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Whatever Capitalism's Fate, Somebody's Already Working on an Alternative.
January 28, 2002 11:03 AM   Subscribe

Whatever Capitalism's Fate, Somebody's Already Working on an Alternative. "We may not know the region from which the next Marx will hail or his particular approach. But we can be sure that someone, somewhere will offer an alternative vision." You'll never guess what radical reformer the author has in mind. This is a very interesting piece.
posted by homunculus (11 comments total)

Never in the history of nations or ideas has there been an extended period in which one view has prevailed without challenge

He must mean the 230 odd years of the United States. In fact history is full of cultures and ways of life and economic systems that have lasted much longer. Since the first Deomcracy started, Democractic systems have been the exception not the rule, and still are to this day. It would be a more convincing argument to show how fleeting in time our system is in history. Egyptian culture was 3000 years old when Christ was born, Europeans were still eating each other.
posted by stbalbach at 11:31 AM on January 28, 2002

i think he had in mind hernando de soto instead of margaret thatcher, cuz ownership and property rights (however "exotic" they might be) figures prominently around that development model.

for my money i'd choose keith hart :)
It is true that impersonal abstraction is indispensable to economic integration and that our world is becoming more abstract, not less. We depend on the use of quantification to make social calculations of money, time and energy, for example; and few of us would rather be ruled by powerful personalities than by impersonal law justly administered. The idea that the communications revolution contains some potentially redeeming features rests on one overwhelming fact: that large amounts of information concerning the persons involved in economic transactions at any distance can now be processed cheaply, thereby making possible the repersonalization of complex economic life. I cannot imagine a future civilization in which calculation of the value of many transactions would not be a central part of everyday life. Rather than be overwhelmed by money as an external object of unknown provenance, however, people may come to express themselves subjectively through it. Money would then be seen not as the preserve of either states or anonymous markets, but as the ongoing invention of people seeking to measure the consequences of some of their interactions.
posted by kliuless at 12:06 PM on January 28, 2002

Oh wow...

That article had its weaknesses, but we need more of this sort of thinking today. Too often, people make a simple binary division between laissez-faire capitalism and Soviet-style centralized communism, and assume that the only possible variation in the economy is where it falls in the range between these two extremes. Instead, we need to see just how arbitrary an economic system really is.

We should be able to structure the economy in a way that preserves, or even enhances, the benefits of capitalism (effeciency, decentralization), while avoiding its weaknesses (concentration of wealth in a few hands, extreme poverty for some, the excessive difficulty of escaping from poverty). I only have the faintest clue how this might be done, but I do know that in the long run we'll need something far less clumsy than "moderating" free markets with government intervention.

An idea that I really like, mostly just as an excercise in thinking in a way that's orthogonal to the traditional economic left-right axis, is Peter Merel's Stone Society. I don't think it's applicable to the global economy as a whole (not that it's meant to be), but it demonstrates how a capitalist economy is one case of a more general pattern.
posted by moss at 12:19 PM on January 28, 2002

hey cool! i'd like to see the stone society implemented as a MMORPG or like a sim module or something :)

what i like about all these "next marxes" is they're positing new forms of capital beyond the kind that traditionally serves political economy spheres. it seems to me they all have in common trying to somehow quantify social capital (putnam, bowles) -- to "unleash" it somehow by creating a currency that is measurable, exchangeable and a store of value etc.

michael milken has this thesis where he sees the future as progressively more democratic. first of course was democritzation of government, then democritization of capital (think mutual funds, collateralized MBS, junk bonds :) and he sees now the democritization of knowledge, which is why he's into all these educational ventures now. what really interests me though is taking the idea futher. what would the democritization of energy (distributed power generation) and democritization of currency (very nascent, currently administered almost entirely under the purview of central banks and in particular the US fed) look like? i dunno, i just find this stuff completely fascinating.

what's totally cool is that the social currency bit is looking more and more feasible. it used to be that you couldn't figure out what a "social utility curve" looks like. like that's one of the first things you learn in economics, that there's no way to add up the preference curves of individuals to get a look at what it might be for society in aggregate. because of the so-called subjective and therefore arbitrary nature of utility, it's been replaced by more manageable production and consumption figures as de facto proxies. or as keith hart puts it, "in our century, it was recognized that states had the power to organize their national economies (Keynes’s ‘macro-economics’)." but it's crude and doesn't work all that well IMHO, it's just there hasn't been anything better. there's a scene in neal stephenson's cryptonomicon that shows how it might be done i think. where they're out at wazu arranging the remains of an estate in a parking lot using a "fair division algorithm"(?) to allocate their grandma's possessions equitably between themselves along monetary and emotional lines. i was just thinking if markets like that could scale well we might be on to something.
posted by kliuless at 1:25 PM on January 28, 2002

A blueprint for the future that has been around for over fifty years.
posted by hipstertrash at 2:15 PM on January 28, 2002

Let's actually try capitalism first.
posted by dagny at 4:31 PM on January 28, 2002

A new nomad horde, a new race of barbarians, will arise to invade or evacuate Empire. Nietzsche was oddly prescient of their destiny in the nineteenth century. “Problem: where are the barbarians of the twentieth century?”
Empire, p. 213

History’s crimes and tragedies are not thought to have their roots in human nature: they are errors, mistakes that can be corrected by more education, better political institutions, higher living standards. Marxists and market liberals may differ as to what is the best economic system—but, for both, vested interests and human irrationality alone stand between humankind and a radiant future. In holding to this primitive Enlightenment creed, they are at one.

And both have their dogmatic, missionary side. For market liberals, there is only one way to become modern. All societies must adopt free markets. If their religious beliefs or their patterns of family life make this difficult for them, too bad - that is their problem. If the individualist values that free markets require and propagate go with high levels of inequality and crime, and if some sections of society go to the wall, tough - that is the price of progress. If entire countries are ruined, as happened in Russia during the time of neoliberal shock therapy, well - as an earlier generation of radicals nonchalantly put it - you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.
The Era of Globalisation is Over
posted by raaka at 4:52 PM on January 28, 2002

dagny: Some of the problems with U.S.-style partial capitalism seem like they'd only be accentuated in pure capitalism. Shouldn't it be possible to build a system that both fixes these problems and leaves us with greater individual liberty than we would have under capitalism?
posted by moss at 7:33 PM on January 28, 2002

...the next Marx

Ohhh... the NEXT guy who pioneers a form of government whose first implementation goes from revolution to total collapse in under 85 years (1917-1991) . He's a man to watch for, all right.

How about the next Jefferson? 226 years (in July) is a MUCH better track record. Who cares about the next Marx? Given the choice, I'd vote for the next Democrates any day.
posted by phalkin at 4:37 AM on January 29, 2002

Ohhh... the NEXT guy who pioneers a form of government ... [blah blah blah]

Except that Marx died before the revolution, never considered himself a Marxist, and would have almost certainly have been purged by Stalin...
posted by robcorr at 12:41 AM on January 30, 2002

robcorr - indeed. anyone who equates bolshevism with marxism has little understanding of either.
posted by hipstertrash at 12:36 PM on January 30, 2002

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