Monday, July 27, 2009

Saving Capitalism from Capitalists Again

There's a tacit position taken by many conservatives, including many fiscal conservatives, that goes something like this: calling BS on any trend that increases profits in this quarter for corporate American (or even for one specific company) is unpatriotic, and the work of liberal Satan-worshippers. Any suggestion that the masses should not buy-buy-buy at all costs (literally) is blasphemy.

Guess what? We now have a generation growing up that wonders if capitalism is broken. Conservative politicians taking a more circumspect line on moderation and consumption and yes, savings (that thing your grandparents did, and China does?) would maybe have made our current straits a little less dire. Yet this have-no-other-gods-before-consumption attitude is the invisible backbone of conservative resistance to punish those who manipulate markets (like Enron), or those who support green energy (and not American oil companies), or those who would investigate no-bid contracts being awarded to gigantic government contractors. It's tough to say you favor capitalism when you obstruct criticism of practices that in the aggregate destroy capital. This is what Adam Smith meant when he said that you shouldn't let business-people make laws. They're not going to make laws that favor business in general; they're going to make laws that favor their own business specifically. To the now-indignant businessperson reading this: you would be honest if you got to make those laws, really? If you're that naive about human nature, you've got a long way to go before you're a conservative.

The Economist has an incredible graph that shows the divergence between American consumption and savings starting around 1980. That trend has not been good for America. What are conservatives going to do to reverse it?

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