Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Civilization, predicted by Heilbroner

Dear Devoted Followers,

I have been reading. I read the first part of Heilbroner's take on the culture, which he calls a "business civilization" in his small volume that I read a small part of: "Business Civilization in Decline."
    He sees a sort of slow decline.
    I think. At any rate, Heilbroner, himself a bit of a radical, describes how "the [typical] radical" sees things: "the radical sees...a pervasive and ultimately irresistible dynamic[s]." (and believe me, there is really an "s" in the original - WWNorton, 1976.) The radical sees "irrepressible contradictions" of "a system threatened with self-destruction." The next paragraph now: "I think the radical is essentially correct...Nonetheless, I find a weakness in the radical view." OK, I kind of expected that, but, at any rate, next I will ask what is that weakness? "It is the tendency to assume a subservience of the political apparatus to the economic interests of the system -- a subservience that ultimately defines too narrowly the independent shaping influence of social institutions [right --- the planners, from my previous posting event]. As I [meaning Heilbroner] have put it elsewhere, the radical view sees the economy as the engine and the government as the caboose.." (p. 30)
Now, this is R.H. disputing that, but what has history shown? Since 1976, when this book was published, it tells us a story rather more in keeping with those radical types.
    I do not see any sane, sober government of1930's style "planners." Capitalism --- with its runaway overheated nature, has indeed become what R. H.'s "radicals" predicted it would become (and Bohner the usher). It has indeed becomes the engine of the train, and it has shown us no human intelligence, no ability at planning, only its own vapid, non-sentient, irresistible desire for self-immolation. How does government look in the present situation? It looks more insane --- worse --- than economics does. Even worse. Where is the "independent shaping influence" that Robert Heilbroner saw and was at pains to capture in that awkward phrase? Is that like the pink tiger with the purple stripes? (I seem to have some kind of photographic negative in mind) It look like a race of two crazinesses, a race to discern whether the enraged, out-of-power Republican pro-business conservative crowd can beat capitalism to the punch line. Government truly is more dangerous than economics, and the Republicans are proving that.
    The bottom line is that of no more culture of planning --- no more sober men in pinstriped suits, puffing on pipes, laying down guidelines for the "business executive," or guiding the "business" sector of society.
     Capitalism, left on its own, self-destructs, whether by the "sober, fiscally-minded" (i.e. suicidal) Republicans in government, who are insane (having philosophized themselves out of a job), or, if you prefer, death by the economy itself (also not sane, nor even sentient.) It does not matter whether we say "government" or "economy." What matters is that what we evolved, what came about, was a country of zero discerning intellect, and therefore a country that refuses to control or regulate capitalism. At that point government and economy are the same thing. Now, the correct thing is also given in the book by R.H. That is covered by another Heilbroner analogy, to "a train in which there are two engines, one economic, one political, capable of pulling in different directions as well as coordinating their efforts." But we never go to that, and the radicals were right to say that it would have taken a revolution. We never got there. We never got to that, and for that reason, the radicals turn out to have been right to say that.
    But it would not have taken a radical's revolution --- not a Left revolution attacking their great conceptual enemy "capitalism." It would have taken a revolution of honesty and of moderation, a revolution in common sense, to understand that capitalism can do better, and still be capitalism, that it does not have to be a runaway train with the hedge fund operators at the front, dragging an out-of-control, psychopathological government.
     The challenge would have been, quite simply, to get capitalism under control. But we never did. The wealthy right just kept on cashing the checks they were receiving from an economic system that favors the wealthy, and, having the upper hand in some way, they maintained their strong position as a kind of upper crust. When Bush finally showed the people the weakness of this approach, it was too late. The Right were so far gone, so empowered and arrogant by this time, feeling they were "Dead Right" as the book has it, that nothing mattered to them, not even the people, who had voted for a moderate Democratic president. The Republicans just went hostile. And in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2008 they went berserk, because, after all, the economy, not government was in control, just as I pointed out above.

     We never even came close to knowing which policies to put in place, If we did, we would have smaller cars in the city. There would be full employment due to massive projects to avert the effects of global climate change. Business windfalls would be taxed at higher rates, rewarding the entrepreneur but rewarding the people who bought those products as well. Smaller business would be actively encouraged, including smaller, more environmentally conscious agriculture, to be mostly sold in local areas, with a little bit of it going, at higher prices of course, to the restaurants. Rich could be happy and working or lower income could be happy, too. Why not? Such are the wonders that capitalism could have brought --- if we would control it.
    When you sit down to think about it, there are so many of these things one can think of. What is sitting and thinking of something called? It's just planning. But planning for the whole is taboo. There is no rational reason for such a bias. Some people just don't want to cooperate, I guess.
    Planning takes intelligence. I wish we really had some. I wish I had been stronger.
    "The Times They Are A'Changin." Not exactly the way the radicals had hoped, though.

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