sacrifice except those who have sacrificed the least and have the most. They should sacrifice even less.

Alec Timmerman said...

I have a "pet" theory about capitalism. Capitalism is an insatible beast who's nature is to devour. The beast can be very useful, and help further democratic ideals, but at the end of the day it is still an insatiable beast.

Socialists-They see the beast as evil and want to put it down. They are scared of the beast, and don't realize that you can't just tell a beast to stop being what it is.

social democrats/liberals/progressives- They understand the nature of the beast, but also realize that it can be very useful. They are willing to use and nurture the beast, but they know you need to have a tight leash, and sometimes even a muzzle. Let off leash the beast will devour the master.

Republicans/conservatives-They worship the beast, but strangely also thing they are in charge of it and can control it. They are like the pit bull owners swaggering down the street keeping everyone in line. They don't think there is anything to fear from their monster. They are the most dangerous.

Libertarians-These folks look at the beast and see a pretty little pony with ribbons in it's mane. Why would anyone put this friendly pony on a leash. It will give us pony rides and then poop gold nuggets.

Austrian economists-They wish they were the beast.

chicago dyke said...

Alec: and radicals understand that when the beast is old or rabid, the merciful thing is to put it down. there will always be another along soon to leash, and feed. 

capitalism is not a condition of nature; no economic system is. economic systems exist in the minds of human beings alone, and human beings are not amoral beings. it is completely possible to design a moral economic system, one highly informed by the ethics of fairness and parity, for like economics, morals and ethics exist solely in the minds of human beings and therefore each can be affected by the ideals contained within those minds. i'm sure this guy is just another winger i can mostly ignore; i don't mean to defend him nor detract from the point of this post. but i get annoyed when people treat the Dismal Science in the way tradents and priests like to treat theology. economic science as currently understood has profoundly important roots in various aspects of history, sociology, religion, and modern science. but it is fungible, it can be changed. if it is really a "science," that is. you know, new conclusions based on new or re-examined evidence.

James K said...

That is the right's basic mantra.

Though I rather like this phrase to describe it:  In the end only the fittest survive, if you're strong (i.e. rich) you live, if you're weak (i.e. not rich) you die. 

Alec Timmerman said...

Of course. I'd take the social democrat idea of captalism where the tool of the market is used for the greatest good while still allowing for the profit motive and freedom of ingenuity. CErtainly a tyrannical government can stop our freedom, so private interests need to be strong enough to prevent that. On the flip side, private interests can also become so powerful they limit choice and stifle the market. Who is going to prevent that if govenrment is small enought to drown in a bath tub?

chicago dyke said...

ahistorical and polemical responses to my criticism are amusing, but not terribly useful. or: as i was just saying at another blog, "shoulda, coulda, woulda, oh my." this isn't a conversation about "if only X would Y..." or at least it's not to me. theory is fine and fun and wonderful, but here is this awful reality barreling down on (at least some of) us. the social contract of the New Deal generation is being destroyed, before our very eyes. on the basis of lies, cheating, theft, greed and killing. openly, those actions are taking place, and the actors are people who cloak themselves in false economic "theory" which has been completely debunked as we understand that process by the scientific method. "we have no choice but to fund these things with your tax dollars, while we steal what you paid into a common fund for your general welfare as outlined in the Constitution." 

so- "capitalism." who are your heroes? the banksters? the government agents who protect them? the media whores (online) who defend them with jabberwocky and pretty graphics? the undereducated american pubic, who is told "kick a n****/gay person/immigrant, and yore gunna B rych!!!1!" 24/7?

cause mostly, those seem to be the primary members of Team Capitalism. did i miss somebody? oh, the warmongers and theocratic patriarchy. my bad. 

Alec Timmerman said...

Hehe, again, I agree with most of what you are saying. Not really polemical, but I suppose you can call agreement that again:-) I don't believe extremes ever work. Socialism has been a proven failure just as unbridled capitalism. Social democracies with regulated capitalism have been proven very, very effective and humane as any human system could be. I would reference Sweden, Norway, etc. I would say that the New Deal was a step in the direction of a social democracy with a capitalist economic system. The problem is with aboslutists. So, at risk of being so "polemic" that I agree with most of what you say, demonizing people is certainly not helpful. Life is about balance. We are way, way out of balance. The scales are tipped way to far to the thoecrats, plutocrats, capitalists and corporatists. Let's get some balance back. Socialism has never worked either.

Randy said...

If this is the Steve Young who came to down to be Dean of Hamline Law School, I understand that he served in some US governmental capacity in Saigon during the Vietnam War.  One would he think he would have learned something of imperial hubris from that experience.

blogspotdog said...

That's the guy.

James K said...

SOmewhat off topic I know, but perhaps Mr. Westover can explain to us how come its ok for some people (i.e. members of the government) to have government run health care but its not ok for the rest of us to have it?

I direct him to this particular piece of hypocrisy: