Friday, February 13, 2009

The Invisible Sham

The Wall Street Journal:

"[I]t is not markets that have failed but governments, which did not fulfill their role of the "visible hand" -- creating and guaranteeing market rules. Weak regulation of the banking sector and extensive lending, encouraged by governments, are examples of this failure."

Western commentators are fond of saying "socialism failed," but now I think I know what they mean. If government is identified as the glue that binds the economy, then everybody is going to want a piece of the action. The problem is that ordinary people are part of "everybody" -- and they outnumber everyone else. So self-proclaimed "socialist" states have had to protect elite constituencies without the advantage of a narrative that can deflect popular energies into "safe" activities -- like boycotting government. This is why, in those countries, class antagonisms have been maintained by force, and not very successfully over the long term.

On the other hand, the market economy offers the kind of ideological cover required for the government to protect elite interests without raising the ire of the population, who are told that the government is incompetent -- so they shouldn't expect it to do anything for them; they should put their faith in "market-based solutions," which is just another name for government by, and for, the rich. When government by the rich fails -- and fails spectacularly -- the blame is inevitably placed on the government, as an independent actor, and not the rich, who were writing the very rules which precipitated disaster. See above.

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