Like most people, I’m disgusted about the US government bailout (‘rescue’) plan of $700 billion. I am also trying to grapple with what happened – while I understand some of the reasons behind this ‘worst ever economic crisis since the Depression’: the subprime crisis, the collapse of the housing bubble in across the US, soaring oil prices, I’m having hard time to get my head around the details, such as the basic terminology used when discussing the economy and the current crisis. Since I started my Saturday subscription of the Globe and Mail, I’ve been religiously reading the Business Section (which I never did before; Business sections of any newspaper used to go straight to the recycling bin with the Sports section before I started reading the paper). But my head starts spinning with the terminology – I don’t know what equity, liquidity, toxic security and the other terms I can’t even remember actually mean. I don’t know what the difference is between mortgage and a regular loan (except that the former is a loan for your house) and after consulting Wikipedia, I’m not much wiser (despite Wikipedia’s best efforts).
The other two, perhaps bigger, questions I have: Does this meltdown mean the end of market capitalism as we knew it? And what should’ve been done to prevent the current crisis? I can imagine some answers to the latter question – the runaway corporations, investment banks, mortgage lenders and others should’ve been regulated in a more heavy-handed manner, but what else? I want to know some details. I haven’t had enough time to surf on the Internet to find articles analyzing the current situation from a more critical angle than your usual Globe (white) malestream economists and other experts giving their two cents worth. (The Business section is the section where white middleage male expertise holds the monopoly of authority – is it because they also seem to be the ones to blame this mess?)
Sunday morning on CBC there were experts (again, all male) discussing the economy and the host did ask my question: does this mean the end of Milton’s neoliberal policies and the return to the Keynesian model? One answered probably; that the public might be ready to reexamine the capitalist economy. Two others said no. This is also what Naomi Klein argues in her Sept 19 article: “Whatever the events of this week mean, nobody should believe the overblown claims that the market crisis signals the death of “free market” ideology. Free market ideology has always been a servant to the interests of capital, and its presence ebbs and flows depending on its usefulness to those interests.”
On the other hand, in her a bit all-over-the-place public talk to a packed audience of 850 people on Monday night in Toronto (organized by OPIRG as a fundraiser for the Tyendinaga Mohawks), Klein agreed that there’s “a need to hold onto alternative narratives to remain strong in the moments of crisis.” She didn’t, however, offer any alternative narratives but instead, after finishing her own talk, invited some other people tell what they are doing about poverty and housing crisis in Toronto, oppression of First Nations and discrimination of migrants.
The sharing of the stage is a great idea (as an implicit critique of a sole expert) but it did make it look like as if Klein herself didn’t have anything to offer in this regard. What a lost opportunity, considering the crowds she attracts – when I got the the venue, there was a lineup around the corner and way out to the residential street which I thought first was for some blockbuster, not for Naomi Klein’s talk. But it was and I sure was blown away. She’s like a rock star (and she is a great speaker) – or is it because of the timely topic?
She talked, among other things, about the fearmongering used by those in power (or wanting to be in power) in times of crisis, including Harper in his current election campaign. She stressed the importance of keeping ourselves strong rather than volatile and disoriented (she admitted herself feeling a bit dizzy because of history being fastforwarded in front of us).
Interestingly, on Friday night’s first presidential debate Obama stated very clearly that the economic policies of the past eight years have failed terribly and they must be changed. He is talking about the Miltonian neoliberal free market policies but I wonder if he is serious about changing them. Even Stiglitz maintains that “Trickle-down economics almost never works, and it is no more likely to work this time.” He suggests that “The Scandinavian countries showed the way two decades ago” how to go about with less money and have more transparency.
Is this finally the true end of history as Fukuyama framed it when the Soviet Union collapsed – now also capitalism has collapsed? Or is it the return of history? They are nationalizing banks even in Europe. What’s the difference to Bolivia where Evo Morales seeks to nationalize oil and gas companies? (Naomi Klein in fact suggested this, and the audience hesitated. She said she was serious. I was thinking that Norway has done that from the onset with its Statoil.)
I’ve been a bit surprised to learn that one of the strongest opposition to this Wall Street fat-cat rescue plan came from conservative Republicans for whom it represents a first step to socialism. Obviously they’ve been sleepwalking all these years (selective memory is another form of denial) – as George Monbiot points out in his article “The free market preachers have long practised state welfare for the rich“, this kind of socialism has been going on already for a long time. He actually goes as far as to argue that “There is not and has never been a free market in the US.” (This is the most in-depth article I’ve read so far – let me know if you find others.)
Part of me (the ever-suspicious part that is drawn to conspiracy theories – by the way, did you read Naomi Wolf’s piece on Palin as the FrankenBarbie of the Rove-Cheney cabal?) thinks that the reason folks are saying this does not mean the end of market capitalism is because they are either in denial or that they want to hold on to their dear TINA doctrine (there is no alternatives) as the last straw. Long live Thatcher and Reagan – we’ve got to hold on to something when the Titanic is sinking?
Maybe it doesn’t mean the end of corporate capitalism if we don’t want it to be. But could we use this opportunity to make it the end? We are not just passive receivers of the economy above, or don’t need to be if we decide so. Where are all the feminist economists, gift economists, green economists, subsistence economists and other alternative economists now?