The front page of Friday's Washington Post said it succinctly under a headline labeled "The End of American Capitalism?" and it led with the declaration that "the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is claiming another casualty: American-style capitalism."
If so, then your great-great-grandfather was correct in bringing his socialist beliefs with him from Europe when he immigrated in the 1920s and '30s. The article suggests that national socialism is at the heart of the government's remedy for the financial catastrophe stalking the United States and infecting the rest of the world along with it. And, if true, then it was the perversion of capitalism that is bringing it to pass. No small part is the ideological belief that everyone in America should own a house, whether he has a job, an income, or can read the smaller print in the adjustable-rate mortgage he has been encouraged to sign. That belief is carried forward, by the way, in the "cures" for the malaise now part of government policy. No foreclosures, no evictions; the government will guarantee the banks' rewriting of these little subprime promises. Taxpayer money will take care of it.
That the mortgages were chopped into small pieces and fed among financial institutions, backed finally by so-called "swaps" that made rich men even richer, is dismissed in the zeal to make everything right again. Our only shortage, then , may be government printing presses. American capitalism was doomed not through any intrinsic flaw, but rather by the flaw of greed infecting those who practiced it.
The wounding of American Capitalism is accompanied by another malaise -- the demise of individual capacity for work, for getting things done. This is evident in the failure to accomplish simple feats in the business place such as answering the telephone. Nearly all offices now have a "menu system," that offers a variety of answers to all but the question the caller had in mind. Somewhere at the end of the electronic maize may, or may not be, a means of securing a human being to which the query might be posed. But there is no guarantee that this "real person" has any of the answers, or is inclined to be an efficient helper.
I was reminded of this in trying to order the expensive NBA package for the coming season from my satellite provider. An afternoon of calling revealed several "real people" who had no idea of the subject, to whom a basketball was a foreign object, although the provider has supplied the expensive service in the years past. Ah, but I was forewarned and forearmed.
At the turn of this century, having seen the deterioration of service, phoned, ordered, delivered, you name it, I had some T-shirts printed with the simple phrase across the front: "It Can't Be Done."
One day, waiting for a prescription to be filled, a woman challenged the declaration on my shirt and we chatted a moment. I didn't really need to defend the motto after a clerk finally flagged the woman down to inform her that her prescription could not be filled that day, perhaps tomorrow, but then… She praised the motto, in complete agreement.
I am wearing my T-shirt as I prepare to call my brokerage firm.
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