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Trump’s economic nationalism is an effort to save capitalism

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Elizabeth Warren looks like a deadly serious prospect for the Democratic presidential nomination. Bernie Sanders may never make it to that promised land, but there is no question that his spirit is still moving the Democrats toward democratic socialism. The party’s activist base and youth wing grow more anti-capitalist by the month. It’s enough to turn many a libertarian or Chamber of Commerce conservative into a Trump supporter, despite the president’s own defiance of free-market orthodoxy on trade.

Yet the president might as well be Milton Friedman compared with some on the right who are, if anything, outflanking the left in their critiques of capitalism. ‘The main threat to your ability to live your life as you choose does not come from the government any more,’ Tucker Carlson told the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, DC last July, ‘but it comes from the private sector.’ Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, and the editors of First Things have likewise taken aim at corporate America, particularly the tech sector. These conservatives are as likely as Sen. Warren to espy virtues in a wealth tax.

Socialists to the left, nationalists to the right — these are daunting times for defenders of capitalism. This year was the 75th anniversary of the publication of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and the Austrian economist’s admirers could be forgiven for thinking his book’s lessons have gone unlearned.

But Hayek himself might rethink that judgment in light of everything that’s happened since 1944, when he warned that even a little socialism and central planning would lead to a lot more. Since then, what has become obvious is that there is simply no stopping commerce. Far from being a delicate flower easily crushed by careless would-be gardeners, capitalism is robust, even to the point of being weed-like.

Lenin had already discovered by 1921 that ‘full communism’ wouldn’t work even with the power of a totalitarian state behind it, a reality that compelled him to adopt what was called the ‘New Economic Policy’. It restored a small degree of private enterprise within the Soviet system. The USSR’s participation in international trade was another link — a lifeline — to the real world of prices set by demand and availability rather than by party bureaucrats. And of course, the Soviet Union had a thriving black market, in some respects the freest kind of market of all.

The Soviets tried to the bitter end to minimize the power of market forces within Russia and its empire, with results that are celebrated now in the memory of the Berlin Wall’s demolition and the collapse of the USSR itself. The other communist superpower of the 20th century, the People’s Republic of China, remains with us to this day, but only as a result of having adopted capitalist reforms and harnessing the ensuing prosperity. Yet therein lies an ugly truth: capitalism as an economic system has proved to be quite compatible with despotism as a political system. This should not surprise us. Even in Europe capitalism once existed alongside absolutism.

Commerce has been a commanding influence on western civilization since the Middle Ages. It was in quest of commodities that Portugal and Spain blazed their way around Africa to India and across the Atlantic to the Americas. The earliest English settlers in North America came as colonists of the profit- seeking Virginia and Plymouth Companies. A decade before the Revolutionary War, the independence of Britain’s American colonies was foreshadowed by their eagerness to trade with His Majesty’s enemies during the French and Indian Wars.

The variety of US wars that have been fought for territorial expansion (which is also commercial expansion), market ‘openness’ and the upholding of a trade- oriented ‘liberal international order’ would be embarrassing, if not for the unceasing efforts of journalists and academics to disguise more recent conflicts as exercises in sheer altruism.

The great Anglo-Celtic minds of the late 18th century — such as David Hume, Adam Smith and indeed Edmund Burke — tried to humanize the struggle for markets and goods by showing how cooperation could achieve more than war and the brutal ways of the British East India Company.

They only partly succeeded: today wars are still fought over access to and ownership of goods, but access and ownership are understood as features of a market system, rather than merely as the interests of a nation or company. There is a need to rehumanize capitalism, now that liberalism has become a hypocritical dogma. Nationalism is the way to do it.

Trump’s economic nationalism has been an effort to save capitalism, not to bury it — to prove it can still work for a free America and not just for a despotic China, and that it can serve Americans of all regions and economic levels and not just the investor class.

This, rather than a rehash of the 20th century’s clash between communism and free markets, is the conflict of our time. Capitalism will triumph again whether the next century is Chinese or American. But capitalism without Smith and Burke and the best of the Anglo-Celtic tradition America inherited will look more like it did in the 17th century and earlier, when trade wars were shooting wars, states sponsored privateers and companies indulged in colonialism and worse.

Liberalism cannot save capitalism with western characteristics because liberalism has become both illiberal and anti-western. What is needed now is for America and the West to harness capitalism as successfully as China has, in the service of our civilization and our way of life. Of all our great institutions — family, faith, citizenship, representative government — free markets are the least endangered. They should be a source of strength to the rest: our civilization’s fate depends on it.

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Saoirse McHugh: We need to talk about capitalism

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N HER FORTNIGHTLY column for TheJournal.ie, Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party writes about what we can do as individuals in the face of climate chaos.   

A most ludicrous situation is taking place in which we are disrupting weather systems we have relied on for centuries, poisoning drinking water, destroying habitats that provide food and fuel and pushing ourselves outside of the relatively stable climate we have enjoyed for the past few thousand years.

