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