Archives for posts with tag: corporatism

My previous post was about the parallel fate endured by those who had experienced nazism/fascism and/or communism.

My point being that nazism/fascism had been powered by the feelings of those attempting to regain their previous, higher, status while communism had been powered by the feelings of those not allowed to ‘move forward’ by the social constraints paralyzing their societies.

Currently, people are ‘confused’.
Some say communism had been better than nazism – for various reasons.
Others find various excuses for the way both regimes had treated the general population and, mainly, the ‘dissidents’. Or, specially for the nazi, the ‘differents’.
There is, though, a convergence point. Nominally, at least. All sides declaratively abhor the violence employed by both regimes.

To add to the confusion, after the 2007 financial meltdown, more and more ‘concerned individuals’ have fingered capitalism as the main culprit for all the tragedies experienced by humankind in the last century and a half.

For me, this is the straw which will break the camel’s back.

Nazism/fascism – which is nothing but a ‘condensed’ form of corporatism, is bad.
Communism – a similarly centralized manner of social decision making, only differently sold to differently feeling masses, is also bad.
Capitalism – a decentralized manner of resource allocation, is considered to be more or less equivalent to both nazism/fascism and communism. All three of them have been declared equally criminal…

Then what?
What are we to do next? Hang ourselves in despair?
Reheat either fascism or communism?

Or look forward than our own noses?

Both those who had followed Hitler and Lenin/Stalin were feeling desperate. Desperation drives you to do stupid things. And there are plenty of unscrupulous people willing to profit from this kind of situations.

Do we really want to prevent ‘unpleasant’ experiences?
Then we need to go beyond blaming the likes of Hitler and Lenin/Stalin.
They should be dealt what’s rightfully theirs, no doubt about that.
But we also need to make sure that the ‘run of the mill’, the ordinary people who make things work in this world, no longer feel desperate.

How to do that?
Taking into account that contemporary capitalism seems to be faltering?

What was the common thing between nazism/fascism and communism?
The fact that decision making was concentrated in a very small number of hands? Which had led to both regimes ending up in abysmal failure?

What is the apparently unstoppable trend in our contemporary societies?
The apparently unstoppable wealth polarization?

Then let’s tax ourselves out … America worked fine during the ’50s and ’60, when the highest marginal tax was 91%…
Yeah, only those years had been followed by stagflation.
And let me remind you that communism can also be interpreted as ‘100% tax followed by a comprehensive redistribution’. And it also failed.

Then how about ‘libertarianism’? No taxes, no government…

But how about less extremism? Of any kind?

How about remembering that liberal capitalism has made possible all that we have today? Liberal as in free-market capitalism, of course.

Free market as in competition working both ways.
Entrepreneurs competing among themselves for clients AND resources. The workforce being, of course, a resource.
The ‘compensated’ workforce representing the bulk of the clients…

What we seem to have forgotten today is that the circle must be round. If we want the ‘show to go on’, of course.

If some of us concentrate too much control over the rest of us – either way, the circle becomes lopsided. And everybody has everything to loose.

No matter whether this happens as a consequence of nazism/fascism, communism or even capitalism.

At least, capitalism has proved to be manageable.
Let’s make it work, again.

Until we discover something better, of course.


It depends on the meanings we attach to these two concepts.

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s ex finance minister, is convinced that ‘Capitalism will eat democracy – unless we speak up.

Since he has some experience in this matter I’ll follow his line of thinking – for a while.

His point being that you can have successful capitalism in undemocratic societies – like Singapore and China – and that effective power has slowly shifted from the political sphere of the society to the economic one – which is undemocratic by definition.

Can’t say he’s entirely wrong, can we?

But we can say he’s somewhat confused…
So, he mentions Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore and China as capitalistic success stories and then says that  the political sphere is gradually falling  under the yoke of the economic one… Well, last time I looked, in China the state was still in full control of everything that moved and the state was firmly in the hands of the politicians. Same thing was happenning during Yew’s tenure as Singapore’s good willed dictator.

