by Prof. James Petras
All the idols of capitalism over the past three decades crashed. The assumptions and presumptions, paradigm and prognosis of indefinite progress under liberal free market capitalism have been tested and have failed. We are living the end of an entire epoch: Experts everywhere witness the collapse of the US and world financial system, the absence of credit for trade and the lack of financing for investment. A world depression, in which upward of a quarter of the world’s labor force will be unemployed, is looming. The biggest decline in trade in recent world history – down 40% year to year – defines the future. The immanent bankruptcies of the biggest manufacturing companies in the capitalist world haunt Western political leaders. The ‘market’ as a mechanism for allocating resources and the government of the US as the ‘leader’ of the global economy have been discredited. (Financial Times, March 9, 2009) All the assumptions about ‘self-stabilizing markets’ are demonstrably false and outmoded. The rejection of public intervention in the market and the advocacy of supply-side economics have been discredited even in the eyes of their practitioners. Even official circles recognize that ‘inequality of income’ contributed to the onset of the economic crash and should be corrected. Planning, public ownership, nationalization are on the agenda while socialist alternatives have become almost respectable.
With the onset of the depression, all the shibboleths of the past decade are discarded: As export-oriented growth strategies fail, import substitution policies emerge. As the world economy ‘de-globalizes’ and capital is ‘repatriated’ to save near bankrupt head offices – national ownership is proposed. As trillions of dollars/Euros/yen in assets are destroyed and devalued, massive layoffs extend unemployment everywhere. Fear, anxiety and uncertainty stalk the offices of state, financial directorships, the office suites the factories, and the streets…
We enter a time of upheaval, when the foundations of the world political and economic order are deeply fractured, to the point that no one can imagine any restoration of the political-economic order of the recent past. The future promises economic chaos, political upheavals and mass impoverishment. Once again, the specter of socialism hovers over the ruins of the former giants of finance. As free market capital collapses, its ideological advocates jump ship, abandon their line and verse of the virtues of the market and sing a new chorus: the State as Savior of the System – a dubious proposition, whose only outcome will be to prolong the pillage of the public treasury and postpone the death agony of capitalism as we have known it.