Can American Capitalism Survive?

The story of American capitalism is, among other things, a love-hate relationship. We go through cycles of self-congratulation, revulsion and revision. Just when the latest onset of revulsion and revision began is unclear. Was it when Lehman Brothers collapsed? Or when General Motors pleaded for federal subsidies? Or now, when AIG’s bonuses stir outrage? No matter. Capitalism is under siege, its future unclear.

By Robert J. Samuelson
The Washington Post

Schumpeter, one of the 20th century’s eminent economists, believed that capitalism sowed the seeds of its own destruction. Its chief virtue was long-term — the capacity to increase wealth and living standards. But short-term politics would fixate on its flaws — instability, unemployment, inequality. Capitalist prosperity also created an oppositional class of “intellectuals” who would nurture popular discontents and disparage values (self-enrichment, risk-taking) necessary for economic success.

….

Successful capitalism presupposes three conditions: first, the legitimacy of the profit motive — the ability to do well, even fabulously; second, widespread markets that mediate success and failure; and finally, a legal and political system that, aside from establishing property and contractual rights, also creates public acceptance. Note that the last condition modifies the first two, because government can — through taxes, laws and regulations — weaken the profit motive and interfere with markets.

….

Still, the present populist backlash may not end well. The parade of big companies to Washington for rescues, as well as the high-profile examples of unvarnished greed, has spawned understandable anger that could veer into destructive retribution. Congressmen love extravagant and televised displays of self-righteous indignation. The AIG hearing last week often seemed a political gang beating.
If companies need to be rescued from “the market,” why shouldn’t Washington permanently run the market? That’s a dangerous mindset. It justifies punitive taxes, widespread corporate mandates, selective subsidies and meddling in firms’ everyday operations (think the present anti-bonus tax bill). Older and politically powerful companies may benefit at the expense of newer firms. Innovation and investment may be funneled into fashionable but economically dubious projects (think ethanol).

Government inevitably expands in times of economic breakdown…..

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/co
ntent/article/2009/03/22/AR200903220
1507.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

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