Has economic freedom been oversold? That was the question asked (and ultimately answered) in a new paper by the research arm of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The agency is the international “central bank to central banks” which swoops in and provides cash to bail out entire nations – for a price, of course. That price has always been a little bit of austerity for the government and de-regulation all around.
The guiding philosophy goes by a handle which may seem off to many in the United States – Neoliberalism. It was a response to the failure of classical Liberalism, or reduction of state power in favor of free markets, which failed in the last Depression. This depression seems to have been about as kind to the general concept for many of the same reasons.
As always it’s worth talking about in the sense that we are again confronted with the possibility that “everything the experts know is wrong” – a feeling certainly stirred up elections throughout the developed world lately.
The suffix -ism is one of those handy things inherited from the versatile Greek language. The original usage was the creation of an active noun from a verb, such as baptism or criticism. It makes an action into a thing, allowing it to become a subject or object.
More recently, this suffix has taken on the use of defining a philosophy, often a political practice. It is a way of taking a series of beliefs or practices and putting them into a box which can be delivered as one unique practice. Far from making an active subject, in practical terms it becomes most useful as a way of preventing any action at all.
The great -isms of political economics are Socialism and Capitalism. The boxes these words describe were fixed long ago and remain rigid. Yet they retain their power to an opposing tribe and thus remain in use. It’s long past time to dump the -isms, useful as this linguistic construction once was.
Call it the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” or the more hip “Industry 4.0” if you like. What matters most is that industry, or the process of making things, is changing in ways that seem fundamental and permanent. The world is moving on to a new era which, difficult as times like this can be to understand, appears to be rather well defined and describable.
If you do a deep dive into Industry 4.0, however, there is still something missing. It’s the “why” of the process which seems to be at least assumed, if not elusive. Not just why it is happening, but why it is being driven now and why it is expected to cast aside Industry 3.0.
What’s missing in the increasing chatter of Industry 4.0 appears to be the fundamental force behind it, which is the decline of what we might call “capitalism” in favor of a purely market centered, low overhead “marketism” approach.
The rapid pace of change has created a world filled with excitement and energy. At the same time, it’s created a world filled with anxiety and fear. At the intersection of both of these is hatred, distrust, disrespect, and every other force you can think of which can divide people. Rather than bring us together, closeness has us running to define boxes to hide in, regardless of how small.
The great force which should unite but instead often confuses and separates is the driving force of our time: technology. That one simple word is the savior and excuse all at the same time. But what is it, really?
Jobs are scarce and workers are feeling the pinch all around. Republicans would have you believe the government is to blame, limiting growth through bureaucracy. Democrats would have you believe that companies are simply greedy. But is the income of American workers really limited by a lack of growth or the avarice of a privileged few?
The short answer is just a bit more complicated. The distribution of the income has changed substantially since postwar America changed sometime around 1968. It’s not a failure of government or even the greediness of corporations, but a change in the most important market there is – the market for the talent and hard work of ordinary Americans.