About a year ago, I was sitting in a conference hall in Berlin, Germany, discussing exactly this issue. Since I was an intern on the discussion team, I was charged with writing the introductory thoughts to this discussion, and I thought it might suit the situation.
Is Capitalism failing?
In the light of recent events – financial crises and the following occupation of Wall Street – voices in the western world, claiming that Capitalism is failing, are becoming louder by the day. But what or who is Capitalism failing?
First of all, the form of the question implies that Capitalism has worked. Like many social concepts before it, Capitalism a.k.a. Market Liberalism, is a child of the Enlightenment. It was a step in the development, the progress, the evolution of western societies. The last step before Market Liberalism was Nationalism, and Nationalisms failure resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of human lives in two World Wars. Capitalism was already an implemented concept at the time, but it was not being tested by historical forces. On the contrary, the first financial bubble to burst led to the escalation of Nationalisms failure. After World War II, the global ideological paradigm conflict was no longer National, but economic. Nations still exist, evidentially, but they were sorted by their allegiance to either of the economic systems, Capitalism or Socialism.
An historic evaluation of Capitalism shows, that it is in fact older than democracy in modern Europe; According to Max Weber, it was the protestant’s demystification of the world and their material orientation that led to the emergence of capitalistic ideology, but it could only rightfully be called free market economy when it was merged with democracy when the United States of America declared their independence from the British Empire. Yet it was not the leading ideological paradigm; Nationalism was shaping the world, which in turn inflated into colonial imperialism. And the imperialistic stage of an historic era seems to have marked the final stage of many ideological eras in Europe. Now that economic imperialism is no longer the motor, but the resisting force of progress, the world is stirring wildly again, searching for a new world order. Crisis is opportunity, for the individual and the collective alike, and hopefully we can turn the world into a more peaceful place.
Capitalism is failing, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up free market economy. After all, we still have nations, religions and traditions. We just have to dethrone Capitalism and subject it to laws so that it may serve human kind.
Note that, while I wrote this, this is the intellectual property of my employer at the time, the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. If I am awarded anything, it is also an award to said NGO