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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

May 1, 2012 at 9:50 AM

What is this ‘capitalism’ you’re protesting against?

Today is supposed to see an “anti-capitalist” march in downtown Seattle. There’s just one problem: What we have witnessed in recent years in America is not capitalism.

The American capitalism that built the greatest middle class in the history of the world, as well as the greatest wealth, depended on competition, fair play, widely enjoyed benefits, a ladder up for those who worked hard and played by the rules, a mixed economy including government investment in infrastructure, research and education, and regulation to ensure healthy market forces. It was pluralistic with balanced power, including that of unions, to, among other things, keep greed in check and channel it productively. That’s capitalism. In the end, as Adam Smith observed, it depends on virtue on the part of most of the capitalists.

What we’ve witnessed is cronyism, shredding the rule of law, tax dodging, political control by the moneyed elites and looting the wealth it took us a hundred years to build. The results have been anti-competitive consolidation and control of supply chains — one big casualty has been local business, which is essential to civic health. And repeated bubbles with increasingly destructive busts. And regulators doing the bidding of the regulated. And collapsing middle-class wealth along with the end of widespread good jobs with benefits. And gambling with wealth and making money by moving money around rather than investing in our future. And the banksters, who got away with it. That’s not capitalism. It’s not a free market but a gamed market. It is behavior that will kill capitalism.

So the anger is understandable. But it has yet to be translated into a serious political program, a la the Tea Party (which admittedly was heavily subsidized by the moneyed elites). Not one status quo member of Congress fears for his or her seat because we won’t reinstate Glass-Steagall or provide the universal health care that is a given in other advanced nations. Millions who have been trampled by crony plutocracy see Occupy merely as a curiosity, or a “radical” threat, instead of a movement that coincides with their interests.

One last thought: Why are you protesting downtown? Downtowns represent the physical and architectural manifestation of the commons, a “we” society rather than a “me” society. Disrupt and, God forbid, trash a downtown and you’re just playing into the hands of the people you’re supposedly protesting against. The toffs are out in places such as Darien, Conn. Go protest there.

And Don’t Miss: Silicon Valley is a big ole fraternity || The Atlantic

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Dance ’round the May pole

Spring and tear gas in the air?

The banksters don’t care

Comments | More in Occupy, Occupy Seattle, Occupy Wall Street


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