Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Capitalism's Century Five

What will happen when we do the wrap on capitalism's Century Five in 2050?  Could it be, could it possibly be the end of big government?

Century One, from 1550 to 1650, was the century when the Dutch invented Dutch Finance.  They created a funded national debt and made the government's rock-solid bonds the foundation of the credit system.  The Dutch invented all this in their struggle for political and religious independence from the empire of Spain.

Century Two, from 1650 to 1750, was the century when the Dutch exported their financial system to Britain.  Historians disagree on whether the Brits invited William of Orange to be king, or whether his 500-ship invasion fleet flat out invaded the sceptred isle.  But the result was the Bank of England and a funded national debt.  The bad news is that the Brits used their new-found wealth to conquer India and North America, and scaled up the profitable notion of plantation slavery to make fortunes in the millions--and millions of slaves--in the sugar islands of the West Indies.

Century Three, from 1750 to 1850, was the century when capitalism invented cheap cotton textiles for the poor--with techniques stolen from the Bengalis--and railroad transportation for everyone.  It was a revolution, because for the first time the poor could get clean, and could travel around on something other than their feet.  The year 1800 is a watershed.  In industrializing Britain, it began an era of rising expectations.  The poor expected their children, maybe for the first time in history, to be better off than they were.  The bad news is that the French tried to wreck it all with their violent Jacobinism, and the folks migrating off the land to the industrial cities had a pretty rough half-century transitioning from the life on the land to the life in the city.

Century Four, from 1850 to 1950, was the century that started with ocean steamships that let the poor migrate across the world, from the Pale of Settlement to the Lower East Side, from Ireland's potato famine to Boston and New York, from the Mezzogiorno to Little Italys all over the northern United States.  Then the capitalists cut oil prices by 90 percent, steel prices by 66 percent, and motorized and electrified Everyman.  The bad news was that the "shock of the new" inspired a ton of people to believe that capitalism was the anti-Christ.  Two huge global wars were fought to neutralize reactionary movements against the new order of freedom and cooperation: one a nostalgic attempt to return to the communist egalitarianism of hunter-gatherers; the other a nostalgic attempt to return to the blood and soil of kinship and clan identity.

Century Five, from 1950 to 2050 is already half over.  We already know part of what it means.  Capitalism has brought about a communications revolution.  Now you can travel half way around the world in a day with jet travel, and you can communicate and work with anyone and anything with the Internet and computer technology.  We cannot know what the second half century will bring.  Some hope for an utter demolition of the big-government welfare state, a nostalgia for the bureaucratic centralism of the absolute monarchs, to match the demolition of communism and fascism in Century Four.  The bad news is that another movement of nostalgic rejection has arisen to challenge capitalism, the Islamic longing for the caliphate of 700-1500.

Nobody knows how Century Five will turn out.  But if we are going to roll back the injustice of the welfare state we would have to start in 2012 with the decisive rejection of the politics of the social-democratic educated class and its poster boy, the President of the United States, Barack Obama.

1 comment:

  1. "The bad news is that another movement of nostalgic rejection has arisen to challenge capitalism, the Islamic longing for the caliphate of 700-1500."

    What century do the eco-zealots long for us to return to?
    2000 B.C.?