Many people describe the USofA as a “Capitalist” nation. The presumption is that whoever has the money gets to determine how things operate and has a share of relevant power in proportion to their wealth. This is simply wrong. The USofA has always been the first and foremost “Marketist” nation, a term that is gaining favor because the old term, “Liberal Democrat”, has become horribly misunderstood. The difference is not one of semantics, but one of history and culture that we had damned well better understand as we move into a period of massive government intervention and change.
What’s the difference? It’s not a subtle one. Marketists believe that the most powerful system is one in which market forces determine the course of social choice and change, and that to be free is to have a society with equal access by everyone to that free market. Wealth alone does not make the rules; the use of wealth according to talents generation by generation is what shapes the world.
We have always chosen a free market over the power of pure wealth, busting trusts that stifle competition and regulating markets in ways that increase transparency. There was a time when small banks were favored precisely so that large centralized bureaucracies that might seem “too big to fail” would not have too much power. At the core of it all is a centuries old commitment to public education for everyone, regardless of class, to nurture talent and increase the ability of to blossom in the system.
This is important as we understand how a Republican administration has become the most socialist one in our history, purchasing about a trillion dollars worth of stocks in banks and other financial institutions. What happened over the last year was that our markets themselves started to fail, eventually latching up the ability for businesses to raise operating money in the commercial paper market. The Bush administration knew that they had to act not just to preserve capital, but to preserve the market. That’s what we value, and that’s what we defend. If the government winds up holding onto some bank stocks for a while, so be it.
We have to all come to grips with the nature of our society and our history as we move forward into a very new era. The election is starting to look like a rout, a complete sweep of Democrats from coast to coast that will hold filibuster proof majorities in both houses and the White House. They will then have to sit down and work their way through the Five Crises and a lot of other demands that are waiting on them. How will this happen?
The short answer is that it’s gonna be damned hard. They will be bombarded by experts and other people who are arguing, ultimately, from basic principles. The place where these basic principles from different viewpoints intersect will be where our history and basic social understanding all come together, and that will be a place of Marketism. The way this was explained to the nation the last time around was that we were going to have a “New Deal” – it was time to collect the cards and start over. The bluffing was over, the pot was gone. The point was that the game was continuing – and that game is the free market of competition.
In many ways, our culture reached a dead end this year. Our loose understanding of the systems that made our life possible has finally resulted in collapse. Ultimately, someone is going to have to actually make a product that has real value to the marketplace around the world if we’re going to have any kind of standard of living. That’s going to be tough to imagine, especially once unemployment starts to spike and our government realizes how much it’s going to have to print more money to keep us afloat, inflation be damned. But we’ll get through this once we retrace our steps and understand that Marketism, the belief in free and fair markets, is what made this culture in the first place.
Of course, Marketism is only about giving everyone a chance to compete on the field. What we do with it is going to take some time for us to figure out. We’ve gotten very used to the idea of something from nothing, and I don’t expect us to give it up easily.
But there aren’t any alternatives, after all, unless some kind of totalitarianism is starting to sound like a good idea. I don’t think it’s so bad we’ll do anything that stupid, but I know enough to remain vigilant.