Friday, January 14, 2011

As far as history goes... Part 2

"The decadent international but individualistic capitalism, in the hands of which we found ourselves after the war, [WWI] is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous - and it does not deliver the goods. In short we dislike it and are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in it's place we are extremely perplexed."  - John Maynard Keynes, 1933
Once, long ago, without relying on unborn future historians to do the work, I believe John Maynard Keynes had it right. The fact that in very recent times we have moved so much closer to this "international" (now termed as globalism) "individualistic" (now unabashedly and often even fondly termed as greed and self interest) capitalism would be astounding to those in 1933's bleak world. My parents often talked of the Great Depression and what it was like to live through it. More and more people do not have parents to impart this wisdom to them, that our system failed even the virtuous. Our Bush Depression doesn't resemble the Great Depression only because of the safeguards left standing after years of deregulation. Can you begin to imagine how bad the outcome had the Social Security money been folded into the stock market like many tried to do in the name of deregulation? Perhaps it would have taken longer for deregulation's inevitable bubbles to burst, but the consequences would have made the panic so very much worse. Not only would we have been in danger of losing our 401k's but also Social Security. Thank the heavens no one thought of deregulating unemployment insurance as well.

The last part of the Keynes quote took me by surprise. Nothing has changed. Even the great Keynes could think of nothing better than tweaking the system we have. Was Keynes "perplexed" because he couldn't figure out a better system? Was he hogtied by the values of capitalism he knew would never go down no matter how deep our suffering was? I don't know. But I still have not grown up enough to lose my ideals that anything can be made better, that anything is possible. If tweaking the system is the way, then by all means let's tweak it. But we all need to be clear about why we are tweaking it, and teach our children some other economic values than greed and self interest, leading them to the inevitable non humanistic unchristian "animal deals" * that eventually hurt virtuous people who haven't played the game ruthlessly enough, or were just unlucky.

*Thick as a Brick - Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)  I listened to this on my walk this morning. Somehow I made sense of this economic/political song when I was in my early teens. Anything was possible as a teen... From the song: "See there, a child is born, and we pronounce him fit to fight. ... We'll make a man of him put him to a trade. Teach him to play monopoly and how to sing in the rain."  "So you ride yourself over the fields, and you make all your animal deals..."  Very rebellious, but you get the point. The unspoken wisdom gained is that there must be a better way than playing monopoly and singing in the rain as a distraction when we inevitably lose to those wth the least humanistic values, who play by the animal rules.