Death to America
May 25, 2018 3:32 PM   Subscribe

America’s Version of Capitalism Is Incompatible With Democracy "American democracy is unwell; on this much, President Trump’s detractors can agree. But when they turn to the tasks of identifying our republic’s symptoms, naming its illness, and writing a prescription, different factions of “the resistance” produce divergent diagnoses."

"One group — comprised of comparative politics scholars, liberal pundits, and NeverTrump conservatives — have their eyes fixed on Donald Trump. They see the moral cowardice of a Republican elite that declined to deny an illiberal demagogue their nomination, or to abandon him in the general election, or to let the investigation into his campaign proceed unimpeded. They observe a president who relentlessly assails the independence of federal law enforcement, the legitimacy of adversarial media, and the veracity of official election results — and a conservative base that takes his lies to be self-evident. And, pulsing beneath it all, they discern the rise of a hyperpartisanship that’s leading each party’s elected officials to eviscerate informal constraints on their authority — and each party’s voters, to believe that the other side has no legitimate claim to power.

But there is a second opinion.

Several social democratic (and/or, democratic socialist) thinkers, examining the patient from a few steps to the democracy movement’s left, have had their eyes drawn to a different set of symptoms. They see state and federal legislators who routinely slash taxes on the wealthy, and services for the poor, in defiance of their constituents’ wishes; regulatory agencies that serve as training grounds for the firms they’re meant to police; a Supreme Court that’s forever expanding the rights of corporations, and restricting those of organized labor; a criminal-justice system that won’t prosecute bankers for laundering drug money, but will dole out life sentences to small-time crack dealers; a central bank that has the resources to bail out financial firms, but not the homeowners whom they exploit; a Pentagon that can wage multitrillion-dollar wars that exacerbate the very problems they were supposed to solve — and still get rewarded with a higher budget — even as the Housing Department asks the working poor to pay higher rent for worse accommodations; and, seething beneath all of these defects, disparities in the distribution of private wealth so vast and consequential, the nation’s super-rich have come to enjoy an average life expectancy 15 years longer than its poor.

In these grisly conditions, social democrats see a textbook case of malignant capitalism. Democracies cannot survive on norms alone. When markets are left under-regulated — and workers, unorganized — the corporate sector becomes a cancerous growth, expanding until it dominates politics and civil society. An ever-greater share of economic gains concentrates in ever-fewer hands, while the barriers to converting private wealth into public power grow fewer and farther between. Politicians become unresponsive to popular preferences and needs. Voters lose faith in elections — and then, a strongman steps forward to say that he, alone, can fix it."
posted by bookman117 (13 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
I was just thinking about this last night. It seems unsurprising that, after half a century of American self-identification against an Other being based more or less entirely on “our system is built on unchecked capitalism,” the pendulum would wind up having swung dramatically in favor of capital over labor.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:37 PM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

And as I have been reminded countless times (only half the time by Republican Partyites), "America is not a Democracy; it is a Republic."
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:10 PM on May 25, 2018

Neither a republic nor a democracy. We're most of the way to a Russia-style oligarchy.
posted by fnerg at 4:17 PM on May 25, 2018 [11 favorites]

Capitalism is the third-rail of constructive criticism.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:22 PM on May 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

step 1: rid ourselves of these grifters and their enablers
step 2: do a socialism

posted by MeatLightning at 5:57 AM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm not opposed to socialism but the confidence that nation overflowing with grifters won't find socialism perverted by grift baffles me.

Related but not identical is a line, I can't remember the original but I read it one of Amartya Sen's essays: "One's optimism about socialism usually depends on which side of the counter you imagine yourself standing."
posted by mark k at 6:50 AM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm not opposed to socialism but the confidence that nation overflowing with grifters won't find socialism perverted by grift baffles me.

Thus MeatLightning's steps?
posted by eviemath at 9:17 AM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Personally, I think that syndicalism - increasing the proportion of businesses, housing, health care providers, etc. that are run as co-ops by the workers, residents, or community served - is a useful path toward socialism that minimizes the risks for corruption from power-hungry individuals or cabals. Worst case scenario, we get more localized and accountable capitalism, even if we get stuck at that step for a long time.
posted by eviemath at 9:21 AM on May 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

eviemath: "Rid"? Are you going to export them somehow?

If only we can get to a "pure" population, then we can have a socialist paradise.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 9:24 AM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

eviemath: "Rid"? Are you going to export them somehow?

If only we can get to a "pure" population, then we can have a socialist paradise.

Currently our legal system largely revolves around the preservation of private property rights to such a complete extent that it's difficult to see it from the inside. It's our country's primary animating principle.

If our country's primary animating principle and legal system changed to be about the prevention of exploitation in all forms, then we'd be all set. Not easy to do, I know, but it's not something that goes against human nature. It just goes against our current governance.

Make it illegal to bend public services and organizations to your will, and then let the sociopaths among us work out their predatory instincts running simulated corporations in VR games where they can't hurt anyone.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 9:56 AM on May 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think about this series of tweets a lot, summarizing about 8 major(and not mutually exclusive) tendancies in the broader left that could get us closer to the utopia, it’s a foundational welfare state AND cooperative/solidarity economies AND strong unionism AND public alternatives to banking and capital AND Money Managment Theory, etc.

Like I don’t know what our future is going to look like, but it’s not going to look like anything we’ve seen before, if only cause we’ve got a lot of experience in what doesn’t work ..and if you’re like me then you’re resigned that this is the fight of a lifetime.
posted by The Whelk at 12:33 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

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