Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Meltdown

As long as cowboy capitalism was only hurting the poor, those in power saw no reason to rein it in.  Now that it’s hurting Wall Street, the free-marketers are, in Senator Dodd’s words, gasping for air.

The commentators are as eloquent as they are shy of saying what they know has to be done - at least in their gut.  They argue about the need for more regulation, with a few braver souls murmuring that the system itself has to be reformed.

When you say that the system has to be reformed, as opposed to regulated, you are saying that free market capitalism has run its course.  One analyst actually admitted that the reason why the present situation is inevitable is that humans have a tendency to always want more. That means that advertising feeds into a basic human trait which eventually leads the entire society to the poorhouse.

Sandwiched in between other comments, several commentators on today’s talk shows mentioned health care as one of many examples of how bad things are, but they weren’t brave enough to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.  Why would they pronounce the words health care in the same breath as financial crisis unless they wanted to imply that both need to be socialized?

Fareed Zacharia, who continues to be the one talk show host who is really worth listening to - Sunday at 1 pm on CNN - interviewed Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, now eighty-five years old and still better informed on world affairs than most office holders.  Zacharia chided him gently for forbidding the chewing of gum in his authoritarian regime (you can get nicotine gum with a prescription), but having looked it up it turns out that Singapore also controls what people see on electronic media.  Singapore is among the dozen or so countries that ban porn (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Egypt, UAE, Kywait, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Kenya, India, Cuba, China), and this allows me to transition to my next point, which is that although Singapore is not a predominantly Muslim country, the government attitude toward the vulgarization of sex is similar to that of Muslim countries - and Christian and Jewish fundamentalists

Kew calls himself a social Darwinist, but his interpretation of the term is somewhat different from that which prevailed in the late nineteenth and earlay twentieth century: that only the fittest can be expected to - and should - survive.  Kew interprets it as meaning that the task of government is to help individuals to survive, even if that implies an authoritarian regime.

Interestingly, a June article in the NYR describes Obama’s economic approach as “behaviorist”, defined as “seeking to marry the insights of psychology to the rigor of economics”.  That sounds to me like a back door approach to social-democracy to me.  Not surprising, since we have a lot more knowledge at our disposal than the social democrats of a hundred years ago.  We can combine a belief in equality with insights into how people make economic decisions, as well as recognition of the need for incentives to move things along.  And if you listen carefully to Obama’s comments on the subject, you’ll catch him saying just that.

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