Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Angry Masses, Wrong Villians

The Occupy (Fill it in) Protests, the still lingering sting of the financial meltdown, the possibility of ANOTHER financial meltdown, and various iniquities performed by corporations (a la MF Global), have generally ostracized and vilified the apologists of capitalism. What happened to the once mighty (and loved) assembly-lines of Ford, which raised so many poor Michigan-ers to levels of "middle-class?" Who would support this economics system in place NOW? I'll tell you... Republicans... Conservatives.... Mean, Rich, People....

Well... That's not so true. Or maybe it is. We can't have this argument until I clear up an important point. This is not pure capitalism, or even a slightly muddy version of it. In fact, as argued here, there are many components of what we live in now that are stringently non-capitalist.

So, let me proclaim (from ye blog on high), that I am a liberal who supports capitalism (in a slightly revised form). I'll stay away from my political view, not because I am shy to share, but simply because I try to avoid political evangelicalism on these white pages, and prefer to stick with rabid economic evangelicalism. Plus, I imagine, many people know what an "American liberal" believes.

Now, I ought to make the point I've been dancing around ever since the title of this piece. The esteemed 99% are PISSED OFF at somebody or something. And, to avoid the vagueness of  proletarian philosophizing and moralizing, we've all come to the conclusion that they're pissed off at capitalism. Fair enough. Look at all those giant conglomerates, who have lobbyists whispering in the ears of our Congressmen. But these are precisely the non-capitalist elements of society that bother me as liberal and capitalist.

People of my point of view like to toss around the phrase "the free market." That's all fine and dandy, but let me rephrase it as "the competitive market." Here, in its most pure form, firms do not have market power. If they price too high, are inefficient, or betray their customers, they will cease to exist. Of course, it is unrealistic to assume no firms will achieve market power, and perhaps that's a good thing. Natural monopolies arise (for instance cable TV), and this makes for lower marginal costs. But technical issues aside, in the competitive market I like, there is always change. And change is what we lack. I'm not saying, "out with the old, in with the new." But a healthy market should have new firms and innovators challenging the staid ones. Most of these entrants will fail, for sure, but being "under pressure" forces some of our more comfortable heavies to stop resting on their size and influence.

As a liberal and capitalist, I'm happy when someone like Mark Zuckerberg can penetrate the world of technology, because he has a good idea, and his good idea can't be blocked or "lobbied against." And that, my friends, is capitalism. Capital in the hands of private owners. Firms competing against each other to win support and money (which becomes more capital) from consumers, not firms competing to get into Senator Joe's pockets.

The ones who would seek to maintain this status quo are not capitalists. They may have started somewhere there, but they have strayed. I'm not even going to begin to propose solutions to our current methods, as that would require a book, but I'll leave you to consider the possibilities. We do not live in a capitalist society. Getting back to one will not exacerbate our problems, as some would have you believe. It will solve them.

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