Abandon Capitalism?

Slavoj Zizek provocatively declares that the “marriage between capitalism and democracy is over” in all forms. Is he right? Global markets worldwide are struggling, from Italy and Greece to the United States. Protests reflect this trouble– The Economist recently discussed the “legitimate deep-seated grievances” of protestors, including “higher taxes, less generous benefits and longer working lives than their parents… Across the European Union, youth unemployment averages 20.9%. In Spain, it is a staggering 46.2%.” (The Economist, Oct. 22, 2011). Are these symptoms of a system hobbled by either globalisation or capitalism? What would an alternative to capitalism look like and would it work?

The anti-globalization movement, such as it is, articulates a vision for collectivisation and participatory economics. Capitalism promotes individualism, neglecting to address equality, efficiency, environmental sustainability, or cooperation. An alternative economic system would, ideally, take into account all of these factors. Can we imagine a system in which workers are paid the same amount under a collective council and private ownership of property is eliminated?

I don’t think so. A theoretical alternative to capitalism that eliminates private ownership of capital or deconstructs our hierarchal system of government isn’t viable or plausible. What is necessary, however, is immediate government action to address the symptoms of market failure that we see now. Finding a solution to the crisis in Europe (not abandoning Greece, for a start) and looking for long-term solutions, rather than settling for short-term solutions is key. Should Zizek’s dark prediction come true, we have few very options.


3 comments for “Abandon Capitalism?

  1. James Sayer
    November 14, 2011 at 2:09 am

    I feel the future of capitalism is the issue probably weighing the heaviest on the public conscious at the moment. However it is just so difficult to put a finger on what exactly is the path society should seek to take. It is my understanding that these economic crises have differing causes. The American situation associated with the struggles of the large investment banks seems closely associated with reckless speculation associated with an overly “lassiez-faire” market environment. However, aren’t the issues in Greece related to the failure of the social-democratic state. Thus, we see failures of both Keynesian and Neo-Liberal models. Could these be rooted in failed interactions between the two, suggesting that capitalism itself is still viable, but there just needs to a better way to coalesce its differing strands?

    Rishi, you bring up an interesting point with the East Asian model, however I don’t see this being viable in a Western, especially American context. I say this because I conceive of democracy and capitalism as being different applications of essentially the same core value system emphasizing the role of the individual within society. Capitalism asserts the role of the individual economically, while democracy demands the agency of the individual politically. Thus, both capitalism and democracy seem to be different expression of the same ideology. Therefore, within the American context, I see it as unlikely to find a way to separate a capitalist economy from a democratic political structure.

    • Emma Dinapoli
      November 21, 2011 at 12:16 am

      James and Rishi, I think you’ve raised several interesting points. In general, I think it’s the assertion of the individual in laissez-faire capitalism that is its largest failing. Neither capitalism nor democracy encourage any sort of collaboration beyond that which furthers an individual’s particular goals (individual in the loosest sense of the word). Here Rishi’s suggestion of an Eastern Asian model of capitalism may be useful–a model that doesn’t permit for reckless individualism and allows for governmental interference at a much greater level may be the solution to our economic trouble.

  2. Rishi Saxena
    November 13, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    I found your post extremely fascinating and evocative. Even I’ve been thinking about this same idea: Should we abandon capitalism? It’s arguable that the marriage between capitalism and democracy is over,that there is a schism between the economy and government, as much evidence can be pointed in that direction.

    I remember taking (personal) notes about this in class, and by reading over them at this moment, I came across the concept of “Asian capitalism”. This particular brand of capitalism is one in which the government of the country is not necessarily capitalist; rather, it is not democratic by most means. But the economy exhibits capitalist tendencies: private ownership, free markets, etc. China is certainly the definitive example of Asian capitalism, a country that is ruled by a communist leadership but has a slight growing capitalist economy. While the state does not officially declare itself socialist, the general tendency of this government is socialist in a way. If the marriage between capitalism and democracy is over, as Zizek says (and as you refute), then maybe this divorce should aim to reconcile in an Asian capitalist state. This is not to say of course that the US or European states should rule harder, but rather that the Western powers should look at Asia and understand what works and what does not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *