Economic Insanity: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism
This is an excerpt from “Economic Insanity: An Overview of the Global Economy,” from Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.
“I wish we could slow this train down, but there’s no one at the controls.” Thomas Friedman[i]
Thomas Friedman describes the global economic system as a fast-moving train with no one at the controls. He and many other proponents of the current form of globalization are aware of its dangers and drawbacks, but see its growing momentum as inevitable.
This perspective is understandable. Not only are individuals seemingly helpless in the vast, complex, interconnected global economy. As economist Lester Thurow points out: “National governments are losing their ability to control their own economies, since financial wealth can easily be held outside the jurisdiction of one’s own government.”[ii] Likewise, corporations and financial institutions must adapt themselves to the rapidly changing global landscape and take advantage of the economic opportunities of the moment or lose out to their competitors. “There’s no one at the controls.”
In his book, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, William Greider uses the metaphor of a gigantic machine to illustrate the “free-running economic system that is reordering the world,” that is, “modern capitalism, driven by the imperatives of global industrial revolution”:[iii] He says, “Imagine a wondrous new machine, strong and supple, a machine that reaps as it destroys. As it goes, the machine throws off enormous mows of wealth and bounty, while it leaves behind great furrows of wreckage. Now imagine that there are skilled hands on board, but no one is at the wheel. . . . It is sustained by its own forward motion, guided mainly by its own appetites. And it is accelerating.”[iv]
Greider seems to agree with Friedman when he says, “no one is at the wheel.” He says, “No one can be said to control the energies of unfettered capital, not important governments or financiers, not dictators or democrats.”[v] At the same time, he points out that “there are skilled hands on board.” Although the global economic system tends to perpetuate itself and to create its own dynamics, it does require human participation at every level, including the highest levels, where decisions are made to continue the present course, to restrict or increase momentum, or less likely, to change direction or turn around.
Usually the decision makers are “true believers,” so thoroughly invested in the system, immersed in its ideology, and aware of its imperatives that they can’t see or act outside the box. In this sense, the global economic system is out of human control. As with other institutional Powers, it has its own tendencies and momentum (metaphorically one could say its own goals—that is, to survive, expand its reach, and extend its power). But these goals can only be realized with the consent and participation of human beings.
At the most basic level, people participate simply by going along with things as they are, by taking the path of least resistance, by complying with a system that they feel powerless to change. The myth that the direction things are moving is inevitable increases their sense of powerlessness. It seems like anonymous forces are at work, that no one is in control, so people don’t know where to start, where to apply pressure to bring change.
But the forces that propel us along the current course are not anonymous at all. They are embodied (incarnate) in very concrete and specific institutions and representative human beings, that is, in the Powers. As Anthony Glidden points out in his book Runaway World, the economic forces at work in the world today are “not of nature, but shaped by technology and by decisions of governments to liberalize and deregulate national economies.”[vi] In other words, the direction we are headed is neither accidental nor inevitable—it is by design.
In working with churches on renewal, Ezra Earl Jones, former general secretary of the General Board of Discipleship in the United Methodist Church, promoted the following idea: “The system is designed for the results it is getting. If you want different results, you will have to redesign the system.”[vii] Neither churches nor any other institutions get to be the way they are by accident. They are paying off in some way for somebody.
This becomes obvious when we look at the system of institutions that make up the global economy, and at who creates the rules, who benefits, and who pays the price. If we follow the money, we will see that the system is designed for the results it is getting. The architects, rule makers, and enforcers of the global economy are reaping the benefits of what they have designed.
Those who make the rules of the global economy do so for a particular purpose: to keep the money flowing to international banks and corporations, to keep the interest payments coming in and stock prices going up so that the system as a whole does not collapse. The rules are not designed to provide a just distribution of the world’s goods, but to protect and multiply wealth. They are not designed to preserve the earth, but to turn its gifts, such as forests and water, into money. They are not designed to improve the lives of the majority of human beings, but to bring financial benefits to the few.
The machine of the global economy is not simply out of control. It is not malfunctioning. It is functioning according to its own rules, and continually expanding those rules and making new ones. As William Greider points out, there is a “manic logic” to global capitalism. The system is not just out of control. It is insane.
Nevertheless, global capitalism does have an ideology that supports and justifies it. Most who have risen to power within this system have adopted its ideology and goals as their own. They serve as its high priests or acolytes, preaching its idolatrous doctrines of salvation through unrestricted free trade and endless economic growth, demanding conformity to its principles, excluding those who cannot or will not fit in, persecuting those who resist. In many ways, the ideology that supports corporate globalization is more than a set of economic principles or guidelines. It functions more like a religion.
For a complete excerpt of this chapter, “Economic Insanity: An Overview of the Global Economy,” contact Sharon Delgado through this website.
[ii]. Lester Thurow, Building Wealth: The New Rules for Individuals, Companies, and Nations in a Knowledge-Based Economy, audiocassette, John Cunningham, narrator (New York: HarperAudio, 1999), side 1.