Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Sure, the capitalists killed capitalism, and maybe socialism is better or maybe not. Here are some ideas to save capitalism from itself, while we ponder the socialist-capitalist dichotomy.

Harvard's MBA program, capitalism's incubator, should offer a course on "Hey, wait, don't kill capitalism!" Heck, make it a whole new graduate program.

Past graduates have done their best to destroy the system: George Bush and the best and brightest on Wall Street. Time for a change, here at Harvard!

Topics: Karl Marx on how capitalists will sell the rope with which to hang themselves--required three-credit course.

Signs that the system is going down:

20-somethings from Yale making $30 million a year on Wall Street (only a year after graduating!)--three credits.

Larry Summers saying unions are bad for employment. (Taught by Larry Summers!)--three credits

Revolving door from the government to Wall Street and back again. ($10K upfront fee, three credits)

George Bush brought down three firms and several countries, including his own. Find out how he did it, and then develop plans for a healthier alternative. Three credits.

Howard Kaplan

Belmont, MA

Mar 19 2009 - 1:28pm

Web Letter

Ehrenreich's mockery of the free market as an "inscrutable diety" that "hasn't worked" takes a myopic view of economics, politics and history. In fact, rarely does one read a prescription for perfect society so devoid of historical and philosophical context except on the pages of this radical publication. No, Mrs. Ehrenreich, the market has worked! It has done so for centuries. The laissez-faire system introduced by the Anglo-Saxon civilization has given rise to living standards unimaginable in most parts of the world and in any other era in history. And I'm not even WASP myself.

The periodic crises of capitalism, even at its worst, are nothing in comparison to the hardship and penury which the collectivist systems you so ardently advocate produce on a constant basis. In fact, the very indignation which drives you to attack capitalism emanates from the degree of prosperity afforded to you by capitalism with its computers, free speech and enough wealth to sit around and pontificate on the sad state of the unwashed masses. You don't see too many Cuban laborers or North Korean farmers talking much about "controlling their own destiny." Thanks to the kind of system you advocate, they're too busy looking for a daily piece of bread, when not worried about the crushing hand of the collectivist state. Your blithe disregard for the fallibility of human nature and, frankly, childish view of the ways in which societies actually function could be dismissed as nonsensical, except that a growing number of youths in colleges are indoctrinated on this stuff.

Alan Henessy

Souderton, PA

Mar 18 2009 - 11:41pm

Web Letter

I listened to Geithner on C-SPAN, do the Kabuki two-step when Bernie Sanders asked "if they are to big to fail are they to big to exist?" I have a question for Sec. Geithner about AIG. If AIG had been allowed to file for Chapter Eleven, how much bonuses, retention pay, would they have been allowed to pay? Can they legally use that to claim back some of the money?

James L. Pinette

Caribou, ME

Mar 15 2009 - 11:21am

Web Letter

What a timely article. It really is time we got serious about a process, whether you call it a plan or not doesn’t matter. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the left has been foundering; we have become very practiced in critique, but amazingly vapid in annunciating the alternatives. We surely know what we do not want, but we seem to lack the courage to imagine and articulate our practical vision for a future.

Change is sorely needed, vivid suffering is indeed all around us. But in the absence of a direction and a destination, there is nothing for people to gravitate towards, nothing for people to support and no obviously constructive action they can take for themselves. I agree, the absence of a plan is no longer an option.

We need a banner, a rallying point. We need a program for change that is sufficiently rooted in common sense that it is self-evident on receipt, and so simple in application that it is realistically achievable. One that is comprehensive in scope that imagines an entirely new and environmentally sustainable way of life, and includes precise models of participatory democracy.

What might this look like? It might look like a multi-layer democracy, with universal basic services, that leverages micro-economics to create a sustainable way of life for everyone. It just might be that there is a plan out there, or at least the start of one, that we can rally around to lead the changes we know are needed. The Standards of Life is an attempt to create and articulate just such a plan.

Remaining fractured observers of the wrongs will not create the rights. It is really is time to get serious; this is about going in a different direction and we need to start turning now. We need thousands of people to stand as independents at every election from this day forward, and we need them to use a common plan that allows voter support to accumulate around specific changes.

I think that without a common plan we are failing to serve our purpose.

