‘Ism’s, Rhetoric,and the Branding of Ideology in the 21st Century

The following is a reflection I’m sharing with my online Introduction to Political Economy (it has a different name, but that’s what it is) course. It’s long and therefore continued after the jump.

Textbooks and politicians make frequent use of labels for socio-political-economic systems. Typically these labels identify some particular ideology as an “ism”.  Thus we have capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism, and probably several others I’ve missed. For those that grew up in the 20th century or have been educated by those who grew up in the 20th century, it seems natural. We talk about the merits of socialism vs. capitalism for example as if we were discussing the merits of alternative selections from a menu.  It hasn’t always been this way, though.

In the middle and dark ages people did not discuss or promote “feudalism”.  In fact, the term itself is an invention of scholars in later centuries. (see fascinating article on how feudalism as we think of it didn’t really exist).  The term, “feudalism”, is a construct, a rhetorical device, created to guide us into thinking about the socio-political-economic system of that era. In earlier times, those people who discussed political and economic policy issues focused primarily on the specifics of the issues in front of them at the time.  Policy decisions were made on an ad hoc, practical basis.  They essentially are today also, but since the 19th century, we don’t always think of policy that way.  There is a tendency to think there is a master plan or grand design or some kind of over-arching principles which can be used to guide our specific decisions.  We think that policy makers are (or should be) guided by these principles in making policy.

The Role of Media in Creating Manifestos, Platforms, and Slogans

Part of the reason, perhaps the major reason, why we think this way is because popular elections have made it necessary. In the pre-democratic past, back before the French or American revolutions and before the franchise was expanded in England, only a few people, the power elites such as kings, lords, landed gentry, their advisors, high clergy, and some academics need be concerned with policy. They were the only ones whose views mattered. But as popular elections and democracy began to spread, starting in the 18th century and continuing into the 20th century, the views of the populace at large began to matter. It became increasingly important for policy questions to be debated and understood by larger and larger numbers of people.  Increasingly, these people had less background and less time to understand the “nuances” or specifics of policy.  A farmer on the frontier or a worker in a factory may have been smart and literate, but they had little time or resources to spend researching and considering policy options before voting.  Even for the well informed, they had little influence beyond the voting for particular candidates. Their specific views on particular subjects were (and still are) irrelevant. Their only choice was between the candidates presented. Continue reading

Keynes Was Really A Conservative, Not a Socialist

Bruce Bartlett sets the history straight.  Contrary to today’s populist political rhetoric from right-wing, so-called conservative politicians, Keynes, and Keynesian economics is anything BUT socialist.  In fact, Keynes sought to save free-market, private-property capitalism from itself.   Follow the link for the complete story.  Here’s an excerpt:

Those on the right have been making this same argument ever since British economist John Maynard Keynes popularized the idea of using budget deficits to stimulate growth in his 1936 book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. For this reason, Keynes, even more so than Karl Marx, is the principal bête noire of free market economists. They believe governments should never do anything to counteract economic downturns. Consequently, they must implicitly believe that all recessions are the result of massive and simultaneous failures by private businesses and workers who must therefore bear all the costs of adjustment. By opposing government intervention, free market economists are saying that it either made no mistakes or should do nothing to fix those it may have made.

What Keynes understood is that governments bear primary responsibility for recessions. In really severe downturns, such as we suffered in the 1930s and are suffering today, government action is essential to turn the economy around; the private sector simply can’t do it on its own. He also understood that democratic societies cannot long tolerate high levels of unemployment. At some point, people will jettison capitalism for some sort of socialism, which would threaten democracy as well.

via Keynes Was Really A Conservative – Forbes.com.

Angry Bear explains how US businesses failed in the late 20th century

Angry Bear explains how mistaken thinking in the US business community from 1960′s onward set the stage for the loss of world-wide economic and technology leadership in many industries.

A fable: The Guitar Player who sold his gear or, Bruce Henderson vs. Gordon Moore ~ Angry Bear.

