Peter S. Goodman, writing in The New York Times, published an article this week citing the mounting and extremely frightening evidence that liberal democracies around the world, including the United States, are succumbing to socio-cultural impulses of authoritarianism and nationalism.
The reason for this, Goodman writes, is that people have been left behind because the new global order over the last several decades benefited mostly the investor class or benefited, as most people would simply put, “the rich people.” Here’s the key paragraph in the Goodman article that generalizes the predicament:
In the United States and Britain, working people have suffered joblessness and declining living standards while political leaders have prescribed policies that have enriched the elite — more trade deals, fewer strictures on bankers. These countries’ economies have been bolstered by trade, but not enough of the gains have filtered down to working people.
By now this is the standard argument for the rise of groups of people—certainly some on the left as well—that want to disassemble the unfair system created by globalization. But as valid as Goodman’s points remain in the current chaos we face under the Trump presidency and as European countries boil with anger, they don’t directly express the major conundrum, which is the failure of capitalism and what some see as its impending implosion. Goodman spends hundreds of words describing this failure without once daring to utter the actual name of that financial system that is failing.
One can only assume that the far-reach of capitalism into the collective consciousness based on the idea its proponents promote that it’s somehow a natural phenomenon prevent Goodman from actually framing his argument using the current financial system in use in United States or Britain. Perhaps, this is yet another small example of capitalism’s ability to absorb and deflect discontent away from itself and glom it on to The Other, anyone or anything except itself. The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning academic, is another writer who doesn’t even broach the idea that capitalism is failing or that income inequality is anything more than just the obvious Republican leadership nefariousness made glaring under the Trump regime.
Yet Goodman’s argument about how “nationalists take aim at globalists” doesn’t ring true to me in the larger picture and under the very historical terms that the author deploys. It’s a dressed-up version of the right versus left argument. The real, prevailing tension is between the obscenely wealthy people in the world—a relatively few thousand capitalists reaping all the rewards of an unfair financial system along with their surrogates—and the masses of people struggling to get by and living in financial insecurity. For example, income inequality and lack of basic opportunity is an issue that concerns many nationalists on the right and all democratic socialists like myself in the U.S. on the left. The two groups have serious and important moral disagreements, but people on both sides believe citizens of their countries should be able to make a livable wage.
All this brings me to an idea about Facebook and other Internet-related companies, which represent the most contemporary manifestation of capitalism and globalization despite their sanctimonious claims of bringing people together in harmonious unity. With its more than 2 billion users and its reach across the globe, Facebook, in particular, has virtually overnight become the latest crass symbol of capitalism’s immoral excesses.
Billions of dollars in wealth have poured into the hands of Facebook’s youthful founder and now techoligarch Mark Zuckerberg as he, at least in appearance, casually allowed the platform to be manipulated by those opposed to democracy throughout the world. Will Facebook and the people who work there, or, say, Google and Twitter and their employees, or other social media companies with a large reach, sell out democracy for the hits and clicks that translate into money? In fact, they are doing it right now. To think otherwise is to be fooled.
What’s important, if there is actually going to be change through democratic action to remedy the excesses of capitalism by employing socialistic solutions, is to stop talking around the main issue. The all-too predictable evolution of capitalism to reward a decreasing few and harm an increasing many is the main culprit of the collective global grievance.
A first good step in the discussion of capitalism for many people, especially younger people, is to realize that Facebook is not some new vital force for good in the world as its autocratic leaders want you to think. Facebook exists to make money off your information as a robotic consumer, tons of money, and the vast majority of people don’t get a penny of it. It’s old-school capitalism disguised as a social do-good initiative. Capitalism and its contemporary propaganda arms like Facebook and Google are destroying democracy, not a clash between nationalists and globalists.