Capitalism from the standpoint of its victims

In his classic study of propaganda, the late Australian scholar Alex Carey writes that the 20th century was marked by three major developments: the rise of democracy, the rise of corporations, and the rise of propaganda to protect corporations from democracy. One of the aims of early 20th century propaganda was to exploit significant symbols: to associate capitalism and big business with liberty and freedom, and unions, state ownership with totalitarian collectivism. In his latest piece M. Shahid Alam’s looks at the final collapse of these connotations along with the general crisis of capitalism.

It has never been easy offering a critique of capitalism or markets to my undergraduate students. Most have never heard an unkind word about these bedrock institutions, which they know to be the foundations of American power and prosperity.

These are hallowed institutions. The power of private capital to produce jobs, wealth and freedom is one of the central dogmas that many Americans absorb with their mother’s milk. To hear this dogma challenged – in any context – is unsettling. I sometimes suspect that this bitter pill is harder to swallow because it emanates from someone who, so transparently, is not a native-born American.

As the weeks pass, however, my students appear to settle down. In the past, they have been reassured to learn that markets have done a good job at delivering prosperity to a few centers of global capitalism. They do work for us, even if they have not worked for most Asians, Africans and Latin Americans.

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