In solidarity with Nexos
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” stated Mark Twain. The same can be said about capitalism. Since 2008 innumerable politicians, scholars and opinion writers have assured us that capitalism was at death door; twelve years later, the pandemic has unleashed a new wave of protests and Cassandra-like predicaments. But capitalism continues and will continue because, says Francesco Boldizzoni,* it responds to human nature.
The “Black Lives Matter” Internet page, the inspirer of the protests, states that its objective is “the dismantling of imperialism, capitalism, White supremacy, patriarchy and State institutions.” The agitators who have appeared in Mexico, in addition to employing terms not typical of the country (suggesting imported “technology”), do not have an Internet page, but without doubt share the same objectives. Instead of generating conditions for the prosperity of their hordes of followers, many Morena-party groups speak openly of creating chaos in order advance toward the paradise of Hugo Chávez.
The paradox is that liberalism, which historically has been an inexorable complement of capitalism, is flexible and adaptable, while the protesters are dogmatic and in good measure arrogant. Some will tell me that I cannot judge the movement, but their destructive nature speaks for itself. The agitators and those who follow blindly in their footsteps, hardly represent the population.
It is evident that the economic situation, the unemployment and the months of semi-quarantine have exacerbated spirits, but from there one is unable to deduce that the population wants to destroy what exists, however much the status quo requires and deserves fundamental changes. Whosoever burns or wrecks a business is certainly not thinking about the unemployed or the harrowing recession. It is pure and unadulterated vandalism with ulterior motives.
Two recently published books cover the persistence of capitalism, but with very distinct focuses. Boldizzoni begins with a pithy phrase: “These days the world seems to end with staggering regularity.” The great recession, Brexit, Trump, the climate apocalypse, the coronavirus and whatever accumulates this week, are all intimations of the inevitable and irreversible collapse of capitalism. But the masses never appear to learn the lesson.
The Boldizzoni book relates the history of capitalism in great detail: an especially valuable journey for the manner in which the author classifies the diverse critical currents. For Rosa Luxemburg, what is relevant are the implosion theories, in which capitalism collapses under the weight of its contradictions. Others, such as John Stuart Mill and Keynes, propose the depletion of capitalism that leads to its death after its having engendered a foundation for prosperity. The voyage concludes with Schumpeter, who worries about the contrary: that the success of capitalism in devising wealth and prosperity prompts the abandonment of the work ethic that made it successful. Most valuable in the text is that it situates capitalism within its just dimension: it is “both an age-old human activity —individuals producing and trading— and a more recent socio-economic system based on clearly defined property rights and wage labour.” Although the author is critical of capitalism and speaks in catastrophic terms, his argument is, in essence, that capitalism is inherent to humanity and that this explains its persistence throughout the centuries.
Thomas Philippon** follows a very distinct line. His text compares the way the economies of Europe and the United States have evolved over the last decades, evaluating the capacity of flexibility and adaptation of each of these. He starts by observing the ability to innovate, finding that Americans are superior in developing novel devices, which the author calls “toys.” However, while during the eighties the Americans precipitated two moments of high innovation thanks to the unfettered competition apropos of the deregulation of aviation and the breaking of the telephone monopoly, Philippon’s appreciation is that European regulators learned these lessons better than the Americans themselves, developing greater regulatory effectiveness on intervening in the market, producing much greater competition in their economies.
The lack of competition in the U.S. economy is not a new criticism, but the author’s conclusion is that economic success depends on the aptitude for generating wealth and that is measured in terms of market access, which the author consider to be superior in Europe.
The lesson for Mexico is evident: Mexico has, literally, millions of entrepreneurs who struggle from sunrise to sunset to build their future, but they never end up growing and consolidating because becoming formalized is so onerous that they never make it. It’s easy to get lost in big businesses, but what is transcendent here is the enormous number of potential entrepreneurs, limited by regulatory and fiscal requirements that are frequently insurmountable. These books show how important it is to have a competent government that creates conditions for prosperity. Unfortunately, to date, this in Mexico is not part of the equation.
*Foretelling the End of Capitalism: Intellectual Misadventures Since Marx; **The Great Reversal