“Capitalism without Capitalists”

(p. 131) . . . suffusing all the most visionary and idealistic prose of leftist economics is the same essential dream of the same static and technocratic destiny: capitalism without capitalists. Wealth without the rich, choice without too many things to choose, political and intellectual freedom without a vulgarian welter of individual money and goods, a social revolution every week or so without all this disruptive enterprise.

Source:
Gilder, George. The Spirit of Enterprise. 1 ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

“Government Interventions Only Prolonged the Crisis”

The comments of Maart Laar, former prime minister of Estonia, are worth considering:

(p.A13) It is said that the only thing that people learn from history is that people learn nothing from history. Looking at how the world is handling the current economic crisis, this aphorism appears sadly true.

World leaders have forgotten how the collapse of Wall Street in 1929 developed into a world-wide depression. It happened not thanks to market failures but as a result of mistakes made by governments which tried to protect their national economies and markets. The market was not allowed to make its corrections. Government interventions only prolonged the crisis.
We may hope that, even as we see several bad signs of neo-interventionist attitude, all the mistakes of the 1930s will not be repeated. But it is clear that the tide has turned again. Capitalism has been declared dead, Marx is honored, and the invisible hand of the market is blamed for all failures. This is not fair. Actually it 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.

For the full commentary, see:
MART LAAR. “Economic Freedom Is Still the Best Policy.” Wall Street Journal (Fri., FEBRUARY 13, 2009): A13.

Bailouts Damage “System Based on the Premise that Risk Can Bring Failure, as Well as Rewards”

CapitalismCommunismCartoon.jpg Source of the cartoon: online version of the WSJ quoted and cited below.

(p. A8) William O. Perkins III says he turned a $1.25 million profit trading Goldman Sachs Group Inc. stock last week.

You would think that would count as a pretty good paycheck for the Houston energy trader. Instead, the experience left him so angry about the demise of capitalism that he says he has decided to spend his profits on advertisements attacking President George W. Bush’s planned $700 billion Wall Street bailout.
. . .
So he says he bought Goldman Sachs at $129 a share. The stock fell, so he bought more at $100 a share. It fell again, and he bought at $90. The next day it rallied and he sold out at an average price of $130 a share, for a net gain of about $1.25 million over three days of trading, he said.
Trouble was, the stock didn’t rally because of the fundamental strength of the company, Mr. Perkins said. It rallied because the federal government announced that it would rescue Wall Street from its own subprime follies, he said.
“The stock did OK because the government came in and said, ‘No one can fail,'” he said. “It’s capitalism on the way up and communism on the way down.”
His success left him furious, and he decided that someone had to speak out about the damage such a plan would cause to a system based on the premise that risk can bring failure, as well as rewards.

For the full story, see:

MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS. “Trader Makes a Quick $1.25 Million on Rescue, Then Slams It.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., SEPTEMBER 24, 2008): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

A Toast to Schumpeter on His Birthday (February 8, 1883)

ForbesKeynesSchumpeterCover1983-05-23edited.jpg

Source: scan (and crop) of the cover of the May 23, 1983 issue of Forbes .

In the May 23, 1983 issue of Forbes there appeared a now-famous essay by the late and great management guru Peter Drucker in which he pointed out that 1983 was the centennial of the birth of both John Maynard Keynes and Joseph A. Schumpeter. He noted that in the decades since the great economists’ passing, the academic and policy worlds worshiped at the feet of Keynes, and all but ignored Schumpeter (hence the many candles in front of the Keynes portrait on the cover, and the single, small candle in front of the Schumpeter portrait).

But Drucker argued that the world had gotten it wrong. Schumpeter was more important because he had understood a crucial truth: the process of creative destruction is indeed the essential fact about capitalism.

The reference for the original Drucker essay is:
Drucker, Peter F. “Modern Prophets: Schumpeter or Keynes?” Forbes, May 23, 1983, 124-28.

The reference to the reprint of the Drucker essay is:
Drucker, Peter F. “Modern Prophets: Schumpeter or Keynes?” In The Frontiers of Management New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1999, 104-15.

A typo-laden version of the essay has been posted on the web at:
http://www.peterdrucker.at/en/texts/proph_01.html

(Note: I thank Aaron Brown for alerting me to the neat cover that appears at the top of this entry).

