Why does capitalism come in different shapes?

It almost goes without even mentioning it that, if, by the misfortune of life, one would be borne in a country situated along the hazy lines of Central and Eastern Europe, there is not much to expect from. The long-established prejudgment runs in such a way as to make the West, namely Western Europe and USA, a flourishing Garden of Heaven where milk and honey, i.e. cash or money, stream down from God Almighty, that is, to put in a nutshell, the Golden Entrepreneur. Since the former condition has been cast under the label of being no more than a hallow trite, it would prove damaging to one’s self-respect to consider the latter as different in any respect. Therefore, for me, a poor and wretched Easterner, capitalism came as a sort of divine bless in 1990. Apparently, most of the Polish, Hungarians, Romanians, etc. thought the same way. Conversely, not being on the good side of the “short twentieth century”, which is another way of saying “the liberal-capitalist complex”, meant always to live in the background of what’s really important going out in the world. So, as the story goes, my parents, and my grandparents as well, have lived under the state-controlled economy, mentally shackled by an obsolete and inhuman ideology, while I, the blooming offspring of the post-Cold War World, could decide my own fate and build capitalism from scratch at home. In fact, it wasn’t like that back then, in the grim Communist Cave, as much as what is happening nowadays in my country, which I won’t reveal (for the sake of not blushing), is far from what most Eastern Europeans expected and desired to achieve under the rule of liberal democracy and free-market enterprise.

I cannot but recollect some urban myths spreading around like wildfire back “then”: that once the regime collapsed we would go on and become as rich as “them”, the Westerners. Richness came in disguise, under the name of “welfare society”, “the affluent society”, and many other nicknames which have been overshadowed by the small and many “economic crisis” that followed the blissful three or four decades, in terms of economic growth, after the Second World War. What many dreamt with eyes wide shut was a mixture of supermarkets overloaded with manufactured goods, the overwhelming benefits of succumbing mentally on your coach in front of TV and the tremendous accomplishments of freely gratifying one’s relentless appetites (whatever they mean or irrespective of what form they might usually take). It was all seen as the world of the positive “over” rather than the negative “under” (the same could be said about the relation between “old” and “new”).

Nonetheless, here we are, standing firmly, but meekly, after twenty years of hard-fought capitalism and liberalism (I’m not sure they are interdependent, but so the saying goes…). Some argue that the general standard of living has dropped abruptly after the fall of Communism, but there are also others who contend that it has steadily increased since then, although, as far as most former communist states are concerned, it hasn’t even reached the miserable level of 1989. However, liberalism has worked out precisely as it should have: a few „individualist”, mainly coming from the former party apparatus or state management, have sky-rocketed financially into squeezing the industrial Communist rustbelts and, in the process, turning themselves into (corrupt) successful businessmen, while the rest, bankrupted by the switch to the “global capitalist market”, have been desperately and unsuccessfully confided into a mishmash of liberal wishful thinking: Western investors will overflow the country (which it didn’t take place at the predicted extent), corruption will drain, poverty will perish, the economy will flourish (hardly the case: it plummeted making unemployment rates never again to stagger), everybody will join arms and build the holy family in the all-embracing “civil society” (it was rather a social disintegration, a fragmented society of selfishness under the soft control of the weakest state ever encountered, dominated by ruthless unimaginative local entrepreneurs). The city life dwarfed under the pressure of people moving to the countryside or, which was more likely, emigrating, at least in the last decade, to the orange and strawberry fields of unskilled labor in the so-much-developed Italy and Spain. The numbers of university top-graduates integrated into the local market dwindled in comparison to the more promising option of emigrating to heavenly yearly wages of Canada, US, France, Germany, etc. So much for the American dream in Eastern Europe!

Nevertheless, it leaps to the eye that the new class of ideologues and capitalist pundits kept on reciting the old-lines of “free market” economics, with a Mises-Kirk twist (for which competition reduced not to the predominance of the rule of law, but to the democratically-ascribed concept of the „survival of the fittest”), against the possible menaces of an over-grown state (long a mere feeble shack), while the prospects for which communism fell were still far off at the horizon. Where was the Promised Land of which the Cold War victors, hard-boiled libertarians and conservatives alike, spoke in such a lofty manner? Even though the “establishment” was continuing to hold tight to the (possible) beneficial outputs of a completely unrestricted market, its most outspoken intellectuals (somehow, “defending” the market from an imagined unidentified invisible “enemy”) dragged on the state for public functions and bureaucratic standings, while the politicians in control continued to become richer and richer as the economy was going further down the line.

Then the world economic crisis arrived, hidden under the mild cloak of recession, making any hope for a better future a reckless chimera. Ever since then, all the domestic issues fall on the shoulder of the “global environment”, as if the previous progresses and effectual reforms (presuming there were any) had been conditioned by submitting to the liberal capitalist agenda.

Are we Marxist then? Are we at least genuine social-democrats? No, we are just some millions of citizens, ruining our lives in one eastern corner of the European Union, blaming somebody out there for the fact that as some grow richer, perhaps no more 10%, others, the rest of the whole, contemplate the mixed wreckage of state impotence and social equality provided for basic needs (which make basic rights feasible and not meaningless rhetoric). Henceforth, musing at the edge of the abyss may turn out to be no more than a zero-sum game. The answer lags: in the end, who would remain to look deep into the precipice?

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Acest articol a fost publicat în Politice. Pune un semn de carte cu legătura permanentă.

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