I spent much of my career from the late 70′s through 2000 as a corporate planner and strategy consultant.  It gave me a ring-side seat to the mind-battles described in this “fable”.  I have to agree with the author of the fable.  US business leaders blew it.  They fell in love with the finance gin-game:  buy businesses, milk ‘em, sell’em a few years later.   True builders of value and pioneers of innovation and infrastructure lost out because they couldn’t put a faith in an unknown future into spreadsheets.

Bankers as Royalty

Arianna Huffington has a very good read today about why bankers continue to get preferential treatment at the expense of Main Street. Here’s just an excerpt:

Just this week, the bankers and their lobbyists — who you might have reasonably thought would be the political equivalent of lepers in the halls of power these days — have kneecapped substantive bankruptcy reform in the Senate, helped pull the plug on a government-brokered deal with Chrysler, and tried feverishly to throw up a roadblock in the way of credit card reform in the House.

You heard me right. America’s bankers — those wonderful folks who brought us the economic meltdown — are still being treated as Beltway royalty by those in Congress.

According to Sen. Dick Durbin, the banks “are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

When it comes to reforming our financial system, we are truly through the looking glass. I mean, since when did it become “to the vanquished go the spoils”? How do the same banks that have repeatedly come to Washington over the last eight months with their hats in their hands, asking for billions to rescue them from their catastrophic mistakes, somehow still “own the place”?

But the banks continue to be rewarded for their many failures.

“Ersatz Capitalism”, a.k.a. Crony Capitalism, aka Lemon Socialism, aka Obama Plan for Banks

Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel economist) writes in the NY Times (registration may be req’d) how the the Obama/Geithner plan is bad for taxpayers and ordinary citizens.  This is not real capitalism folks, it’s gamed capitalism for the oligarchs.

The main problem is not a lack of liquidity. If it were, then a far simpler program would work: just provide the funds without loan guarantees. The real issue is that the banks made bad loans in a bubble and were highly leveraged. They have lost their capital, and this capital has to be replaced

Paying fair market values for the assets will not work. Only by overpaying for the assets will the banks be adequately recapitalized. But overpaying for the assets simply shifts the losses to the government. In other words, the Geithner plan works only if and when the taxpayer loses big time. Continue reading

Change in Econ Systems: The era of US-dominated Globalization ending

I will comment further at LCC Global Perspectives Conference, but

All the idols of capitalism over the past three decades crashed. The assumptions and presumptions, paradigm and prognosis of indefinite progress under liberal free market capitalism have been tested and have failed. We are living the end of an entire epoch: Experts everywhere witness the collapse of the US and world financial system, the absence of credit for trade and the lack of financing for investment. A world depression, in which upward of a quarter of the world’s labor force will be unemployed, is looming. The biggest decline in trade in recent world history – down 40% year to year – defines the future. ...The ‘market’ as a mechanism for allocating resources and the government of the US as the ‘leader’ of the global economy have been discredited. (Financial Times, March 9, 2009) All the assumptions about ‘self-stabilizing markets’ are demonstrably false and outmoded. The rejection of public intervention in the market and the advocacy of supply-side economics have been discredited even in the eyes of their practitioners. Even official circles recognize that ‘inequality of income’ contributed to the onset of the economic crash and should be corrected. Planning, public ownership, nationalization are on the agenda while socialist alternatives have become almost respectable.

With the onset of the depression, all the shibboleths of the past decade are discarded: As export-oriented growth strategies fail, import substitution policies emerge. As the world economy ‘de-globalizes’ and capital is ‘repatriated’ to save near bankrupt head offices – national ownership is proposed. As trillions of dollars/Euros/yen in assets are destroyed and devalued, massive layoffs extend unemployment everywhere. Fear, anxiety and uncertainty stalk the offices of state, financial directorships, the office suites the factories, and the streets…

via Atheo News: World Depression: Regional Wars and the Decline of the US Empire.