Is (unregulated) Capitalism a Threat to Democracy? - Long form book review essay.

George KGeorge K Super ModeratorPosts: 9,812 Senior Member

This article is tailor-made for a Pio-Steven slugfest, were Pio only here.

"In London, in the nineteen-thirties, the émigré Hungarian intellectual Karl Polanyi was known among his friends as “the apocalyptic chap.” His gloom was understandable. Nearly fifty, he’d had to leave his wife, daughter, and mother behind in Vienna shortly after Austria lurched toward fascism, in 1933. Although he had long edited and contributed to the prestigious Viennese weekly The Austrian Economist, which published such celebrated figures as Friedrich Hayek and Joseph Schumpeter, he had come to discount his career as a thing of “theoretical and practical barrenness,” and blamed himself for failing to diagnose his era’s crucial political conflict...he argued that fascism strips democratic politics away from human society so that “only economic life remains,” a skeleton without flesh...

...In Polanyi’s opinion, whenever the profit-making impulse becomes deadlocked with the need to shield people from its harmful side effects, voters are tempted by the “fascist solution”: reconcile profit and security by forfeiting civic freedom. The insight became the keystone of his masterpiece, “The Great Transformation,” which was published in 1944, as the world was coming to terms with the destruction that fascism had wrought.

Today, as in the nineteen-thirties, strongmen are ascendant worldwide, purging civil servants, subverting the judiciary, and bullying the press. In a sweeping, angry new book, “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” (Norton), the journalist, editor, and Brandeis professor Robert Kuttner champions Polanyi as a neglected prophet. Like Polanyi, he believes that free markets can be crueller than citizens will tolerate, inflicting a distress that he thinks is making us newly vulnerable to the fascist solution. In Kuttner’s description, however, today’s political impasse is different from that of the nineteen-thirties. It is being caused not by a stalemate between leftist governments and a reactionary business sector but by leftists in government who have reneged on their principles. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Kuttner contends, America’s Democrats, Britain’s Labour Party, and many of Europe’s social democrats have consistently tacked rightward, relinquishing concern for ordinary workers and embracing the power of markets; they have sided with corporations and investors so many times that, by now, workers no longer feel represented by them. When strongmen arrived promising jobs and a shared sense of purpose, working-class voters were ready for the message..."

Keep your stinkin' government hands off my Medicare.


  • sherbsherb Senior Member Posts: 3,712 Senior Member

    According to Arthur Schlesinger that's what FDR believed.

  • StevenSteven Senior Member Posts: 3,326 Senior Member
    edited May 2018 #3

    Difficult times leads to authoritarian solutions looking more appealing. I think that goes without saying. And capitalism didn't do away with hard economic times.

    But I'd be really hard pressed to accept that the rise of N-a-z-i Germany or the Soviet Union was due to unfettered capitalism running amok.

    Reagan took the union vote. Was that because Democrats in 1980 bailed on the working man?

  • George KGeorge K Super Moderator Posts: 9,812 Senior Member

    .> @Steven said:

    Reagan took the union vote. Was that because Democrats in 1980 bailed on the working man?

    Perhaps. Read the article.

    The only thing I find easy to rebut is the ignoring of pent up demand in the post WWII boom. The rest is well reasoned whether or not I may agree with the politics. The central point is hard to ignore.

    Keep your stinkin' government hands off my Medicare.
  • creekyguycreekyguy Posts: 302 Senior Member

    "there are no natural forces pushing against the steady concentration of wealth" (and power). Piketty

Leave a Comment

BoldItalicStrikethroughOrdered listUnordered list
Align leftAlign centerAlign rightToggle HTML viewToggle full pageToggle lights
Drop image/file
Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Fly Fisherman stories delivered right to your inbox.