February 21, 2007

THE ELEPHANT REGNANT:

Global capitalism now has no serious rivals (Timothy Garton Ash, February 22, 2007, The Guardian)

What is the elephant in all our rooms? It is the global triumph of capitalism. Democracy is fiercely disputed. Freedom is under threat even in old-established democracies such as Britain. Western supremacy is on the skids. But everyone does capitalism. Americans and Europeans do it. Indians do it. Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes do it. Even Chinese communists do it. And now the members of Israel's oldest kibbutz, that last best hope of egalitarian socialism, have voted to introduce variable salaries based on individual performance. Karl Marx would be turning in his grave. Or perhaps not, since some of his writings eerily foreshadowed our era of globalised capitalism. His prescription failed but his description was prescient.

Here is the great fact about the early 21st century, so big and taken for granted that we rarely stop to think how extraordinary it is. It was not ever thus. "Can capitalism survive?" asked the British socialist thinker GDH Cole, in a book published in 1938 under the title Socialism in Evolution. His answer was no. Socialism would succeed it. Most readers of this newspaper in 1938 would probably have agreed.

What are the big ideological alternatives being proposed today? Hugo Chávez's "21st century socialism" still looks like a local or at most a regional phenomenon, best practised in oil-rich states. Islamism, sometimes billed as democratic capitalism's great competitor in a new ideological struggle, does not offer an alternative economic system (aside from the peculiarities of Islamic finance) and anyway does not appeal beyond the Muslim umma.


Nor within. Nor does the democratic West (which means America) have any rivals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2007 8:23 PM
Comments

Except, of course, the vast numbers of poor and disenfranchised peoples and places it produces.

Posted by: NFB at February 21, 2007 11:36 PM

It produces none. Indeed, all you have to know about capitalism is that the worst problem facing our lowest class is that they're fat.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2007 11:43 PM

Disenfranchised? What nonsense.

The most disenfranchised people in the world live in North Korea, Zimbabwe, China, Russia, Vietnam, and many Muslim countries. You need a geography (and history) lesson. Even in 1938, which the article links to the nadir of 'capitalism', there was no "system" that competed, just one that undermined.

Posted by: jim hamlen at February 22, 2007 12:19 AM

The triumph of capitalism is as surprising as the triumph of gravity.

Posted by: erp at February 22, 2007 7:09 AM

Islamism, sometimes billed as democratic capitalism's great competitor in a new ideological struggle, does not offer an alternative economic system (aside from the peculiarities of Islamic finance) and anyway does not appeal beyond the Muslim umma.

Not entirely true. It seems to be popular with John Murtha and the Congressional Surrender Caucus, and with Jimmy Carter.

Posted by: Mike Morley at February 22, 2007 8:47 AM

Noboby wants to be poor. Capitalism, unlike all the other alternatives, gives everyone a chance. Like Adam Ant proclaimed " There's always room at the top, don't let them tell you that there is not!...Vive Le Rock!"

Posted by: KRS at February 22, 2007 12:45 PM
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