“The Whole Point of Camp is to Dethrone the Serious”

(p. W1) The 2000 film “Billy Elliot” was a surprise hit. It’s an absorbing drama about personal transformation and the power of art to ennoble the human spirit. “Billy Elliot: The Musical” — the noise is supplied by Sir Elton John — is a depressing spectacle about partisan politics and the ephemeral power of schlock.
. . .
The musical, a campy, anticapitalist confection, is just one of the latest prepackaged exercises in “transgression.” Maybe it’s “Corpus Christi,” Terrence McNally’s play about a gay Jesus Christ. Maybe it’s “The Goat,” Edward Albee’s play celebrating bestiality, or a production (p. W4) of “The Flying Dutchman” in which the heroine sports posters of Che Guevara and Martin Luther King on her bedroom wall. The point about these unpleasant offerings is not how outrageous but how common they are.
. . .
In the film, there was one extended reference to Margaret Thatcher. Mrs. Wilkinson’s middle-class drink-sodden husband (tellingly made “redundant” — that is, laid off) praises the prime minister for showing down the miners. He is hardly a sympathetic figure, but he had a point: If it costs more money to get the coal out of the ground then you make from selling it, why keep the pit open?
If there were truth in advertising, the musical would have been called “Billy Elliot, The Musical, Featuring Margaret Thatcher as the Incarnation of Evil.” She is roundly abused by several characters in the opening scenes, is the object of casual calumny throughout the show, and features in a Christmas children’s song — replete with gigantic scary Thatcher masks and puppets — whose refrain is “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher. We all celebrate today because it’s one day closer to your death.” Nice stuff, eh?
In one sense, “Billy Elliot: The Musical” represents a growth enterprise. Everywhere you turn these days, you are met not only with celebrations of the vulgar but also entertainments that pretend to be brave, challenging “interrogations” of established taste which in fact are simply reflections of established taste. The little sermons about Thatcher and capitalism and bigotry are presented as if they were fresh thoughts designed to disturb the dogmatic slumbers of the audience. In fact, they simply reinforce the left-liberal clich├ęs audiences everywhere internalized decades ago. It’s an odd phenomenon. In theaters and museums across the Western world you find audiences applauding sentiments that, were they translated into the real world, would spell their demise.
Perhaps it’s an instance of what Lenin was talking about when he said that the bourgeoisie was so rotten that it would sell the rope with which it was to be hanged. The matinee I attended was packed to the last emergency exit with a cheery crowd of nice, middle-class folks who cheered and clapped and whistled and bravoed.
. . .
The impressive thing about “Billy Elliot” the film is its dramatic enactment of serious questions. “Billy Elliot: The Musical” spoofs and sentimentalizes those questions, replacing them with a series of political sermons and distracting gymnastic exhibitions. In 1964, Susan Sontag famously said that the “ultimate Camp statement” was “It’s good because it’s awful.” Sontag wrote as an enthusiast for Camp. I have no doubt that she would have emerged happy from “Billy Elliot: The Musical.” “The whole point of Camp,” she wrote, “is to dethrone the serious.”

For the full commentary, see:
ROGER KIMBALL. “Culture; A Clumsy Mix of Art and Politics; Broadway turns subtle themes into simplistic fare in shows like ‘Billy Elliot’.” Wall Street Journal (Sat., DECEMBER 13, 2008): W1 & W4.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Capitalism’s Defenseless Fortress

FortressDefended.JPGPhotograph by Art Diamond.

(p. 143) . . . capitalism creates a critical frame of mind which, after having destroyed the moral authority of so many other institutions, in the end turns against its own; the bourgeois finds to his amazement that the rationalist attitude does not stop at the credentials of kings and popes but goes on to attack private property and the whole scheme of bourgeois values.

The bourgeois fortress thus becomes politically defenseless. Defenseless fortresses invite aggression especially if there is rich booty in them. Aggressors will work themselves up into a state of rationalizing hostility—aggressors always do.

Source:
Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1950.

FortressDefenseless.JPGPhotograph by Art Diamond.

“Money Buys Freedom”

FarmFriendsBK.jpg

Source of book image: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51rILrqBegL._SS500_.jpg

(p. A17) . . . other farm alumni make no pretense to continuing the revolution but instead engage in the boomer habit of replacing youthful extremism with a middle-aged version: “We used to think money was the least important thing. Now I can see that it’s the most important,” says one former commune member, sounding like a budding Randian. “Money buys freedom.”

Few of the farm friends are terribly likable or sympathetic — with the notable exception of Tim, an “alienated citizen” of the farm while he lived there. Tim found the commune’s group dynamics stifling. He wanted time to himself and was promised that he could build his own room and work space in the barn, but the objections of others to his solitary plans thwarted him at nearly every turn.
Of the farm’s whole New Age mission, Tim remarks: “The error was, I think, imagining that there was somewhere new to go, someone new to be. It became increasingly clear that a closed system of myth did not jibe with the world as it really was.” Looking later at the outside world, Tim saw “a system formed less from malice than from a kind of natural order, less from inordinate greed than from longings much like our own for privacy, comfort, individual freedom, and one’s familiar or chosen way of life.” Unfortunately, “Farm Friends” spends too little time with Tim.

For the full commentary, see:

PAUL BESTON. “Bookshelf; A Look Back at the New Age.” Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 22, 2008): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)