Whatís at stake with the bankruptcy of the Enron Corp., the energy trading
firm? For one view, we turn to George Will.
"Off and on over the years, a few capitalists have done more to
de-legitimize capitalism than America's impotent socialist critics ever did
or today's moribund left could hope to. It is the Republicans' special
responsibility to punish such capitalists," he wrote.
For Will, capitalism is a legitimate form of economic organization. The
accumulation of wealth through the buying and selling of labor-power is
Try and find an opposing view in the corporate news media. It successfully filters out such criticism, as Will ignored.
What he finds fault with is the financial shenanigans of Enronís corporate
crime, and not capitalism. In fact, such crime is more damaging than any
criticism of capitalism by its ďimpotentĒ opponents, socialists and other
Well, one thing is clear. Will knows how to create a straw person. Its
ease in construction follows its smooth destruction.
On a related note, Will has a simple cure for Enronís lawbreaking. Thatís
punishment at the hands of the Republican Party. Supposedly, this will
prevent big corruption from following big money in the future.
By contrast, capitalismís daily crimes arenít news for Will. And here lies
the untold story.
For example, capitalism has the productive capacity to satisfy unmet human
needs. Yet it canít. Why?
Author and professor Ellen Meiksins Wood has part of the answer: ďIn a
system where all production is for profit, the allocation of resources and
labor will, of course, be determined not by their contribution to the
well-being of as many people as possible but by their contribution to
profitability. The societyís productive capacities are much more likely to
be devoted to producing, say, new model cars every year for those who can
afford them, or computers designed to be obsolete as soon as they hit the
market, than to providing decent housing for all.Ē
For Wood, this mode of production and distribution constitutes a failure.
Presumably, Will would call such a system a success.
If under capitalism the misuse of peopleís work and natural resources isnít
criminal, perhaps we need a new definition of the term. After all, daily
work is the lot of the worldís vast majority of people.
Enron is more than a business model that failed. The corporation and its
accounting firm Arthur Andersen, which lied about Enronís profits and
debts, were doomed by the drive for profits by any means necessary. Choice
wasnít part of the equation, but secrecy was.
Corporations, with all the rights of people and none of the
responsibilities, must increase shareholder profits and market share or be
taken over by rivals. This holds whether itís profits and markets from war
or waste. Enron is representative of the crisis of capitalism.
For Enronís owners, todayís growing income gap within and between nations
was a success. But donít hold your breath for such a view from the
corporate news media. Instead, expect hidden assumptions such as Willís
that despite corporate failures capitalism is the best of all possible
As he editorialized about the failures of Enron and ďtoday's moribund left,Ē
public protests in Argentina against the nationís IMF-assisted bankruptcy
moved forward. On U.S. soil after the September 11 attacks, popular dissent
against capitalismís ruling institutions such as the IMF and World Bank has
Meanwhile corporate bankruptcies are throwing more Americans out of work.
Kmart, which just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, will likely
fire many of its quarter-million employees. They and society will suffer.
All things being equal, Kmartís corporate restructuring wonít be the last.
U.S. corporations doubled their debt during the 1990s. Moreover, America is
now leading the global economic slowdown.
Under capitalism, investment spending creates employment. Investors will be
less likely to part with their capital if future profits are in doubt. Weak
profits lead to frail job growth, which, in turn, erodes peopleís buying
At any rate, one thing is probable. The American publicís sentiment about
alternatives to business as usual is up for grabs. Willís post-mortem on
capitalismís critics is premature.
Seth Sandronsky is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramentos progressive newspaper email@example.com