This week, Blumner again wears her progressive economic notions on her sleeve, though I suspect the type of veiled rhetoric that helps keep progressive ideas from being identified as explicitly communistic or socialistic.
Blumner wants granite countertops, and it appears that her wishes may be blamed on greedy capitalists who have contaminated her thinking. She could remain content with Formica if not for the hypnotic spells of corporate elites. She doesn't have to have granite "quarried out of the earth in a damaging way." Get real, Robyn. You're telling me you can't detect any environmental harm from the manufacture of Formica?
As is often the case, Blumner's column is an informal book review where the book was authored by one of her progressive heroes. The hero in this case is Benjamin Barber, a "distinguished fellow" at the ("non-partisan") Demos think-tank.
So, what's Barber's position on capitalism?
Yet ultimately, Barber argues that all of these strategies will fail because they do not address the market systems need to create excessive consumerism and addictive materialism in order to survive. The only solution, Barber argues, is "a transformation of capitalism back into a needs-satisfying economic machine, and a transformation of democracy back into the sovereign guarantor of all domains private, the market domain included." The only way to do this, and also save capitalism from itself, is to democratize globalization.If the market systems "need to create excessive consumerism and addictive materialism in order to survive" then doesn't that imply that Barber sees the market system as ultimately untenable (unsustainable)? Saving capitalism from itself apparently requires the democratization of globalization. What's that supposed to mean?
Barber addressed the question in a 2007 interview:
But wait a minute. Aren't we champions of the global free market?
Well yes, because we're the original capitalists who think the invisible hand works better than the heavy hand of government. But no, because our ideology aside, we've always looked to a partnership between government and the market. Think the New Deal, the Great Society.
The real American formula is a free market overseen by a free people through free democratic institutions. And that's where the global marketplace goes wrong. The economy is globalized, but democratic oversight remains national.
So who can regulate the flow of workers across borders the marketplace doesn't even recognize? Assure that trade negotiations don't hurt Americans? That pet food doesn't kill pets? That toys don't kill children?
Ain't nobody out there who can. So we have to figure out how to democratize globalization.
Though it's tempting to go off on how the "New Deal" (1930s) and the "Great Society" (1960s) show how the United States "always" looked to a partnership between government and private enterprise, let's get right on to the meat of the issue. Barber wants global democratic oversight.
Think ... of some sort of minimalist, global democratic body with the real right to regulate trade in capital, goods and labor.Yes, probably too utopian. It is a contradiction in terms. A "minimalist" organization with the power to govern global trade? If it has the power to govern global trade then it has the power to enforce its decisions.
Too utopian? Well, it's not like the states regulate much today as it is — it's more or less a global free-for-all, where brute force competes with anarchy. In comparison, utopia, transnational regulation may end up the far better and more sensible alternative.
I do have some sympathy for Barber's position. Corporations operating purely on the basis of a profit motive have the potential to do great harm to society in the long run. I don't think that capitalism is solely to blame for the problem. The problem stems from globalization in conjuction with open-ended pluralism. Pluralism denies capitalism a broad ideological foundation that would temper its excesses. Companies in search of profit can shop among the nations for the state that best serves their immediate purposes. Corporations could turn into super-states in that type of system.
Frankly, I don't trust talk like Barber's when it comes from progressives. Truly democratic economic oversight gives most of the economic power over to the Chinese as things currently stand (if we go by the numbers). I'm inclined to view this type of rhetoric as a pretty way of advocating government control of the economy (communist style). Though of course the new bosses would never abuse their power the way their predecessors did.
The United States was an experiment in federalism as well as an experiment in representative democracy. To the degree that minimalism is ensured in a global trade framework it leaves room for the type of freedom that the United States has traditionally represented.
The example from Blumner's column (related through a quotation of Barber) illustrates the problem. He bemoans the lack of freedom in Los Angeles to choose an efficient form of public transportation. Los Angeles chose that route. Other municipalities chose other paths. How does Los Angeles choose public transportation other than having the will of the minority enforced?
"Democratic" in these types of situations seems to be a euphemism for government elites enforcing their vision of what is best for the majority.