Anat R. Admati is a finance professor at Stanford critiquing the financial system. That she is at Stanford is not insignificant. While not a big “player,” she is near the core of the establishment. As you can see in the video, Joseph Stiglitz, who was a key player in the establishment for decades, has been beating a similar drum for quite a long time. Robert Reich is another former insider who has been on the forefront of insider critics. In fact, they are all standing in a long line of “dissenters” who came from, or find themselves near, the establishment.
I put dissenters in quotes because there is a big proverbial fly in the ointment when it comes to how far their critiques actually go. While they all differ in their analysis and recommendations, all of them stop at condemning capitalism. In the end, all of them are essentially pro-capitalism liberals – though if you start digging you can find a few pro-capitalism conservatives as well. A pro-capitalism critique – no matter how scathing – will never have the force to compel change at the root. In fact, it doesn’t want radical change and even if every proposal was enacted, the system would remain in place.
When we talk about “The System,” fundamentally we are talking about capitalism. There are a few things we know about capitalism that ensure it can never work for humanity. It is built on exploitation, ceaseless accumulation, and the commodification of all things (for simplification’s sake, think of it as privatization).
Even though all of these establishment critics are sounding the alarm about finance capital (often referred to as “Wall street”), none of them will say capitalism is at the heart of the problem. Most of them fundamentally believe in capitalism and I don’t question their sincerity. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how the fact that they lead privileged lives intimately entwined with and reliant on “the system,” factors into the formation of their beliefs. Of course the reforms they are proposing are better than nothing, and it’s important to evaluate them on their own terms, but as long as capitalism is the underlying logic that determines how we organize societies, we are guaranteed to end up in crisis again and again.
Our chances to stop reforming (which mostly seem to amount to proposing reforms) and focus on replacing a fundamentally corrupt exploitative system are rapidly running out. One need only look at the rapidly expanding crisis of climate change to see it. And don’t think for a second that the crisis of climate change is not intimately tied to Wall street. Food and energy are two major sources of climate change – or more exactly, the industrialization and corporatization of food and energy are major contributors to climate change. They were commodified long ago and are now commodities, traded on stock exchanges. They also happen to be the products of some of the biggest corporations in the world. They are literally fueling climate change (and, not insignificantly, fighting attempts to slow it). In the face of something that large, a liberal, pro-capitalism reform seems ludicrous.
Of course it’s more ludicrous than that, because the actual people in power – corporations and the politicians they’ve purchased – have no interest in reforming the system they built. It is serving them better than ever. They have stolen or “made” the most money in history and it is consolidated in the fewest hands ever. No king or sultan has ever even come close to the wealth and power these few people wield.
In the final analysis, critiques from or near the core of the establishment do offer us something. They are fissures in the facade the power elite have constructed. Voices from within the walls that rise above the din of lies and propaganda. While they will never offer solutions that address more than symptoms, we should acknowledge and evaluate them anyway. We should learn how to engage them and challenge their fundamental acquiescence to the rule of capitalism and the system its cruel logic created. The number of critics has increased rapidly since the last manufactured crisis. We should see their growing number as a trend indicating the relatively immediate dire situation we face: a great depression orders of magnitude worse than the last one.
In the long run, the only answer is to break up unaccountable transnational corporations and replace capitalism with a system of distribution that puts people before profit. If we’re not collectively working toward that goal, well…