Writing a defense of unfettered capitalism after the economic meltdown that left millions of people in the U.S. and all over the world jobless may seem a daunting task, rather like convincing people mauled by a tiger that the beast is actually a vegetarian and a practicing Buddhist, and its latest manifestation of bloodthirstiness is merely an aberration in a life steeped in good works. In short, we need a virtuoso display of smoke and mirrors by skilled wordsmiths, able to perform the linguistic legerdemain to avert the danger that people may begin to question the system or seek to curb its excesses. Fortunately for the system, such commentators are not in short supply. Pay them well, and they will spin your yarns for you. They will lull and soothe. They will numb and dumb. In their hands, words anesthetize us into compliance; they keep us cheering for our oppressors even as we are devoured to the last crumb.
Consider Fareed Zakaria's recent cover essay " The Capitalist Manifesto ," ( Newsweek , June 22, 2009 ). Like other articles of the "everything's OK, relax" school, it unspools line after line of lucid, well-considered prose, all in a bid to convince us, the public, that the system that left so many of us jobless, homeless, uninsured, that gutted our life savings and splintered our dreams, is still the best option we have. If we could only overlook the tiger's unfortunate propensity occasionally to run amok spreading death and destruction in its wake, we would realize that it's really our best friend and how silly we would be to ever think of shackling such an adorable creature. The crisis now upon us, says Mr. Zakaria, is not one of capitalism, but of ethics. A few ethics management classes, and voila! The magician will have produced his miracle. The tiger will fetter and muzzle itself it's a Buddhist, remember? A cuddly Zen tiger. A tiger you can trust.
For a moment Mr. Zakaria almost had me believing in miracles.
Until, that is, I confronted the following lines:
The simple truth is that with all its flaws, capitalism remains the most productive economic engine we have yet invented. Like Churchill's line about democracy, it is the worst of all economic systems, except for the others. Its chief vindication today has come halfway across the world, in countries like China and India , which have been able to grow and pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty by supporting markets and free trade. Last month India held elections during the worst of this crisis. Its powerful left-wing parties campaigned against liberalization and got their worst drubbing at the polls in 40 years.
The Indian elections, in Mr. Zakaria's view, constituted a popular mandate for "free trade" and "liberalization."