On Being “Anti-Capitalist”: Spare Me
In my TAC review of Jonah Goldberg’s The Tyranny of Cliches, I suggested a few lexicological alternatives for the phenomenon that people are describing when they criticize “ideology.” “Apriorism” was one; “absolutism” another.
Good old-fashioned “tribalism” was a third.
On that score, the apriorists-absolutists-tribalists of the conservative mainstream dutifully insist that any criticism of Bain Capital is tantamount to anti-capitalism, full stop. More broadly, we’re not allowed to have any qualms about the financialization of the American economy or to entertain the possibility that high financiers are not necessarily another species of entrepreneur.
“Obama wants the middle class to do well, but does not see the role that people with risk-taking capital play in building job opportunities for economic advancement at all income levels,” as Don Lambro put in a column about Obama’s “Anti-Capitalism Strategy.”
Sounding oddly hip, Jack and Suzy Welch decry “this movement afoot that hates on business.”
And Rush Limbaugh drops the hammer:
I think it can now be said, without equivocation … that this man hates this country. … Barack Obama is trying to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream.
Fortunately, there is a constructive conversation happening elsewhere.
There’s the indirect Austrian short-term critique of financialization that implicates central banking — in particular the “persistently easy monetary conditions” that led to the current financial crisis.
Relatedly, there’s John B. Judis’s long-view argument that financialization is a byproduct of the true cause of increasing inequality and anemic growth: the decline of American industry that followed the unraveling of the Bretton Woods system of gold-pegged currencies, bringing us the era of massive trade deficits and relentless downward pressure on wages.
After Bretton Woods was replaced with a system of floating exchange rates, the United States, Europe, and later parts of Asia and Latin America gradually removed controls on the mobility of capital and the value of their currencies. That gave the world’s leading banks and insurance companies, as well as a host of hedge funds like the infamous Long-Term Capital Management, new ways to make money.
Judis’s recommendation is for the U.S. to get “tough with its trading partners” — which Mitt Romney promises to do if he’s elected — as well as subsidize industrial “innovation and growth” — which Romney and co. dismiss as so much crony capitalism.
What the Austrians and left-liberals like Judis have in common, it seems to me, is a recognition that the U.S. economy was fundamentally unsound long before anyone had heard of Barack Obama — that the Reagan-Clinton-Greenspan boom (if you want to think of it continuously) was built on an unsustainable model. The Austrians finger Fed-fueled asset bubbles; Judis, deindustrialization.
At its essence, this is a conversation that doesn’t ask “Whither capitalism?” but rather “What kind of capitalism should we have?”
I wish more of my confreres on the right were willing to have this conversation.