Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On Capitalism - James K. Galbraith

[James K. Galbraith is professor of government at the LBJ School at the University of Texas, Austin.]

The following is excerpted from an article by James K. Galbraith, titled "Plan," in the November 2008 issue of Harper's magazine.

"The problem is not how to save capitalism but how to save the unique and successful mixed economy built in the United States over the eighty-five years since the New Deal. Our system is not capitalism. Our economy has a large public sector, which at its best was competently concerned with research, defense, financial stability, environmental safety, social security, and large measures of education, health care, and housing. Today, after thirty years of attack on government [since Reagan?], all these functions are damaged and in peril.

"The rot comes from predators posing as conservatives and mouthing the rhetoric of 'free markets.' They are not actually interested in free markets. Their goal is to use the government to build monopolies, to control resources, to block regulation, to crush unions, to divert as much as possible from taxpayers into private pockets. They have a reckless attitude toward war-making and they put the financial system in peril by failing to enforce standards of ethics and transparency. As a result, they imperil the country's credit in the world. True conservatives recognize this, which is why they defected from Bush and McCain long ago. ...

"'Planning' has been a dirty word in American politics for decades. For the hard-line right, planning destroyed freedom: it was the 'road to serfdom.' Anti-planners also thought it a failure; for them the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was due to 'central planning.' But without public planning, who is in charge? Lobbyists who represent the private planning of the great corporations. The public interest ceases to exist, and the public sector becomes nothing more than a trough at which private interests come to feed. ...

"Imagine a Federal Department of Energy and Climate with real independence. It could make an honest evaluation of ethanol. It could review the prospects and assess the dangers of next-generation nuclear power. It could make a judgment on carbon capture. It could consider all the serious conservation proposals ... it could fund new research centers in the major universities, so that in a decade the country will have trained the experts we need to implement the plans we make. ...

"... Clearly, the challenge is daunting. But it's not hopeless. If the country gets it right, all of us can have work for a generation, a better living standard afterward, and leave the planet more or less intact. And in addition, we stand a chance, otherwise improbable, of persuading the rest of the world to keep our lines of credit open."

Reading that, we must ask ourselves, who of the two presidential candidates, would be most likely to take seriously the need to plan; the need to rise above petty intramural squabbles and partisan bickering to take a new look at the problems we face and the possible solutions available?

Would it be Mr. McCain, the angry, impetuous, war-monger, who seems to lack, not only viable ideas with relation to the challenge of which Mr. Galbraith speaks, but the ability to plan even a presidential campaign as we have seen it derail beginning with his choice of Sarah Palin and his desperation exposed by clueless flailing around and finally stooping, as a last-resort, to character assassination?

Or would it be Mr. Obama, the man who has shown us clearly what mettle he is made of, refusing to respond in kind to the McCain campaign's bitter and hateful rhetoric, but calmly and coolly insisting on speaking about the issues that matter, exhibiting a sense of careful and even bi-partisan planning in the presidential race as well as a thoughtful, reasoned, and measured response to national and world crises?

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