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Exchange with Larry Elliot re Capitalism


 
 
Hi Mr. Elliot. 
 
In your discussion you avoid the issue of democratic accountabilty. To what extent does the general public have meaningful say into economoic policy as opposed to having decisons imposed from the top down? The general pubic in the USA, for eample, did not vote for the massive housing bubble that burst in 2008. They were never warned that it was happening. Open debate about it was effectively buried in the corporate media even after the bubble burst. 
 
At a micro level, most workplaces within capitalism are run as dictatorships. Unions (with varying degres of effectiveness) limit the dictatorial powers of owners and mangers but do not fundamentally alter their undemocartic nature. The same is true of other things that limit the power of owners and mangers – heath, safety, labor and enviromental laws. 
 
You mention the collapse of "Soviet style marxist-Lenism" and suggest that " industrial capitalism was quicker on its feet." However, you can make a powerful case that Cuban style socialism is more responsive to the its public (and, in that sense, more democractic) than capitalism as implemeted in most countries including the USA. 
 
Joe Emersberger
 
Dear Joe,
 
I would say there is a fundamental tension between capitalism in its raw form and democracy, which is why constraints have been seen as necessary on the undiluted free market. The three decades from the mid-1970s onwards saw many of those constraints removed, with disastrous results.
 
That said, capitalism has proved more durable than rival systems. The division of Germany and Korea have provided controlled experiments over many decades: West Germany and South Korea clearly came out on top. Similarly, while there has been a steady exodus of Cubans to the US over the last half century, few have moved in the other direction.
 
With kind regards
 
Larry
 
Hi again Larry 
 
Thanks for the polite and thoughtful reply. 
You say 
 
“I would say there is a fundamental tension between capitalism in its raw form and democracy, which is why constraints have been seen as necessary on the undiluted free market. The three decades from the mid-1970s onwards saw many of those constraints removed, with disastrous results.” 
 
I strongly agree with much of this. However markets, even in the rawest form, are never free, but are built on upon a vast number of rules and regulations – property rights and contractual agreements for example – that are defined and enforced by the government. The courts, for example, decide exactly how and when employees may break away from their employers and form their own rival company. Can they do so immediately? What information and knowledge can they bring with them that were obtained working for their former employer? 
 
The courts decide who is legitimately a “stakeholder” in the company – almost always completely marginalizing the people who are the most impacted by managerial decisions – workers and the communities in which they live. 
 
The “free market” is a term that obscures that point by suggesting that markets are a state of nature and not government creations. 
 
You say 
 
“That said, capitalism has proved more durable than rival systems. The division of Germany and Korea have provided controlled experiments over many decades: West Germany and South Korea clearly came out on top.” 
 
Don’t know enough to comment on the Koreas. On Eastern and western Europe your example is not as clear cut as you suggest. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe did the most heavy lifting that led to the defeat on the Nazis. Western Europe was not as heavily impacted though the consequences were – of course – horrible enough. The USA emerged comparatively untouched from WWII. There was no comparably wealthy and powerful patron – if you will – for the eastern bloc after WWII. I would never dispute that the USSR – thanks largely to its undemocratic nature – engaged in a ruinous arms race with the West that it was less able to afford than Western countries. 
 
You wrote 
“Similarly, while there has been a steady exodus of Cubans to the US over the last half century, few have moved in the other direction.” 
 
You miss many key points in this comparison. The USA has imposed an incredibly harsh economic embargo on Cuba which has also included terrorist attacks. It has been in place and aggressively enforced for several decades. On top of that, the USA has actively encouraged and enticed Cubans to leave. Cuba is obviously not capable of inflicting such pain – or in fact any pain – on the USA in order to encourage such an “exodus” of US citizens. Moreover the USA has maintained harsh restrictions on US citizens even travelling to Cuba to visit. 
 
Additionally – as Michael Moore illustrated in his film “Sicko” – there are in fact US citizens who have circumvented the travel ban in order to obtain health care in Cuba that they could not afford in the USA. 
 
Unlike the USSR, Cuba could never afford an arms race with the USA. It could also never afford to ignore the basic needs of its people as staunchly backed US despots in the region have done. Have you noticed the incredible “exodus” of Latin Americans from capitalist countries to the USA and Europe since the late 1990s? 
 
In spite of US sanctions Cuba has achieved child mortality rate superior to the USA and a rich country level of literacy. It you look at other indicator such as CO2 emission per capita Cuba also compares extremely favorably to the USA and other rich countries. That is no small achievement for a small island nation that he has had the world’ most powerful country doing all it can for decades to “prove” that Cuba’s system doesn’t work. 
 
Joe 

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