Epilogue to the boom

March 29, 2009 at 5:24 pm (capitalist crisis, literature, Max Dunbar, parasites, plutocrats)

Today’s recommended reading: Mark Thwaite’s review of William D. Cohan’s House of Cards: How Wall Street’s Gamblers Broke Capitalism.

Cohan’s book is subtitled How Wall Street’s Gamblers Broke Capitalism, but it is precisely that global, historically-situated, man-made, overturnable social system — capitalism — that he never defines or critiques. This is a thrilling narrative in parts but, like so many books about the credit crunch it is curiously incurious about the system that requires bankers to get up to their creative accounting in the first place. Certainly, the world financial meltdown came about because of perverse and ridiculous derivatives, collateralized debt, unrestrained mortgages and also because — as Cohan shows clearly — of the negligence, greed and criminality of individual bankers, but behind all of that is a social system that has always been blind to human need and based on the extraction and circulation of value. Wall Street’s gamblers haven’t broken that system, but they have broken the real economy where real people live and work. And when real people realise that Wall Street gamblers are merely an epiphenomenon of a system that is intrinsically inimical to their needs then it might be them and not a bunch of greedy, overpaid, blue-eyed white men who really break capitalism. For good.

I don’t think you can expect even the best finance writers to conclude: ‘Capitalism is the real enemy – to the barricades!’ Yet it is right to ask what the recession shows about the system that produced it. This is the end of doctrinaire freemarket capitalism, and the big task of the twenty-first century will be to find something better, something that actually works.


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