An interesting and witty talk by Thomas Frank which I attended yesterday showed how profoundly undemocratic conservatism in America has become. His recent book "The Wrecking Crew" How Conservatives Rule" shows how conservatives have essentially turned the country into a totalitarian stronghold that deeply despises democracy and freedom under the guise of promoting "morality" and free markets. Concomitant reading of J. Peter Scoblic's "U.S. vs Them" shows how this breed of conservatism, far from being restricted to the Bush administration, has been nurtured and furthered since the end of World War 2 when rabidly anticommunist conservatives honed threat inflation, pseudomoral philosophizing and downright bullying to a fine art. Their principles were clear; anyone who advocated any form of government intervention was automatically a godless communist, anyone who advocated negotiation with the enemy was a coward. In fact Scoblic's book makes it clear how dogmatic and totalitarian today's conservatives are by deftly narrating how their forebearers had a deep disdain even for Eisenhower and Nixon!
I hope that just as communists gave those who would argue for government intervention a bad name, so would these modern American conservatives give a necessarily and well-deserved bad name to those who keep on advocating rampant and totalitarian capitalism. Interestingly as Frank quipped yesterday, the same conservatives who keep on opposing government intervention now have the government working around the clock to save the country. Irony would find this ironic. But that should not be surprising; the stated goal of today's conservatives is to be in bed (literally) with big business. If government intervention is necessary to appease big business, so be it. And yes, did Bush tell you that your taxpayer money is going to be on the line now? So much for the "read my lips- no taxes" motto that trickled down from his father. People's hard-earned money be damned if appropriating it is going to help Uncle Care Bear. If this does not convince anyone of the hypocrisy of Republicans, it's hard to see what will. They care about lowering taxes only as far as that can keep big business fat and happy.
Let's just hope that the recent market failure and many similar incidents expose the evils of dogmatic thinking of any kind- whether socialist or laissez faire capitalist- and teach people to take a more nuanced and moderate stand that advocates different policies and actions based on the situation and times. The point is that it is not possible to sustain one stock, extreme philosophy for too long, a fact that naturally does not go down the prickly gullets of idealogues in administrations such as this one. They want to see the world in black and white. No matter that it's not just shades of gray but gray that often changes into other colours.
Politics should be flexible and should be able to choose and draw from a wide variety of options in different proportions based on requirements for that age. There is no such thing as a completely socialist or completely libertarian or completely anarchist or completely nihilist philosophy that would work for all times and all people. A full century of extremism- from Stalin's totalitarianism to the Chicago Boys' laissez faire support for totalitarian regimes in Central America- should more than warn us about constantly dealing in absolutes and monolithic economic models. Brendon Barber put it very well for the BBC:
This is not the final crisis of capitalism, but it ought to be the end of the road for a particular version of it.As Frank said yesterday, one good thing should undoubtedly come out of the recent sham- Hoover should not get his second term.
The truth is that there is no single economic model of capitalism.
There has always been a considerable difference between Europe's social market and the Anglo-Saxon version in the US - not to mention the wild-west excesses of post-communist Russia or the strange hybrid that now operates in China.
What we have seen in the last few days should rather be the last gasp of the belief that the way to secure prosperity is to let free markets rip and tear up any regulation that gets in the way of short-term profit.
Already the view that the state has no role to play has gone with the nationalisation of Freddie, Fannie and AIG in the US and Northern Rock in the UK.
The lessons that we need to draw are that we have given far too much importance to the City and neglected other sectors - not just traditional manufacturing, but new environmental jobs and the creative sector, to give just a few examples. This should be neo-liberalism RIP.
But the paradox that has yet to work its way through is what this means for politics.
Voters are shifting to the right in their voting intention, but shifting to the left in many policy preferences as they expect government to tax the rich more, regulate the energy sector and restore sensible regulatory structures in the City.