Jewish World Review July 31, 2002 / 22 Menachem-Av, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | There is plenty of reason to worry. People have lost their confidence, not just in the stock market, but in the fundamental way we do business.
These disillusioned people are not activists trying to overthrow the government. They're average Americans who see that the deck was stacked against them from the start. They never had a chance. Business executives knew where the cards were in the deck and the public didn't. If an average American did make money in the stock market, he was lucky to have picked what the people with inside information picked. This whole economic disaster - and it is a disaster - has forced Americans to think about some very basic things. Two great concepts, democracy and capitalism, got sort of tangled together in our minds. We've treated them as equals -- and they are not. Democracy is a great, high-minded idea. As a theory of government, democracy is unassailable. The prosperity and freedom of the lucky people who have lived, as we have, under a democratic system of government, offer proof enough of that.
Capitalism doesn't have the same credentials. Its advocates speak of capitalism as though it was a sort of economic religion - and it's anything but. Capitalism is irreligious. It depends for its effectivenesss on one of the least admirable of our traits: greed. The free enterprise theory is that if everyone takes as much as he can get for himself, things will work out best for everyone.
If it is true that everything comes out best for individual Americans when selfishness is G-d, the same theory ought to apply internationally. If the United States, as the most productive and powerful nation in the world, takes all of the best of everything for itself, the capitalist theory would have the rest of the world prospering because of this. We know it does not.
Anyone who challenges our free enterprise system is immediately thought of as some kind of communist or socialist, but raw capitalism doesn't work and we've known it since Congress passed the Sherman anti-trust law in the late 1800s. The question is, what do we do about the situation now? The stock market will probably recover but that won't solve the problem of an economic system based on greed.
You won't find any hare-brained suggestions for a solution here. There were a lot of good things about communism that we were never willing to admit but it got a bad start when it became so associated with the dictatorial regime of Joseph Stalin. Communism is a system that doesn't seem to work anyway, and Castro's poverty-ridden Cuba offers prime evidence of that. We don't really know whether communism is working in China or not.
Hitler did the same thing for socialism in Germany that Stalin did for communism. The two economic systems never had a chance.
When the next presidential election rolls around, it will be impossible for Republicans to get around the simple fact that things were never better than when Bill Clinton was President, and have not been worse in more than 60 years since George W. Bush became President. This may not be fair but it's true.
Here's a personal note that might make you think my anger is more personal than professional. I've been writing this column, first three times a week and now twice a week, since 1978. I'm a financial ignoramus, but you have to find a place to save some money and I put most of mine in the stock market. In the past six months, I've lost more of the money I'd saved than I've been paid to write this column for 24 years.
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