Saturday, May 15, 2010

Democracy in America

Financial Times:

[P]rofit-seeking entities have a tendency to test the limits of their legal environments.

This one is really worth committing to memory: it will always explain a significant portion of why liberal democracies -- democracies where private control of the economy is considered a "right," aka "economic freedom" -- fail in their responsibilities as democracies. And that's because economic decisions aren't made democratically, but are happening within a "legal environment" that is itself shaped in large part by economic considerations. In any realm where "profit-seeking entities" haven't drafted the laws themselves, they wage an unremitting campaign to undermine or evade them. Meanwhile, the rest of us are at work, or are recuperating from its effects; we "participate" in public life once every couple of years.

This is not news to anyone who has ever distanced themselves sufficiently from capitalism to regard it as an object of inquiry. Socialists have understood this since the 19th century -- one of the reasons why socialism gained such prominence in the 20th, even if as a state project it failed in its responsibilities for different reasons. Nevertheless, what it understood about capitalism remains salient today, as we can see in the succession of regulatory failures and crises of capitalism that regularly confront us. There is no amount of technocratic tweaking or liberal appeals to fairness that will ever resolve the contradiction which exists when one group claims to run society in its own interests and everyone else's at the same time.


Jack Crow said...

As usual, cogent and insightful.

JRB said...

I'm lucky to have your consideration. Thanks.

Enron said...