One silver living to come out of the economic crisis is that the so called capitalist system (which in reality is an extreme form of unfettered free market capitalism) that most of the West lives under is being questioned again for the first time in more than half a century. Previous to the crisis, merely questioning whether capitalism really works was enough for people to suspect you were a raging socialist or more likely, a communist. Nowadays, even the Financial Times is featuring the word “capitalism” in it’s headlines – anyone would think the editors are trying to turn it into the Communist Manifesto! On the other side of the pond, even The Washington Post is asking, “Is Capitalism Dead?“.
In the last great depression in the 1930’s, it was normal to see capitalism talked about and debated in the media and political arena. After the war, when corporations and government simply decided capitalism was the only way, and we all got punch drunk on consumerism and ceased to care about how our countries were run, any debate about whether capitalism was a decent, functional and humane economic system went out the window. Then people like Thatcher and Reagan came along and put the nail in the coffin by decreeing that there simply is no other way – so just forget about it and go and watch TV.
The current economic crisis is a great opportunity for all those that have had their doubts about capitalism and it’s effectiveness to come together and discuss a new way forward. In my mind, we’ve never truly seen either a pure capitalist or communist system largely because corporate or state powers have consistently perverted both systems for their own means. It’s clear to me that something in between the two systems, along the lines (but not the same as) that practiced by the Nordic countries, would be the ideal.
Check out legendary Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm give his take on the current crisis on the BBC’s terribly civilised Today radio programme. His trilogy of books covering contemporary history since 1789 starting with The Age of Revolution are also a must read.