As we keep rehashing the same old debates in Washington and
elsewhere, we have all become complicit in a lie that we feel we must convince
ourselves is true. That this capitalist system we endure today can survive. Indeed,
like many a poor doctor, we try to treat the symptoms because we have either
misdiagnosed the problem or simply have no way to address the disease. The
disease that capitalism, as we know it, is dying.
It is a slow death for sure. It is not something that will happen suddenly (barring a Zombie Apocalypse) nor is it something that will happen completely. There will always be markets but our current economic system is going to fail us. It has been failing us for decades already and it is only going to get worse.
Instead, what does stand out is that nearly all the growth
of the US
economy since the 1980's has been fictional. Indeed, those good years in the 1990's were largely fueled by the unrealistic
and unfulfilled expectations of the emerging technology sector. Sure, a few
companies would eventually emerge as economic powerhouses, but one has to
consider that even though they have some financial might, they employ
relatively few people. They are in many respects multinational small businesses. Their financial good
fortunes affect a very small group of people and, consequently, their impact on
the overall economy is minimal.
In the last decade, we were treated to less of a collapse than
a brutal reality check. Americans growing up in families with parents who had
succeeded and bought houses and kept jobs expected they would do just as well
themselves -- if not better. As children, they witnessed their parents working
hard, advancing in their careers and making more money. They naturally assumed
that their lives would follow a similar arc. They bought homes that were too
expensive, but they assumed since they worked hard,
they would be making more money soon enough. The people who gave them the
loans had the same assumptions. Similarly, all those schemers on Wall Street
who sold those mortgages figured that real estate would keep going up. After
all, real estate had been rising their entire lives. It was as sure a bet as
spring following winter. Nobody was telling the home buyer that his expectations
of as good a life as his parents was unrealistic. No one was saying that
the housing market was extremely overpriced. Nobody was saying that the real
economy was far behind Wall Street.
Not surprisingly, our increasingly corrupt and corporatized
government reacted to the crash like governments always do. They stuck some bubble gum
in the biggest leaks, repaired the engine with a blunt hammer, put a little
duct tape on the exhaust and sent it merrily on its way. They say, "We have hit
bottom now. Things will get better now. It always has."
Nothing could be further from the truth. By interfering to
save the big banks, we have preserved the system which has failed us and will fail
us again. I know that gets said a lot but it usually gets said for all the
wrong reasons. The real reason is that corporate capitalism, which in the past
centuries has brought us some progress, is now unfit and unable to serve
What?! You say. Is this some leftist rant?
Not at all.
I would never advocate the resurrection of communism. It
deserves to be left in the past. What I think is apparent now, however, is that
our form of capitalism will soon join it.
The very nature of the beast relies on the unrealistic
principle of endless growth. For the last couple of centuries, the Earth was
abundant with resources, the people were always hungry for more and there was
always more to be done. Capitalism did pretty well for itself. There were a
couple of busts here and there, not to mention wars, but overall, we progressed
and even prospered a little. Still, the question everyone seems afraid to
ask is how much of those above conditions still exist?
Over the last two centuries, exploitation companies had it
not only good, but great. The Earth was filled to the brim with untapped, easy
to get, natural resources. They had virgin forests, oil reserves literally in
people's back yards and mineral deposits just below the surface. Now the forests
are scarce and often defended by a slowly rising environmental movement.
Mining companies are forced to dig deeper. Oil companies are drilling through a mile of ocean to find new reserves -- sometimes with disastrous results. In every case, what was once a low-risk and high-reward industry has become a high-risk and limited-reward industry. Sure, some of those companies still reap huge profits but they know their day is ending. Of course, they are not about to stop enjoying that slow ride downhill.