Archive for January, 2009
Once you put down the flags and shut off all the television ads with their Heartland, apple-pie America imagery, the truth of the car business is that it transcends national boundaries. A car or truck sold by a “Detroit” auto maker such as, or Chrysler could be less American — as defined by the government’s standards for “domestic content” — than a car sold by , or — all of which have substantial assembly and components operations in the U.S.
as of 2006 about 25% of the parts used in vehicles assembled in the U.S. came from overseas, and another 25% were manufactured here by foreign-owned parts makers. The Detroit companies wave the Stars and Stripes when they advertise their wares or look for loans in Washington, but when they talk to investors or the business press, they stress their aggressive efforts to promote “global sourcing,” a code for, “Buy More Parts from China and Mexico.”
You can’t escape the questions these days: “Is capitalism dead?” Twisted around: “Can we save capitalism?”
Benjamin Barber has a different question: “What kind of capitalism?”
The issue is not the death of capitalism but what kind of capitalism–standing in which relationship to culture, to democracy and to life?
Barber’s worry is that, given President Obama’s centrist “Rubinite” economic team, reforms won’t do much to affect the issues at the core of the economic mess.
But it is hard to discern any movement toward a wholesale rethinking of the dominant role of the market in our society. No one is questioning the impulse to rehabilitate the consumer market as the driver of American commerce. Or to keep commerce as the foundation of American public and private life, even at the cost of rendering other cherished American values–like pluralism, the life of the spirit and the pursuit of (nonmaterial) happiness–subordinate to it.
The fix: a revolution in spirit.
The crisis in global capitalism demands a revolution in spirit–fundamental change in attitudes and behavior. Reform cannot merely rush parents and kids back into the mall; it must encourage them to shop less, to save rather than spend. If there’s to be a federal lottery, the Obama administration should use it as an incentive for saving, a free ticket, say, for every ten bucks banked. Penalize carbon use by taxing gas so that it’s $4 a gallon regardless of market price, curbing gas guzzlers and promoting efficient public transportation. And how about policies that give producers incentives to target real needs, even where the needy are short of cash, rather than to manufacture faux needs for the wealthy just because they’ve got the cash?
Easier said than done, in my opinion.
Our reading this week was “Ethics in Economics” by Charles Wilber from the PAE Review.
1) How would our educations/textbooks change with the acknowledgment of value-permeation and the always “theory-laden” character of any analysis?
2) How does the policy conversation change?
3) What are the implications of seeing mainstream economic theory (or any theory, for that matter) working within a bounded paradigm?