Capitalism all the time buries its undertakers

In 2017, the Museum of Capitalism opened its doors in Oakland, California. According to its website, it is a place where “this generation and future generations are educated about the history, philosophy and legacy of capitalism … and where material evidence, art and artifacts of capitalism are preserved”. His works are the result of collaborations between writers, artists, economists, historians and “non-specialists from all walks of life, including those with direct experience of capitalism”.

This may seem like an absurd undertaking, but the Museum of Capitalism is dead serious and part of the return of predictions about the future of capitalism – on the side, on screen, and on the street – in the decade since the financial crisis. According to the Marxist literary theorist Terry Eagleton, this is a telling trend. “You can say that a capitalist system is in trouble when people talk about capitalism,” he wrote in “Why Marx Was Right”. “It indicates that the system is no longer as natural as the air we breathe and can instead be viewed as the more historically more recent phenomenon that it is. … When a bout of dengue brings you new awareness of your body, a new form of social life may be perceived for what it is when it starts to break down. “

The problem with Eagleton’s theory, however, is that people have been talking about capitalism – and have foretold its demise – since the word was coined in the 19th century. And yet we are here, working more than 150 years later under what is known as capitalist oppression. As Francesco Boldizzoni in “Predicting the End of Capitalism: Intellectual Mishaps” since Karl Marx explains in detail, the reports of the fall of capitalism have been greatly exaggerated again and again.

Boldizzoni is Professor of Political Science at the University of Helsinki and a self-described social democrat. He is frustrated with the tendency of many on his left (and some on his right) to speculate on the collapse of the existing political and economic order rather than focus on the incremental gains in the here and now. “It is better to leave the future to the astrologers,” he writes in the introduction before embarking on a whistle-stop tour of the title mishaps.

According to Boldizzoni, these mishaps fall into four categories: theories of implosion, exhaustion, convergence, and cultural involution.

Predicting the end of capitalism is a useful tour d’horizon for those interested in how generations of thinkers have thought about capitalism.

Implosion theories are the most conventional of Marxists. Marx himself was the first to argue that the downfall of the system lies in its own contradictions: a falling rate of profit would mean that the capitalists would have to work the proletariat ever harder, the accumulation of capital would bring with it the “accumulation of misery” . Ultimately, the class-conscious proletariat would rebel against this exploitation and trigger a moment when “the bang of private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated. “When Marx’s prediction of class consciousness and rebellion failed to materialize, Marxism fragmented: some tried to speed up the process itself, others optimized the theory and tinkered with the intellectual machine their hero had constructed, without any closer to successfully predicting the future of capitalism get.

Proponents of more benevolent exhaustion theories assume that capitalism “will die of natural causes”. John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1929 predicting another century of capitalism. He speculated that our material needs would be met by around 2030, thereby eliminating the need for capital accumulation. When the “economic problem” is solved, we can enjoy ourselves in a greed-free society. For Keynes, Boldizzoni jokes, this meant “essentially spending afternoons with Virginia Woolf and attending ballet performances.” Ten years from now, Keynes’ predicted leisure life seems a long way off.

Convergence theories were fashionable in the 1930s when “the idea that fascism, the New Deal, and Soviet dirigism were being driven by an obscure force of progress to become more and more alike – swirled in the minds of many, regardless of theirs political orientation. ” Later, when the world was divided between western capitalism and eastern central planning, this seemed “a dream”, but the idea that socialism and capitalism were increasingly alike did not die with the onset of the Cold War. James Burnham, whose flight from Trotskyism to conservatism did not lead him to predict the future of capitalism, argued that both capitalism and socialism would give way to a management society in which the important social divide between capitalists and the proletariat would not exist . but between managers and the others. In the center of the postwar left, John Kenneth Galbraith made a similar argument, foreseeing an inevitable convergence made possible by technological change that would make central planning more efficient and a peaceful end to hostilities between two increasingly similar economic blocs.

According to the camp of cultural involution, capitalism’s weakness does not lie in its internal economic tensions, as Marx argued, but in its political and cultural contradictions. As with convergence theories, this school of thought has attracted thinkers from across the political spectrum. On the left are Frankfurt school members like Herbert Marcuse, whose one-dimensional man argued that capitalism creates “false needs” and this consumerism made a kind of totalitarianism possible. On the right, Joseph Schumpeter argued that the successes of capitalism enabled the creation of a large and culturally powerful, but underpaid and disgruntled intellectual class. They would ally themselves with a similarly angry class of bureaucrats to spread ideas and issue guidelines that would become “a serious obstacle” to the smooth running of the “capitalist engine”.

Predicting the end of capitalism is a useful tour d’horizon for those interested in how generations of thinkers have thought about capitalism. However, there is frustratingly little from Boldizzoni about what he and these thinkers actually mean when they say “capitalism”. On around 250 pages he dares his own three-part definition: private ownership of the means of production “accompanied by the exclusion of a part of society – usually a majority from exercising it”, the freedom of those who have “deprived of their property” Sale of their labor “and production” geared towards exchange and profit rather than “satisfaction of needs”. It is a limited and insightful partial view of the economic status quo.

Boldizzoni’s argument would be more exciting if he considered the possibility that the future of capitalism in the coming decades will be decided by a series of crucial political decisions rather than being burned in.

Unfortunately, it is not the only time that Boldizzoni’s hostility towards capitalism stands in the way of a clear understanding of the system that he and his intellectual predecessors describe. Boldizzoni takes the malice of capitalism as read and calls it a “diabolical machine” without ever explaining why. Boldizzoni dismisses Hernando de Soto, Paul Collier and Deidre McCloskey – a brilliant trio who disagree on many points – as “apologists for capitalism” for daring to suggest that this makes the world a better place or that capitalist oppression might not be the only cause of the world’s problems. If Boldizzoni admits that capitalism “has shown that it can improve [middle class] Standard of living ”, it is only to explain its“ seductive power ”.

Boldizzoni sees in predicting the downfall of capitalism “more often a diversion from the troubles of the present than an activity useful in improving the human condition”. The question of whether and when capitalism will collapse also obscures less black and white and arguably more interesting questions about how our political and economic system has changed in the last 150 years: the democratization of property, the expansion of the welfare state, the Rise of a managerial class (as predicted by Burnham) and a burgeoning and hostile intellectual class (as predicted by Schumpeter). Nor does Boldizzoni spend enough time pondering the rise of China’s adaptation to capitalism into a system of genocidal authoritarianism. Where does this hellish kind of convergence fit into the history of capitalism?

Most mysteriously, Boldizzoni’s indulgence towards the very kind of prophecy he warns against. “The historicity of capitalism is proof of its mortality,” he writes. “Like all products of history, capitalism will one day end, or rather slowly transform itself into a new system, and this will happen when the conditions that determined its origin two centuries ago have completely changed,” but “none of us will live long enough. ” to see this novel system. “It is one thing to argue that capitalism’s continued survival is not inevitable. It’s quite a different thing to argue that it’s all about when it all breaks down.

Why does Boldizzoni fall into his own trap? Maybe because he can’t bring himself to think about a never-ending capitalism. This would mean recognizing the system’s strengths not only as a historically specific set of economic agreements that lasted longer than many predicted, but also as a desirable engine of prosperity. In general, uncertainty about the fate of capitalism undermines the historical determinism that influences most of the prediction of the end of capitalism. Boldizzoni’s argument would be more exciting if he considered the possibility that the future of capitalism in the coming decades will be decided by a series of crucial political decisions rather than being burned in. Such an open future leaves less room for theories, but it comes closer to chaotic truth than any of its forecasters.

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