I’ve been on IUPUI’s faculty for nearly 15 years, and for the very first time, faculty offices are scheduled for repainting and (gasp!) new furniture. Since the desk I’ve used since I arrived has seen nearly as many birthdays as I have, I welcome the change.
The downside is that we all have to box up our books, files, pictures and the like so the movers can do their thing, and it is amazing–and daunting–to realize just how much…stuff…(aka crap) one can accumulate in 15 years. It’s particularly sobering to realize how seldom that crap gets consulted.
I did come across some interesting reading as I was weeding out my files of “background information.” Case in point, an essay by Benjamin Barber titled “A Failure of Democracy, Not Capitalism,” remarking on the passage of an anti-corporate-corruption measure in 2002. As Barber pointed out,
“..business malfeasance is the consequence neither of systemic capitalist contradictions nor private sin, which are endemic to capitalism and, indeed, to humanity. It arises from a failure of the instruments of democracy, which have been weakened by three decades of market fundamentalism, privatization ideology and resentment of government.”
Fundamentalism is problematic in all areas of national life, not just the economic sphere. As attractive as either-or formulations and beliefs may be–and let’s face it, possession of THE truth, THE answer, is undeniably seductive–such hard and fast, one-size-fits-all approaches just don’t work in the real world. Unfortunately for market fundamentalists, capitalism requires regulation to ensure an even playing field; unfortunately for proponents of central government control, those regulations need to be carefully calibrated–too much is as bad as too little.
There are areas of our common life that require “socialism”–the communal provision of services like police and fire protection, sanitary sewers and roads, to give a few examples. There are other areas where government needs to tread lightly–retail sales, manufacturing, and other entreprenuerial activities requiring relatively minor rules protecting public health and safety. The level of government activity should depend upon the nature of the activity rather than rigid ideology.
The regulatory failures of the past decades have–predictably–spawned a movement intent upon “replacing capitalism.” Americans tend to lurch from one fundamentalism to another, and we don’t seem to recognize that such pendulum swings are unhelpful. Barber’s insight remains an important one; we don’t need to give up capitalism, which has served us well overall. We just need social and legal structures that channel its energies and control its corrupting tendencies.
The Greeks had it right when they advocated for the golden mean.