Beyond Capitalism and Socialism

Rebuilding an Economy Focused on Family and Community The Great Recession of 2008-2009 brought to the surface old truths that many chose to forget when times seemed to be good: The business cycle has not been eliminated; finance capitalism is by nature unstable; politically connected corporations commonly escape market discipline; and there is nothing conservative about the “creative destruction” of a capitalist economy. Indeed, a curious aspect of political labeling in America has been the conflation of the word “conservative” with the interests of the great corporations. The problem is an old one. As one commentator noted in the mid 1930s, the label “conservative” had then been thoroughly “discredited,” twisted by the “apostles of plutocracy” into a defense of “gamblers and promoters.” He continued: “According to this view, [the old Republican political boss] Mark Hanna was a conservative.”[1] This diagnosis remains fairly accurate: The “conservative commentator” Newt Gingrich, for example, is a great admirer of Mr. Hanna. This paper focuses on a different gallery of political thinkers and activists. In their deep respect for the integrity of the human person, in their allegiance to the natural communities of family and village, in their celebration of the family farm and the independent shop, in their devotion to private property, and in their reverence for traditional ways, these figures could be labeled conservative. At the same time, their commitment to the ideal of economic democracy, their refusal to treat human labor and relationships as commodities like any other, their sympathy for the pluralism and peculiarities of small human communities, and their rejection of imperialism and military adventurism seem more atuned to the modern progressive label. They have been seekers after a “Third Way,” a social and economic system that in important respects would be neither capitalist nor socialist. In Europe, these se
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