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Evolving capitalism

By Kym Durance - posted Thursday, 18 December 2008

I don’t even know what extreme capitalism is. But I do know a couple of things and they are that capitalism, however described, has not failed and, it will look somewhat different after dust settles on this latest “correction”.

If James Bidgood MP is right it doesn’t matter anyway. This recently elected Member of Parliament, who was castigated for peddling photographs of some pour soul who had doused him self with petrol on the lawns of parliament, seems to think we are approaching the “end times”. So according to James Bidgood MP we are all doomed.

Whatever the term “extreme capitalism” might mean, to say that we are in the grip of it is a bit like saying that some one is extremely pregnant - or extremely alive. Pregnancy and the notion of life refer to unequivocal states of being. Let’s face it, you are either pregnant or not, alive or not, engaged in capitalism or not. We don’t need the adjective to embellish the fundamental truth.


And when it comes to failing I am unsure that an economic system can actually “fail”. We are clearly facing a period when expectations will not be met. Disappointments might far out weigh any joy some have derived from the system. But the system churns on relentlessly not caring about the fall out. It is a bit like the weather. The weather never fails us. Our crops fail because they cannot deal with what the weather delivers. Or more to the point we fool ourselves that farming marginal land somehow has a future. But the weather does not care about much of anything and neither does an economic system.

We are simply suffering from unmet expectations and not from a failure of the economy. Worse still, along with unmet expectations, there is a raft of collateral damage in the shape of jobs losses, diminishing superannuation reserves and lost savings. The goose has stopped laying golden eggs.

In many ways the appellation “extreme capitalism” strikes me as something the architects of this most recent international cock-up might have invented so as to abrogate themselves of any responsibility what so ever. “This entire disaster is as a result of a massive systems failure at the heart of which lies extreme capitalism”. They would have you think that it was no ones fault at all; it just happened.

But “extreme” capitalism, whatever it is, was in fact born out of a series of human decisions leading to very human actions and some pretty extreme outcomes. Call it greed or stupidity, our current global economic crisis was man-made and not a systems error. So let’s not kid our selves that a system let us down. Let’s not shift our focus totally from any of those who had their hands on the levers when the economic fleet sunk - and most of them made damn sure that they were the first ones onto the few remaining lifeboats. People are to blame for the mess we are in; we were done over by men who behaved badly.

John Ralston Saul offers a unique take on Adam Smith one of the godfathers of capitalism and the free market. Saul contends that the ideas of Smith were subjected to his belief in the primacy of the public good. And to that end Smith held that:

He is not a citizen who is not disposed to respect the laws and to obey the civil magistrate; and he is certainly not a good citizen who does not wish to promote, by every means in his power, the welfare of the whole society if his fellow citizens.


Whether you consider this latest economic brouhaha a failure or not you would have to agree, using Smiths benchmark of a good citizen, the proponents of the capitalist economy, as it has functioned of late, fall far short of the mark of being good at anything let alone good citizenship.

Capitalism is a resilient creature and evolutionary. But some seem to think the status quo, no matter how dodgy, needs to be defended. George Bush before the start of the recent G20 all but pleaded with the decision makers of the day, and any one else who cared to listen, not to “dismantle” capitalism.

A plea not to “dismantle” capitalism is probably code for “don’t try to regulate it” and a denial of the nature of capitalism itself as an evolutionary phenomenon. It is a changing system and unlike those who revere the notion of the “guiding hand” of Adam Smith it changes under the influence of human actors. If capitalism has been good for anything at all, it has been good because we have massaged, monitored and even regulated it.

It is likely capitalism will remain as the dominant economic paradigm for decades to come. It will undoubtedly be remodelled in some manner. But not dismantled. It will still be capitalism. People will continue to prosper or suffer depending upon your position in the market. Unless of course James Bidgood MP is on the money and instead of a tsunami of debt on the horizon we are gazing at the dust being raised by the four horsemen of the Apocalypse!

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About the Author

Kym Durance is a health professional and has worked both as a nurse and in hospital management. He has managed both public and private health services in three states as well as aged care facilities; and continues to work in aged care.

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