Entry from September 19, 2008

As you might expect of a nation which, in the writings of its domestic and imported socialist intelligentsia, gave birth to the myth of “capitalism,” the British papers have been full of discussion this week about the implications for capitalism of the current crisis in the world’s financial markets. Some say, with Jeff Randal of the Daily Telegraph that that mythical critter, capitalism, is “painful, but it works.” Others hold with the Telegraph’s correspondent, Roger Payne of London N.W.3 in seeing in the markets’ turmoil “the excesses of capitalism” and a validation of “Marx’s prophecies of how capitalism would implode.”

But capitalism cannot implode — much to the disappointment, no doubt, of many besides Mr Payne — because it never existed in the first place. It was merely the invention of socialist theorists for the purpose of putting things as they are — a.k.a. capitalism — on a speciously yet astonishingly persuasive equal theoretical footing with the merely speculative alternative to things as they are, namely socialism. Not surprisingly, in the couple of centuries since, things as they are have continued to be pretty much as they still are while the speculative alternative has remained stubbornly resistant to all attempts to turn it into reality.

What might well implode, however, is the Western political consensus of the past 20 years, since the manifest failure of the Soviet socialist experiment, that socialism does not, after all, provide a real alternative to the economic reality that socialists call “capitalism” — that is, the way inevitable markets inevitably work. In Wednesday’s New York Times, for example, Democratic pollster Mark Mellman notes with considerable satisfaction that

In the mid-1990s, polling that my firm conducted showed that more than 60 percent of voters were more concerned that “the federal government will try to do too much, not do it well and raise taxes.” This year, 60 percent chose the survey’s other option, expressing greater worry that “the federal government will not do enough to help ordinary people deal with the problems they face.” Americans who used to be wary of government involvement are now calling for it.

If this is true and the lessons of history have faded so quickly — hardly surprising, given the low priority of history teaching — it may be that we will have to learn them all over again the hard way.


A different take on “experience.”

Though far from wanting to be dismissive about the importance of “experience” in our leaders, I do wonder if the frequency with which the subject comes up in the media, particularly in relation to Sarah Palin, and in spite Barack Obama’s own lack of experience, is not an indication that there is more here than meets the eye. I was thinking of this the other day as I browsed through some blogs offering a selection of takes on the politics of this election and reflected that I would never have been doing that only a year or two ago. Even in 2004 or 2006, although I knew what blogs and bloggers were, I rarely visited their sites and would never have dreamed of turning to them for information or commentary about a subject so important as a national election. I have been a professional griper about the media for 15 years, yet it never would have occurred to me until quite recently to doubt that the only place to read about the big political topics of the day was in the mainstream media, however unsatisfactory I knew them to be. Now, although I still check several major newspaper websites, I spend less time with them and more with the new media. I feel as if a weight has fallen from me.

Nor is it just me. I notice that on that invaluable political website, RealClearPolitics there is less and less of an attempt to distinguish between the links to echt media websites and those to blogs. As they gradually lose their privileged position of gatekeepers and filters for political opinion, “the media” seem to be fading before my eyes and dissolving into a much more diverse and much less easily characterized phenomenon. The result is that, in the media as in the political race they are covering, we are witnessing a battle of the amateurs — and, in part, a battle of the amateurs against the professionals. This casts an interesting sidelight on all the talk of “experience” among the old, gatekeeper media who are jealous of their own experience vis vis the upstarts of the blogosphere. The experience — or rather lack of same — of Senator Obama never seemed important to them because his views on things were perfectly aligned with those of the old media. They had enough experience for him as well as themselves. But the outpouring of fury that has greeted Senator McCain’s selection of Governor Palin as his running mate, especially on account of her lack of experience, must have had something to do with the uneasy sense the media have of their own increasing irrelevance to the political process.


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