Unfortunately there is some truth in his words when we look at what’s going on on the both sides of the Atlantic and that’s why I’m going to examine whether we have the same kind of capitalism in both situations.

By Google-ing the word I got two definitions for the concept.

The first definition that was offered by the search engine came from Oxford Dictionaries, “An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state” and the second one came from Merriam Webster: capitalism is “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market“.

Putting them together we have private ownership, private decision, free market and profit as a goal.

Are these enough to describe a reasonably well functioning economic system?
I’m afraid not.

Let me give you some examples.
The French state has a controlling interest in Renault and the land of Bavaria quite a sizeable one in VW. Renault is in good shape and VW was too, until very recently. So private ownership is not an absolute necessity.
In the US we had quite an interesting situation. Two out of the three big car manufacturers  had to be bailed out by the state. All three were privately owned so we must look somewhere else: the Ford family still has a powerful word in the management of the single one which didn’t had to be bailed out. In Europe the best run auto company seems to be BMW – again controlled by a single family, the Quandt’s. It seems that it helps a lot if those who call the shots have a long time interest in the well being of the company versus the situation in which the top management has (short time) profit as the single/obsessive target.
Coming back to Renault and VW, they can be compared to Singapore, China and, maybe, Spain. Singapore was able to develop a ‘capitalistic’ economy despite it being an authoritarian society simply because Lee Kuan Yew was a very special kind of ‘dictator’ – one that not only cared sincerely for the greater good of his people but also didn’t loose his head during his long stage at the helm. A similar thing happened in Spain – Franco was the sole dictator who had made preparations for a democratic evolution after his demise, while China had to wait for another good-willed dictator to grab the power – Deng Xiao Ping – before it could steer towards the present course. No other authoritarian regimes but these two have ever managed to replicate this feat – we still have to wait a little before pronouncing Vietnam as the third, and very few other publicly owned companies fare so good as Renault does.

So, we have rather strong evidence suggesting that ‘skin in the game‘ trumps blind insistence on short time profit and that a free, democratic, society offers greater chances for economic development than a authoritarian one. In fact the politicians that need periodic confirmation from the people they govern do have some skin in the game while the authoritarians are in a position that is somehow equivalent to that of the CEO’s of the huge corporations whose stock owners are so disspersed that practically don’t count much – the members of the board practically slap each-other on the back and are able to do practically what they want with the companies. Look what happened at GM, Chrysler and, for example, ENRON.

But how free should be that society in order for capitalism to thrive?

Could it be so free that a guy could come from the street and claim your house as being his own? No?

So we need a free but orderly society. One where private property changes hands only when its owner says so – or has previously entered into a contract which stipulates that in certain conditions that transfer has to take place.

Meaning that in order to have a functioning capitalist society we need not only private ownership but also private owners who have enough trust in each other to start making business together.

You see, the feudal lords of the Dark Ages did have a lot of private property but capitalism couldn’t take hold in earnest as long as the (absolute) monarch could strip a man of his property and give it to somebody else. They couldn’t enter into (longish time) contracts because the era was dominated by huge uncertainties regarding various aspects of the social and economic life.

In fact it is exactly this well tempered freedom that is the crux of functional capitalism. Enough freedom so that everybody could feel confident that he is his own master but tempered by rules enforced in a pwerfully enough manner to give everybody sufficient trust that most contracts will be executed faithfully.

In this sense for capitalism to work properly we need to have a market that is free in more dimensions that one.

It has to be free from political intrusion in the sense that the government should leave it alone as a rule of thumb but also that the same government should keep it free from becoming cornered by a single group of interests.
In fact there is no difference from a market that is run by a governmental agency or by a monopolistic corporation – no matter if the latter is private. As soon as decision making becomes concentrated in too few hands mistakes starts happening. And their effect accumulate until the system finally collapse. Or is dismantled by some ‘exasperated’ more powerful agency – as Standard Oil and  ‘Ma Bell’ were dismantled by the US government. Which, by doing so, created the premises for  the huge development of those two respective markets – oil and communications.

