Karl Marx died in 1883 but the Left keeps trying to resurrect him. The latest attempt is William Greider’s new book, The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy. To be fair, Greider does not explicitly state that he is a socialist. He is too coy for that. But his criticisms of capitalism and his prescriptions for reform are indubitably socialist in nature. In language that would make Karl proud, Greider hammers away at capitalism’s alleged crimes and offers hope for the birth of a new, radiant tomorrow. Just as Marx did in 1848 when he published the Communist Manifesto, Greider puts his ears to the ground and, upon rising, insists that he hears the voices of a new generation. They are a “scattered and eclectic lot, mostly operating beneath the media’s attention and not yet taken seriously by the citadels of business and financial power.” Though not strong yet, one ignores them at their own peril because capitalism’s inevitable contradictions will only make them more powerful. Their goals are simple: revolutionize our economy and our society to eliminate exploitation, greed, and inequality. To arms comrades!
Greider has spent a career railing against America’s political and economic system. He is currently ensconced as the national affairs correspondent for that venerable fanzine of revolutionary illusions, The Nation magazine. He has written for Rolling Stone and The Washington Post, and assisted in producing numerous PBS documentaries. Greider has also authored several popular books, including: One World, Ready or Not, an anti-globalization screed; Who Will Tell the People, a radical examination of American politics; and Secrets of the Temple, a book which Greider describes as “the definitive popular study of America’s central bank….” Finally, Greider runs his own website (www.williamgreider.com). On it, one can read his most recent articles, including an endorsement of Howard Dean (a man Greider calls “a tough and savvy Politician of the old school” who “speaks plainly to the error of U.S. imperialism”), and a glowing review of the Ron Suskind-Paul O’Neill tell-all book, The Price of Loyalty.
Apparently, Greider is attracted to mentally unstable individuals. He is also intent on revolution, and his Soul of Capitalism is an angry polemic. In it, he makes several indictments against capitalism. First and foremost, he argues that it has no soul. Capitalism does not care about people. It does not care if they are homeless, without food, poor, or jobless. It does not care for tradition, culture, or family. Capitalism is nihilistic. In fact, it “encourages human pathologies.” It rewards greed and criminal behavior, and it creates enormous inequalities. The rich grow richer and the poor must fend for themselves. Equally alarming, Greider contends, capitalism pillages the environment. It pollutes our waters, our air, and our food. It kills the earth’s animals and uproots its forests. Capitalism, Greider writes, “cannot continue to function…without eventually threatening a catastrophic exhaustion of life-supporting Mother Earth.” Further, capitalism destroys our representative democracy. It has corrupted our political system by guaranteeing that Washington, D.C., is ruled by elite special interests – imperialistic military leaders, arrogant politicians, and cigar-chomping business leaders – who ride herd over the wishes of common folk. Finally, capitalism produces tyrannical workplaces where people “have little or no capacity to appeal or resist.” Pushed around at work, Americans are then likely to quit politics. “Where,” asks Greider, “did citizens learn the resignation and cynicism that leads them to withdraw as active citizens? They learned it at the office; they learned it on the shop floor.”
Greider’s portrait of capitalism is grim. In his hands, capitalism is some monstrous and almost omnipotent force of evil, uprooting truth, and crippling democracy. It is the devil’s great tsunami. What, then, are we to do? To start, Greider contends that we should take some cues from the small, but growing movement of people who are organizing against capitalism; unions that are beginning to wake up from the grumpy and complacent days of George Meany and Lane Kirkland; college students challenging free trade; small-town activists and civic leaders fighting to preserve our environment; and the growing number of business managers who have not only embraced the need for change but are also demonstrating that change is possible.
