Monday, March 13, 2006

Credit to what produces

A friend has pointed out an interview with Perry Anderson (editor of the New Left Review), recently described by Christopher Hitchens as 'the most profound essayist currently wielding a pen' (without explaining why, unfortunately). Anderson speaks about why the Left failed.

[It] greatly underestimated the internal strength of capitalism as a socioeconomic system. Its capacity for self-adaptation, for continual adjustment; the extraordinary resources of productivity which spring from its reliance on competition as an essential mechanism of economic life -- these were greatly underestimated, I believe.
So, what is the case against capitalism?
"... the central case against capitalism today is the combination of ecological crisis and social polarization. It is the greed."
There are others. I linked some time ago to a post by Norm in which he sets out why alternatives to capitalism need to be sought.
... capitalism perpetuates eliminable forms of human suffering, blocks human flourishing, perpetuates deficits in individual freedom and autonomy, violates liberal principles of social justice, is inefficient, is environmentally destructive, and limits democracy.
Now I'm not denying that there's a case (or several) here. However, I continue to ask: in any other system you want to suggest, where does the wealth come from? Why do they never talk about a better way to stimulate innovation, to provide incentives for people to work better and harder? It's great to talk about re-distribution, but you first you need something to re-distibute. Socialism, communism, fascism, whatever, don't produce, or produce insufficiently and inadequately. They re-distribute, but from a pie that gets smaller and smaller until it's not worth sharing.

Secondly, to achieve any of the aims listed above, has any alternative method been proposed that is not a centralisation of power 'at least in the initial period'? To halt global warming, one agreement for them all, one ring to bind them. To close the gap between rich and poor, tax. Yet the more you centralise, the less well you produce because competition is taken out of the system. Only in capitalism is there the incentive to produce more and, above all, better. That is why it is only capitalism that innovates. That is why it will only be capitalism that will innovate sufficiently to avert ecological crisis, not the oppressive and all-too-visible hand of beurocracies and committees. Perry Anderson himself refers above to capitalism's 'extraordinary resources of productivity'. He doesn't say how else such resources are to be tapped.

The conversation with Perry Anderson was recorded on April 27, 2001. I wondered what change if any 9/11 wrought in him. In the Hitchens article, there is mention of a New Left Review editorial in 2003 where it was announced
that the need of the hour was solidarity with the “resistance” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and—yes—the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.

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