Only this freedom of the markets can seldom be preserved by an authoritarian regime. Yew’s Singapore and contemporary China are exceptions, not the rule. Most authoritarian regimes cannot resist temptation and start meddling in the economic life of their countries. By doing so, they introduce a lot of ‘noise’ into the system. Eventually, this noise drowns the useful signals and ‘blinds’ the decision makers.

Same thing happens – and here Varoufakis has a valid point – when economic agents become so powerful that they can dominate the policy makers. The politicians can no longer preserve a balanced stance towards the economy and give in to ‘special interests’. This way the markets loose their freedom, with all the malign consequences that come with this situation. Among them, the lack of trust that slowly creeps in the souls of those who have to do business in the no longer free markets. Which lack of trust is very bad for all those involved.

And another thing about which Varoufakis is absolutely right. A lot of money are not being moved through the ‘front doors’. Not that they are not invested at all but because they are kept somewhat hidden they do not contribute as much to the well being of the world economy as they could/should.

2.1 $ trillion have been accumulated, as of  October 2015, in off shore accounts by the top 500 American companies in order to avoid taxes and
Between $21 an $32 trillion have been hiding in 2012 in various offshore jurisdictions.

Why is that? Simply because those who are called to decide about these money do not ‘trust’ that by bringing these money home and by investing them there, after paying the taxes, will be able to generate profits equivalent to those produced by leaving them off shore?

So what should we do? Tell them ‘democratically’, by electing somebody who is crazy enough to implement such a measure, to bring them home? Or even  confiscate them, one way or another?

I’m afraid that here I part again ways with Mr. Varoufakis. And with Aristotle: the way I see it democracy is not ‘the constitution in which the free and the poor, being in majority, control government‘. That would be ‘mob rule’.
A truly democratic process starts before the vote. When every stakeholder can make its point known to those who are going to cast a ballot so they’ll be able to do that having a reasonably clear understanding about what’s going on.

Frankly I’d rather rephrase Varoufakis’ message. ‘Corporatism has a tendency to disembowel democracy and transform it into ‘mob rule’ – the situation where the poor are no longer that free simply because they are convinced through ‘unholy’ methods to vote one way or another.

What can be done? Explain, loud and clear, that if jobs disappear the same thing will happen with the aggregate demand?
Explain that by giving their workers as little money as they can in reality the results are way worse than if the wages were as high as the companies could afford?
Ford didn’t give his workers more money because he loved them but simply because he had understood that in the long run he would be better off himself by doing this, you know!

De unde provine anticapitalismul intelectualilor?

Pentru cei ce incearca sa inteleaga ce se intimpla in jurul lor aceasta este o intrebare a carui raspuns are o importanta deosebita si tocmai acest lucru face ca intrebarea sa fie foarte tentata.

Pentru ca orice tentativa de raspuns trebuie sa inceapa de undeva voi incepe cu o marturisire: inca nu am citit cartea lui Mises si ma simt ca un copil care il asteapta pe Mos Craciun: librarul din colt mi-a promis ca mi-o va aduce miine. Voi incerca totusi sa purced fara sa tin cont de acest handicap.

Asta nu inseamna ca voi refuza portiunea de drum deja destelenita si voi alege a doua varianta propusa de Nozick, cea care face apel la starea comuna de fapt in care se afla intelectualii unui ‘loc’ si care se obiectiveaza comportamental in functie de particularitatile fiecaruia dintre ei.

Ca sa mergem mai departe mi se pare esential sa fac o clarificare: ce inseamna pentru mine un intelectual. Am ramas cu aceasta nevoie de pe vremea cind am dat examen la Politehnica si am fost intrebat de un coleg de liceu care ‘dadea’ la Universitate daca stiu ca “in sfarsit numarul inginerilor l-a depasit pe cel al intelectualilor”.

