24 September 2010

"The End of Capitalism"

I always enjoyed reading Lewis Lapham's articles when he was editor of Harper's.  Here are excerpts from an interview conducted for Salon:
"...capitalism is an historical phenomenon. It’s not a given. It’s not human nature. It arises at the end of the 16th century in Holland, but then is developed over the next four centuries for the most part in England and America. It’s had a life span of four centuries...

Competition is the spirit elixir of capitalism. This is not true in the more traditional society where the emphasis is on community, hierarchy, order, where people are terrified of starvation...

People are always terrified of change. The idea was to try to keep everything just the way it was … not to let the strings become untuned. Capitalism untunes all the strings. Capitalism is, as Appleby says, a relentless revolution. Joseph Schumpeter, the columnist, in 1942 defined capitalism as creative annihilation — it wipes out entire industries. There’s always a momentum for something new...

It is a voracious, devouring appetite for more. And if we’re not careful, unless we get control of it, it will devour the earth. Capitalism had a particularly fertile soil in America because there was so much land available. People could just go west. Take land from the Indians by force. The same thing in Mexico. Call it Manifest Destiny, but it essentially was the seizure of property. There was an abundance of resources...
More at the link.


  1. "[I]t’s also probably true to say that capitalism in its stronger forms went out the window in the United States in the 1930s, because now, once you get the combination of government and business — I mean, speaking to Diamond’s point — propping up a system that is essentially dead in the water is what we’ve done with the government takeover, the stimulus bill, the TARP. I suspect we’re attempting to rescue a corpse."

    While Americans will tend to believe that theirs is a capitalist popular democracy, I think anyone whose mind isn't merely a reflection of the evening news is aware that the country has become something of a crony capitalist state - not exactly uplifting, but it's definitely worth reading through the full article for a well-reasoned appraisal of today's situation.

  2. It's an historial accident, not a given, and just happens to coincide with the only widespread longstanding period of growth in prosperity, education, freedom, and technological advancement the world has ever known.

  3. "Freedom"

    Slavery, war and genocide were all done in the interest of capital as well...

    Life under laissez faire is a nightmare if you don't have all the money and guns.

  4. Some money and guns have been a prerequisite to a minimal quality of life more or less forever. It's not necessary to have all the money and guns, though. The money and guns are a lot more spread out than they've been for practically all of recorded history, and that's a good way for them to be.

  5. I stopped reading Lapham after he was caught in 2004 reporting on an event before it took place. Essentially, he fabricated a story. Lapham never really took full responsibility for it, and neither did his profession hold him accountable.

  6. The money and guns are a lot more spread out than they've been for practically all of recorded history, and that's a good way for them to be.

    Actually they're not. That money's been steadily becoming concentrated among the few since the '70s.

    Income Gap Is Widening

  7. Steve -- your source referred to income inequality in one county (the U.S.) in one year (2005). I'm talking about a worldwide trend over a period of centuries. I don't think there's much doubt that prosperity has increased overall among the Earth's poorest citizens in the last 200, 100, or 50 years, after millennia in which it would be difficult to find important changes. The most glaring counter-examples are not in places noted for their capitalist ethic.

  8. Natural advancements over time have little to do with laissez faire capitalism. The U.S. is a more capitalistic state than Scandinavian countries which are more socially Democratic and very strong on welfare and government programs. Coincidentally they are more successful than more free market countries. The free market capitalism of the far right is just as ridiculous as the communism of the far left.

  9. after millennia in which it would be difficult to find important changes.

    Like alphabets, writing, rule of law, agriculture, metalworking, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics and numbers themselves, fire, the wheel, animal domestication, timekeeping, paper, gunpowder, gears, screws etc. etc. Just some of countless other advancements. The industrial revolution didn't just give birth to itself out of nowhere.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...