“The market has proved itself the supreme engine of innovation, production, and distribution. But as it careens ahead, its method — heedless of little beyond profits — is what Joseph Schumpeter called ‘creative destruction.’ In its economic theory, capitalism employs the model of equilibrium; in practice its very nature drives it toward disequilibrium. The unfettered market that conservatives worship systematically undermines the values conservatives hold dear: stability, morality, community, work, discipline, delayed gratification. The greed and glitter of the marketplace, the exploitation of prurient appetites, the anything goes psychology, the short-termism, the ease of fraud, the devil-take-the-hindmost ethos, all of these are at war with the professed conservative ideals.”
The quote is from an article titled “A Question of Power” by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. appearing in an edition of The American Prospect, an article so compatible with my liberal soul that I would like to quote the whole of it for what I perceive to be the needed and necessary education of anyone who is still susceptible to learning history, economics and political science. And about the shortcomings and excesses of capitalism.
The quote comprehensively and succinctly corroborates my assessment of unfettered capitalism, to wit: That it has produced great material wealth but at a cost that is prohibitive and that is cancerous and ultimately deadly to the nation’s political and moral well-being. And that capitalism is capitalism’s worst enemy and has within it the seeds of its destruction. Karl Marx was right.
More from Professor Schlesinger: “But the real inciters [to class warfare] are CEOs who pay themselves more in a day than their workers make in a year. Laissez-faire zealots and market fundamentalists somehow don’t get it. They still don’t understand that it is precisely the intervention of the national government that has rescued capitalism from the dreaded Marxist fate. Market fundamentalism — that is, the doctrine that the unbridled market place contains the remedy for all our troubles — would have, as Marx predicted, made the rich richer and the poor poorer and thereby intensified class war. What saved capitalism from being destroyed by its own contradictions was something Marx had not foreseen: the democratic interventionist state.”
I was alive and remember well the result of unbridled capitalism and have since read of its insensate, unconscionable, deplorable exploitation of men, women and children and, of course, of its pillage and plunder of the environment and every other form of life. I remember the crash of 1929 and its residue and how near to the precipice of class warfare the nation was until FDR used government to rescue it and in the process rescue also the very rich whose greed had spawned the economic debacle. And now since democratic intervention has regulated capitalism, capitalism has gone overseas where it can exploit the peasantry of the world and expropriate the value of their labor and pillage their environment to its profit.
Again Schlesinger: “The affluent argue that affirmative government has malign moral consequences. Public solicitude, it is said, corrupts the poor by depriving them of that economic insecurity the well-off hold to be the essential stimulus to achievement. … ‘In order to succeed,’ the right-wing publicist George Gilder writes, ‘the poor need most of all the spur of their poverty.’
“The affluent apply this argument rather more to the poor than to themselves. If the rich really believed in the salubrious effects of economic insecurity, they would favor a 100 percent inheritance tax so that their own children would not be deprived of this great moral benefit. Instead —- well, we all know how the rich feel about the estate tax. “
If the rich are not preaching of the how welfare corrupts the morals of the poor, they are preaching of how big government threatens the freedoms of the people and particularly of capitalists. “But the record surely shows that the intervention of national authority— far from rushing the Republic down the road to serfdom— has given a majority of Americans more personal dignity and liberty than they ever had before. The individual freedoms destroyed have been in the main the freedom to deny black Americans their elementary rights as American citizens, the freedom to work little children in mills and immigrants in sweatshops, the freedom to pay starvation wages and enforce dawn-to-dusk working hours and permit squalid working conditions, the freedom to deceive in the sale of goods and securities and drugs, the freedom to loot national resources and pollute the environment, and so on. “
The threat to freedom is not from a government which intervenes on behalf of the poor and the hindmost, it is from the rich that own and control corporate power and wealth. Henry Adams, a brilliant American historian, more than a century ago detected the threat in the Erie Railroad’s unrestrained use of its power and the government’s weakness in the face of it and presciently observed: “ The belief is common in America that the day is at hand when corporations far greater than Erie … will ultimately succeed in directing government itself. Under the American form of society no authority exists capable of effective resistance. The national government in order to deal with the corporation, must assume powers refused to it by its fundamental law — and even then is exposed to the chance of forming an absolute government which sooner or later is likely to fall into the hands it is struggling to escape.”
The mother of ironies is that the conservatives and the religious fundamentalists are aghast at what this professed Christian republic has come to: a nation of materialists, egoists, libidinal freaks and incipient sociopaths; and they cannot believe that what has happened is the result of their worship of the Golden Calf, namely, capitalism, so they lay the blame on liberals, without whose opposition and humane input their economical god would be as dead as their theological god.
Further, was there ever so palpable a contradiction, so manifest an ignorance, so gross a hypocrisy as fundamentalist Christians espousing the cause of right-wing conservatives? How can anyone with a modest gift of discernment and sense of social justice read the Sermon on the Mount and not conclude that unbridled capitalism and the politics of its adherents are totally incompatible with the word and spirit of Jesus Christ?
Conservatives think that their hero Reagan defeated the Evil Empire but they are going to learn that it never happened. That Marx was right: That capitalism expropriates the value of the working man’s labor unto itself, that it thereby makes the rich richer and poor poorer, and that the consequence is a nation divided against itself, a division that can only lead to civil strife and eventually to a military coup d’ etat and a fascist state, a course followed by nearly every important power in history except those that were saved by a democratic interventionist state.
Capitalism with its amorality and its naked material goal has corrupted this nation just as it will any nation; and its professed Christian proponents see the corruption but owing to either obtuseness or self-deception lay the cause at the feet of liberals. Under Reagan the interventionist state grew weaker; under Clinton, the move to the middle weakened it further. Now under Bush, there is haste to dismantle all that can be dismantled of it. So the rich get richer and the poor poorer and the national power, being systematically eroded by the Supreme Court, grows weaker. The military, the trump card of the wealthy when class warfare breaks out, is ever more rightwing in its politics and is the power corporate interests look to for protection from the people and the government, if it comes to a showdown with them or it or both.
When Creative Destruction comes, the religious fundamentalists and capitalist conservatives will lay the blame on liberals and socialists and will continue to declare that Christ and supply-side economics are the answer, even though they haven’t ever seriously regarded or followed Christ, except, perhaps, as a ticket to heaven, nor ever conceded that Marx figured them out long ago.