O definitie foarte inclusiva ar fi ca un intelectual isi justifica, siesi, existenta prin aceea ca isi foloseste cu preponderenta, constient si pe cit de bine poate, facultatile cognitive si doar accesoriu pe cele fizice. Ca sa fiu mai explicit am sa va povestesc o intimplare. Prima mea slujba dupa terminarea facultatii a fost la o fabrica de utilaj minier. Tot felul de fierotenii mari care erau prelucrate, montate, incercate, demontate la loc, transprtate pina la gura minei, carate prin strafundurile pamintului in circa oamenilor si montate la loc acolo, pe intuneric, pentru ca altfel n-ar fi incaput prin galeriile si saritorile care alcatuiesc acel univers mirific unde cirtitele umane contribuie decisiv la civilizatia noastra tehnologica. In conditiile astea destul de dure a aparut zicala: “Daca nu merge nu forta, ia un ciocan mai mare”. Dupa ce au trecut primii trei ani de munca, stagiatura, m-am mutat de acolo si am inceput sa lucrez, in ‘meserie’, la un stand de proba pentru motoare. Cu totul si cu totul alta chestie. Halate albe, curatenie, scule de ultima generatie, ingineri si muncitori in proportie aproape egala, mai toti de aceeasi virsta: mincam impreuna in pauza, mergeam impreuna la bere in delegatii…Exact asa cum ar trebui sa fie. Dupa vreo trei luni aveam de montat o piesa mai mare si destul de grea. In timp ce ne straduiam cu totii sa o punem pe pozitie n-am eu ce face si arunc asa, din ‘off’: “Daca nu merge nu forta, ia un ciocan mai mare!” In timp ce toti ceilalti se tineau de burta din cauza risului Stelica, un muncitor foarte tinar, la 28 de ani, pentru categoria pe care o avea, a cincea, se intoarce spre mine, rizind si el: “Cu capu’ dom’ inginer, cu capu’, nu cu forta”.

In practica se pare ca aceast barem este considerat a fi prea ingaduitor si se foloseste mai degraba unul care permite accesul in aceasta tagma doar acelora care indeplinesc simultan doua criterii: sunt recunoscuti ca atare de suficient de multi dintre cei care se bucura deja de acest statut si sunt destul de convingatori in eforturile lor de a parea dezinteresati de ‘partea materiala a problemei’.

Prima definitie e atit de larga incit ii face pe puristi sa strimbe din nas iar a doua, la extrema opusa, e atit de restrictiva incit lasa pe dinafara categorii vaste: pe mine, ca resprezentant al ‘intelectualitatii tehnice’ (?!?), pe membrii profesiunilor liberale, pe functionari dar mai ales pe antreprenori adica exact pe cei care tin in functiune, prin forta gindurilor lor, economia.

Cu alte cuvinte e cam greu sa ne lamurim pe calea definitiilor.

Sa incercam altceva.

“Intelectualii sunt principalii agenţi prin care ideile intră în lume”. Aha! „Bune sau proaste, ideile dau direcţia şi ritmul istoriei”. Adica ideile sunt cele care schimba, treptat sau dintr-o data, lumea in care traim iar intelectualii sunt cei care pastoresc ideile.

Proverbiala Luminita a inceput sa pilpie la capatul tunelului.

Dar ca sa intelegem cu adevarat semnificatia din spatele umbrelor lasate (si) de aceasta luminita, precum si ca un inceput de raspuns la intrebarea complementara De ce in „Estul postcomunist, …, intelectualii – mai ales cei publici şi de calibru – sunt cu precădere procapitalişti?” sa facem observatia prealabila ca transformarile sociale declarat revolutionare din `89 au fost primele revolutii din istorie care au avut ca motor forte ‘banuite’ a fi de dreapta si ca frina tocmai segmentul de extrema stinga al societatii. Chiar si Hitler, daca il putem numi pe acesta revolutionar, a confiscat puterea pornind de pe o platforma politica declarata a fi de stinga – national socialismul de trista amintire.