To speed the revolution, Grieder offers his own radical reforms. To clean up the environment, he urges the abolition of the SUV and a return to the ethics of 17th century North American Indians - the allegedly unspoiled people who took from the earth only what they needed and had none of the modern hang-ups about private property. Greider also advocates a change in educational curriculum because he believes our kids are not getting enough Marxist inspired training. His most fundamental solution is to revolutionize the economy by placing workers in control of the means of production. Individually and collectively, Greider writes, workers must “own the place where they work.” At each factory and corporation, “they accept responsibility, collectively, for the well-being of the firm. They [would] authorize the managers who direct things” and all would “participate in the rule making and other important policy decisions.” Over time, Geider wants worker-run corporations to become “learning collectivities” that would be in “harmony with nature,” support “a culture that encourages altruism,” and guarantee the “unbounded horizons for every individual within it.” So much for making a quick buck!
What’s wrong with this picture? For starters, Greider’s critique of capitalism is so comprehensive that it becomes meaningless. Why do we have poor people? Capitalism. Why do people commit crimes? Capitalism. Why are people cynical? Capitalism. Why do some corporate managers steal? Capitalism. Why are some rivers polluted? Capitalism. One could go on and on. What is lost in Greider’s reductionist theory is both human agency and a recognition that humans are imperfect creatures, tempted by sin and prone to common frailties. Thus, no where in Greider’s book does he attempt to discuss the relationship of single parenthood, personal responsibility, drug and alcohol use, and poor public schools (and a lack of school choice), to poverty. Nor, for that matter, does he acknowledge that inequality is, to a significant extent, the natural outgrowth of the different skills and education that individuals possess, as well as the personal choices that all humans make throughout their lives. Instead, Greider furnishes his readers with the old leftist cant that inequality is inherently bad and that capitalism is the sole conspirator in the creation of poverty.
What is also lost in Greider’s theory is the recognition that utopia is impossible and that the attempt to create it was the most fundamental seed of the long nightmare of communist totalitarianism. True, Greider states that he is not a utopian, but his ideas contradict him. How else is one to interpret his claim that corporations must promote “unbounded horizons” for all its workers? At the very least, Greider could have been more objective. At the very least, he should have attempted to analyze the ideas of those who present very different theories. But he has not done this. In a 340 page book, Greider devotes not one word to Friedrich Hayek, who - in his 1944 The Road to Serfdom - pointed out the disastrous economic consequences that would result from socialism. He spares not one word for Thomas Sowell, and is content to disparage Milton Friedman’s theories in one small paragraph.
Greider wants to change what works. He wants to ruin capitalism and resurrect socialism. Arguing against logic, he insists that capitalism’s victory over communism permits Americans to raise questions about capitalism. We now have, he contends, “the first opportunity in half a century to ask bigger questions about capitalism itself….” It should be the reverse. At this point in our history, the American Left should be asking why communism failed, how the Left itself contributed to communism’s cursed existence, and the consequences – in terms of lost production, decline in living standards, environmental degradation, and the long and monstrous pile of human bodies – of Marx’s experiments. The Left should also reevaluate its historic opposition to individualism and its silly and romantic notions of working class solidarity. The overwhelming majority of American workers, despite Greider’s assertions to the contrary, have always embraced capitalism and shunned both unions and radical politics. They realize what Greider refuses to admit – that capitalism has brought tremendous advances in living standards, revolutionary scientific and medical discoveries, and increasing levels of home ownership. But Greider will have none of this. He wants to take away the freedom that Americans exercise everyday in regard to what products they purchase, or what car or truck they wish to drive. In place of the free market, he wants to chain the economy to his own notions of right and wrong. Certainly, capitalism is not a perfect economic system. It is, however, the best possible system for human beings as they actually are, and not as Greider hopes they will be. It operates on individualism, not group-think, and rewards risk and incentive. Herein lies Greider’s and the Left’s basic problem. As David Horowitz recently pointed out to Frontpage readers, “The left’s inability to understand the most basic economic fact - that people need an incentive to produce - has caused the unnecessary deaths of tens of millions of people - mostly poor - in the last 75 years. But thanks to a politically corrupted media and educational system, their pig-headed pursuit of socialist fantasies goes on.” Indeed it does.