The Swiss journalist Roger de Weck seeks alternatives to an economic system that is completely degenerate
By Uwe Jean Heuser
[This article published on: ZEIT ONLINE 11/20/2009 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.zeit.de/2009/48/L-P-de-Weck.]
Roger de Weck was once chief-editor of ZEIT and is today an author and sociologist heard all over Europe. The Swiss scholar has now written a book about capitalism.
The professed liberal really wants to save capitalism. Mere reforms in the system are not enough. The system itself is degenerate, de Weck explains. The great financial crisis is the trigger for seeking "another capitalism."
Today's economic system is ruled by faith in the market and by its priests, the "ultra-liberal thinkers" who are rarely named by name. The dominant religion is based on greed and readiness for conflict, the negative qualities of people. Deregulation becomes an end-in-itself; the state per se is of the devil. The so-called economic elites enrich themselves. When their dangerous game blows up, they call for the same state that should help them with its last funds. De Weck describes this religion of quarterly reports and ridiculous bonuses, stock speculation and freely moving capital. It is a market economy that does everything for capital and nothing for labor, in which states comply with the wealthy in the tax-cutting competition and saddle the little people with burdens. It is a capitalism that does not ask any more why it exists - except for self-service of powerful executives.
In the South and the North and in the lower- and the upper class, the "other" system must make possible a long and dignified life, the author explains with the words of the Harvard philosopher and economist Amartya Sen. In this system, the state would be taken seriously as a production factor - alongside capital and labor. Its quality in today's mixed system will be decided by prosperity.
De Weck set out on a search in the past. With legitimate criticism of state interventions, he shows how regulating went to the dogs. However regulation only gives a necessary order to the market in the sense of a stable prosperous economy. However deregulation first occurred - and then more massive intervention in the great financial crisis than ever before. This must be fundamentally changed in the future. Regulating to avoid intervening is imperative.
One of the merits of his book is that it brings cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt out of the 19th century into the present. For Burckhardt, crises are caused when certain forces in society have too much room and power that is misused "while other elements must endure excessive restrictions." Nowadays the magic of fast money has devalued the term labor. The system is so crisis-prone that it must be replaced by a more stable system.
Burckhardt distinguished between successful crises and "failed" crises without any positive consequences. Correction does not happen automatically; people must fight for it.
Roger de Weck's arguments painfully strike capitalism. The author urges another idea of property that is more committed to the common good than today. He wants a capitalism in harmony with the environment that is focused on the lasting quality of life, not on growth. To that end, he offers concepts, joint-worker ownership of capital and far-reaching rights to join the conversation to everyone in the economy - a kind of direct democracy of capitalism. The book goes through alternative concepts of money that would considerably slow down the credit- and speculation-machine of the banks. Above all the book urges the return of moral sensitivity in an economy that emphasizes the social and the ecological as well as the market.
How is this possible? On a large scale, this is possible with a general rethinking and on a small scale with new rules prohibiting quarterly reports, limiting chief executives to 50-times the smallest salary in the firm and prohibiting profit sharing for boards of directors. In concrete ways, de Weck thinks very radically. For him, all capital streams should be taxed or restricted. The dollar will be replaced as the key currency. The North should unilaterally open its markets to the South. A world climate bank could determine environmental prices on earth.
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