mai 22, 2012

The future of democratic capitalism

Four years ago, for the second Lennart Meri Conference, we published a special issue of Diplomaatia that focused on authoritarian capitalism. This seemed to have emerged as an assertive competitor to liberal democracy: “seeking to legitimise itself as a system that is not only not inferior to Western democracy, but is much more ‘effective’ too,” as we wrote in the opening article.

Four years ago, for the second Lennart Meri Conference, we published a special issue of Diplomaatia that focused on authoritarian capitalism. This seemed to have emerged as an assertive competitor to liberal democracy: “seeking to legitimise itself as a system that is not only not inferior to Western democracy, but is much more ‘effective’ too,” as we wrote in the opening article.

The future of democratic capitalism

Four years ago, for the second Lennart Meri Conference, we published a special issue of Diplomaatia that focused on authoritarian capitalism. This seemed to have emerged as an assertive competitor to liberal democracy: “seeking to legitimise itself as a system that is not only not inferior to Western democracy, but is much more ‘effective’ too,” as we wrote in the opening article.
Today, this relatively clear-cut rivalry has become a lot fuzzier. Some of the flagship-projects of authoritarian capitalism are undergoing hard times. In Russia, the authoritarian economic model was dealt a serious blow by the economic crises and authoritarian politics is suddenly experiencing determined, even if disorganised pressure from an awakening society. In China, as Bobo Lo elegantly explains in this issue, a distinct authoritarian economic model, never really existed in the first place.
But none of this has made democratic capitalism more self-confident. On the contrary, it has been undermined by the economic crises in Europe and is personified by visionless leaders, who fail to inspire their confused societies. Pro-democracy protests in the Arab world and Russia – even if the jury is still out as to the nature and quality of their outcomes – have not increased tired Western societies’ belief in the desirability and sustainability of their societal and economic models.
Not that these have been flawless: the economic crises have exposed some serious shortcomings in the systems and in the people who have managed them. Our political system, while democratic, does not always allow change any more easily or significantly than do more authoritarian models. As Ivan Krastev points out, “you can change politicians, but not policies.” More broadly, one has to ask whether uncontained consumerism can be a way forward for a small planet of 7 billion people.
Yes, we have a crisis: not just an economic or even a political crisis, but one with strong existential and philosophical elements. There is a deep disorientation among the populations of the Western democracies. But economists – whatever their flaws – have one thing right. “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” is good advice, and can be useful far beyond the realms of economics. As Kurt Volker says, clinging to a disappearing past does not help. We should not fear the future, but should start to beat a path through the jungle of hard and inconvenient questions, until we can finally see, and hopefully shape, the contours ahead.
KL

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