Deci intelectualii sunt ‚pastori ai ideilor’ iar ideile sunt cele care aduc schimbarea. Pe cale de consecinta logica (precum luminita feroviara care se apropie de noi pe sine iar noi nu ne putem feri de ea pentru ca suntem in tunel) intelectualii, ca niste pastori profesionisti ce sunt, au menirea de a incerca sa mentina societatea permeabila la schimbare, adica sa o pastreze receptiva la idei, la nou.

Un scurt apel la istorie. Doctrinele politice au fost despartite la inceput, si au ramas inca asa in SUA, intre conservatoare si liberale. Iar cei ce se declarau a fi intelectuali au fost intotdeauna de partea liberalismului, indiferent daca acesta a fost de stinga – pina nu demult – sau de dreapta – acum de curind, de cind cei ce vor sa pastreze cu cerbicie status-quo-ul, si cu alte cuvinte sunt conservatori, se clameaza din toata puterile a fi de stinga.

Bine, bine, liberali. Dar de ce anticapitalisti?

Eh, n-am apucat eu sa citesc cartea lui Mises dar am citit despre el. „Mises extended Austrian marginal utility theory to money, which, noted Mises, is demanded for its usefulness in purchasing other goods rather than for its own sake” Cu alte cuvinte Mises e de parere ca oamenii acumuleaza bani doar pentru ca acestia le ofera posibilitatea de a cumpara diverse lucruri si nu pentru bucuria de a-i poseda. Parerea lui. Daca e sa il credem pe Max Weber (Etica Protestanta si Spiritul Capitalismului) situatia e chiar pe dos. Capitalismul ar fi luat cu adevarat avint abia cind oamenii ar fi incetat a mai arunca banii pe prostii – in sensul lui Veblen – si ar fi inceput sa ii stringa tocmai pentru ca numarul banilor agonisiti ar fi masurat ‚trecerea’ de care de care se bucura posesorul averii respective in fata lui Dumnezeu.

Ca de obicei nimic nou sub Soare. Ideea aceasta a fost, de fapt, ideea centrala a puritanismului englez si nu se deosebeste principial de credinta vechilor greci ca norocul la zaruri este dovada faptului ca norocosul se bucura de ocrotirea zeilor…

Deci facem degeaba apel la citate. Unul trage hais, altul cea…Dar mai exista o metoda. In loc sa stabilim daca ploua sau nu urmarind cit mai multe buletine meteorologice la TV si sa facem, eventual, media n-ar fi mai bine sa dam perdeaua la o parte si sa observam ce se petrece la noi in curte?

Pai ce sa se petreaca? O criza economica si sociala care se datoreaza incremenirii in proiect: in Occident goana dupa profit (vazut ca scop in sine si nu cu ca urmare fireasca a indeplinirii cu succes a unei nevoi sociale) a depasit orice inchipuire iar Estul Postcomunist nu poate depasi starea de spirit pacatoasa care imparte populatiile in doua – unii care s-au invatat sa asculte ce li se spune si altii care au convingerea ca le stiu ei pe toate si ca au dreptul de a le impune celorlalti convingerile lor.

Si uite asa intelegem ca ‚stingismul’ intelectualilor din Occident si ‘procapitalismul’ celor din Estul postcomunist sunt doar forme de manifestare a liberalismului inerent oricarui intelectual care se respecta si ca acest liberalism este mai mult decit explicabil si anume este firesc.

PS. Am scris asta cu mai mult de un an in urma. Intre timp am inteles ca adevaratii intelectuali de stanga din Occident nu sunt anticapitalisti ci sunt impotriva autoritarismului economic.
‘Capitalism’ a capatat foarte multe sensuri si este o diferenta enorma intre capitalismul de piata cu adevarat libera – cel care ofera posibilitati de dezvoltare pe termen lung – si corporatismul care poate bloca totul din cauza incercarii celor de sus de a-si conserva privilegiile dincolo de firesc.
S-a scris atita pe tema asta, de la ‘Selectia negativa’ a lui Eminescu pana la ‘Teoria clasei de lux‘ a Veblen si trecand prin mult mai recentele consideratii ale Laurei Tyson incat o data si o data tot ne va veni mintea la cap…

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