Despite all of this, most of our media and the great majority of our politicians refuse to talk about the reason why I believe this is happening. What is driving us to continue down such a grim and unpredictable path? The answer is capitalism.

Extracting profit from resources (often privately owned) and labour only to reinvest in further extraction has wreaked havoc on our world. The accumulation of profit as a shaping force in society leaves so much unaccounted for and undervalued.

In general, there is no cost given to implications such as resource use, pollution, and (much and all as I don’t like the term) ecosystem services such as air and water cleaning, pollination and nitrogen cycling.

When these are factored into cost it can have an alleviating impact, but of course the natural world does not trade in dollars and no amount of money can ever compensate for species extinction, coral reefs dying or the damage caused by oil spills like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The need for growth and the relentless expansion into and enclosing of new commons, such as carbon use and genetic information, means that capitalism is entirely incompatible with a finite planet and a just world.

Despite all this it is rare to hear our economic system discussed openly in Ireland outside of a few groups or lone politicians. It has developed the impression of being outside of our control, almost like some God imposed this system upon us.

When the conversation comes up politically, our elected representatives shy away from it and speak in vague terms about prosperity and growth. They do not delve into the idea that not only do we have the power to begin changing our economic system, but we have a moral and environmental imperative to do so.

‘But look at North Korea and Cuba’ 

I am not fully sure why there is such hesitancy to speak about capitalism. Is it because decades of American television have well and truly damaged the ability to talk about it without somebody bringing up the Soviet Union and communism?

I myself have had so many conversations where capitalism comes up and is met with: “But look at North Korea and Cuba, look at how many people died in Soviet Russia.” No doubt atrocities occurred in countries which were under a different economic system.

However, that argument ignores and minimises the atrocities that have been carried out in capitalist countries. The suffering and destruction capitalism has caused and is continuing to cause in the world is immeasurable.

It is a system with its origins in colonialism and to this very day there is a massive extraction of wealth from previously colonised countries. The social, physical, and economic violence used to keep these relationships in place is beyond comprehension and much of it has become accepted as normal.

It is ridiculous to talk about environmentalism without talking about capitalism, yet many people do so. Not only is it a part of our lives but it is the system within which we all operate.

It is all that most of us have ever known and for that reason people tend to avoid the conversation, perhaps for fear of looking radical or outside of the world of common sense.

The promises of green growth or sustainable capitalism are tempting, yet I fear that every year spent chasing these will-o-the-wisps is a year lost while continuing to worsen our predicament.

There will be no climate justice until we move to a different economic system. We need to halt the extraction of wealth from previously colonized countries and, more than that, repay and compensate these countries as fully as possible.

Obviously, it is not just capitalism that damages the environment. There are discussions of petroleum-based socialism and of communism focused on growth, which are extremely damaging too but we have arrived at a time where capitalism is the dominant economic model.

There is no point in skirting around the issue, we need to transform our economies and recognise that any politician who is not engaging in the conversation about our economic model and ways to change it is wasting everyone’s time. 

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Letter: Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness

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Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness. All Hanson offers is more of the same prescriptions that brought us to climate change, inequality, huge government, corporate and private debts, erosion of our infrastructure, a health care crisis, international turmoil, etc.

How about some ownership and something new? If we redefine the goal as sustainability instead of growth, universal equity in services and opportunity, building community instead of dominance, and building a world for the seventh generation in the future, then we must acknowledge that capitalism as we have known it is broken.

Rather than try to pigeonhole the opposition with a derogatory label, let’s find a way to utilize human character to fulfill the promise of a better world for all living creatures both now and in the future.

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Let’s restore our values, do away with capitalism

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One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures, the writer says.

In this past decade, we witnessed a degeneration of politics across the spectrum, with social media, notwithstanding its use, becoming the worst platform for corrosive politics.

We also witnessed moral degeneration and character assassination as influenced by capitalism.

The moral degeneration in SA is very high and that directly reflects the politics of our country.

This open letter is an invitation for us, more especially ANC and Alliance partners, to think critically about who we are as a society and perhaps champion ways in which we can restore some of the values that we have lost.

No more buyers for the escapism Top Billing is selling

Of all the feasts and feats of Top Billing in the past 23 years, there are perhaps not enough Gucci slides that can quite help it dodge its flip and …Opinion1 month ago

One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures. And one of our loopholes as the ANC from 1994 onwards was not to restore our values of ubuntu and revive the black family unit.

Twenty-five years into democracy, it is in our hands as ANC to dissociate ourselves with capitalism because capitalism is an evil that causes the corruption we are seeing now.

It is capitalist ideas that are behind killings of our comrades.

Capitalism is an inherently evil system that thrives on hate, jealousy and inhumanity.

Viwe Sidali, Duncan Village, East London

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