Andrew Percy

Scotts Valley, CA

Mar 14 2009 - 6:21pm

Web Letter

After thirty years as a corporate technical drone, I retired, having learned one important thing. I am firmly convinced that anyone who wants to be in charge of anything should be immediately disqualified. The problem with both capitalism and socialism is the leadership. Those who rise to the top of any organization, with the rarest exception, are most concerned with retaining their power (no matter how puny or inconsequential) at the expense of their supposed tasks. This applies to both left and right. The most arrogant, intolerant, selfish, spiteful manager I ever worked for contributed $500 to the John Edwards presidential campaign and readily spouted leftist views completely at odds with his behavior. Need I remind anyone that Soviet apparatchiks smoothly became vulture capitalists after 1989? Until this problem is solved (I have no idea how), talk of new systems and orders is completely beside the point.

Richard Sulsky

West Trenton, NJ

Mar 14 2009 - 2:59pm

Web Letter

Thanks so much to Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr. for their cogent article on the fundamentals of building a democratic socialist movement. For me, one of the most absurd manifestations during the past several months of the US presidential election was listening to the characterization and definitions of socialist ideas filtered through the book of Rush Limbaugh, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber and Fox News. At the height of it all, even presidential (candidate) Obama had to respond by saying: "I'm being accused of being some kind of secret communist because I shared my toys when I was a child."

One idea I'd like to throw into this mix, if I may, is one that we already have some comfort level with, that is, the not-for-profit sector of our economy. The mantra of Wall Street is "the banks have to make a profit, the banks have to make a profit!" Why?

Why cannot the banks, the financial services industries and the insurance companies be run on the not-for-profit side of the ledger like public schools, libraries, museums and various other arts institutions that society deems to be "working for the public good and in the common interest of all"?

Yours in the ongoing debate for a better future,

Robin Breon

Weston, Ontario

Mar 13 2009 - 3:53pm

Web Letter

We are only semi-developed as human beings, with the temptation to exploit others and greed being latent potentials. The development of capitalism in the last three or four centuries proves this.

The Scandinavian countries all prove well that a good mix of socialism and capitalism works well and there is proof that they live well there but with the checks and balances that go with a socialistic society. Canada has always had and continues to have an internal social conflict about whether we should be more like the Scandinavians or the USA where laissez-faire capitalism still reigns.

I don't think it is a stretch for any informed person to conclude that a good mix of socialism and capitalism is the only path for North America to take, especially after events of the last two years or so.

Hopefully Latin America will develop its own blend of such a mixture. Rather than continue with the never-ending tension between those of the right and left, why don't we work together and develop this futuristic model in which there is more egalitarianism and equality in all senses from the political to economic to environmental!

Sam George

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Mar 12 2009 - 11:11am

Web Letter

No, Barbara & Bill, the principles of capitalism did not bring the country down. Abusers of the principles of capitalism brought the country down.

President Obama himself demonstrated his understanding of this when he spoke of the irresponsibility of those in control of the economies both in the private and public sectors.

Should you two writers ever be unlucky enough to get the system you foolishly wish for, then I hope for your sake you're part of its elite, for they are the only ones who will live well, and quite hypocritically, I might add.

charles h. thornton

Reisterstown , MD

Mar 11 2009 - 8:15am

Web Letter

This article is truly sad. When so many human needs are not met, the authors gut the core of the socialism they profess to speak for--production for use. It still takes people to engineer and make things; provide healthcare, educate children and teach adults, and deliver other services; and rebuild our living and working environments. In short, socially useful production. Most people are ready to do these things, to be workers for the common good, if society will guarantee them economic equality. A "blueprint" is a straw man. These writers give up on program.

Charles Andrews

Oakland, CA

Mar 9 2009 - 11:39pm

Web Letter

The writers appear to be looking for a socialistic political economic blueprint. Although Marx would roll in his grave (the historic dialectic Marx used suggested that capitalism would dig its own grave, but did necessarily come up with a blueprint) if someone were to step forward with a model Marxist blueprint, David Schweichart (After Capitalism, 2002) has come as close as anyone (especially the one called "parecon."). On the one hand, Schwichart elegantly describes an economic democracy that would be as innovative and efficient as the best that capitalism offers. On the other hand, economic democracy would provide an egalitarian and just model that could revolutionalize a system of scarcity and greed (the neoliberal model of capitalism) into one of plenty for all.

Gordon Alderink

Coopersville, MI

Mar 8 2009 - 8:02pm