Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ills of Capitalism

There's been a flurry of anti-capitalist rhetoric in Germany of late.

The socialist SPD party in the governing coalition has been burnishing its lacklustre profile - seeking to distance itself from its centrist CDU partner on the one hand, and the ex-communist PDS party on the other.

This may seem a strange abandonment of the political centre. But in Germany the centre is very much to the left of where it might be found in the US or the UK. And the populist success of the ex-communists doesn't leave SPD leader Kurt Beck a lot of room to manoeuvre. And so he's been dusting off trusty old arguments about the iniquity of private capital, the wickedness of greedy corporate leaders, the locust-like threats of global investment, and all the rest of it. A strong central state managing everything is Beck's answer to these ills.

Stefan Theis, Newsweek's economics editor, gives an analysis of how such attitudes are actively fostered by Germany's (and France's) educational system. Capitalism and entrepreneurs are routinely blamed for the world's woes, says Theis, in the economics courses offered by their secondary schools and universities. State control is posited as necessary to curb the damage wrought by business. In this way, says Theis, France and Germany's elites are given an unbalanced view of business and the state.

Support comes from a reliable source. In the Guardian, Madeleine Bunting reviews Oliver James' The Selfish Capitalist, a study of the ramifications of what has been called Affluenza. James notes that the increased economic wealth brought about by capitalism hasn't brought increased happiness. In fact, it has apparently increased the incidence of mental illness, or at least the incidence of treatment for such ills. The inevitable conclusion, drawn by both James and Bunting, is that capitalism is therefore to blame.

Curious how politicians and intelligentsia of the left, having seen that socialism isn't much good at making citizens rich, now line up to flay capitalism for the problems material prosperity brings. The more so given that socialism's promise was always based on the pre-eminence of material goods.

Link to Bunting's review of Oliver James' The Selfish Capitalist:
The big question | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

Link to Stefan Theis' article:
Foreign Policy: Europe’s Philosophy of Failure

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