52 Pity Cassandra

Posted on January 25, 2012 by

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It’s official – capitalism is in need of reform. Martin WOLF, the Head Economics Commentator of the Financial Times, has proposed “seven ways to fix the system’s flaws”[1].

In commenting such news, one could argue substance – query e.g. why Mr. WOLF’s proposals fail to include reform of capitalism’s core: bankruptcy laws. Survival of the capitalist system is predicated on effective bankruptcy far more than on profit. Bankruptcy better be quick, definite, and definitive. The aim is to cleanse the system of all that’s “unfit to survive”. Regrettably, bankruptcies, like nostalgia, are no longer what they used to be – now all sorts of excuses are found to avoid them, from “too big to fail” to “restructuring”, artistic cooking of the books, and what not. A big firm must try very hard to achieve ultimate capitalist respectability: going bankrupt.

No. I’d rather take one step back and shed a tear for Cassandra.

In Greek myth Cassandra was blessed with foresight, and cursed with the fact no one believed her. Her own fault, mind you. It appears that she had promised Apollo to become his consort, but changed her mind, thus incurring his wrath: though she retained the power of foresight, no one would believe her predictions. Clytemnestra killed Cassandra, as she lay in bed with Agamemnon.

For some time already the flaws of this avatar of capitalism had been there for all to see – one did not need Marxist credentials to spot them. Nothing Mr. WOLF says in his editorial, therefore, is novel or surprising to the vigilant. These flaws have been discussed; and the warnings of the various Cassandras were not heeded. In fact, the authors were mocked at and marginalized. Mr. WOLF meanwhile wrote elegiac books like: Why globalization works. His authority grew and grew.

Now Mr. WOLF has discovered that capitalism has flaws. He has even broken a taboo: he proposes pro-actively addressing inequality and jobs. His justification is as barefaced as: “It is important if it is politically salient. It is.”

Now that Mr. WOLF has endorsed reform, it is in the “mainstream”. Well-informed opinion-makers will support it, and even Parliament and Congress might make a favorable reference to this goal. Whether these institutions will take the medicine remains an open question – one point of Mr. WOLF’s reform proposals is to “introduce curbs to purchasing politics”.

Can we expect rehabilitation for the Cassandras? Hardly. More likely Mr. WOLF will take credit, despite the fact that he did not lead, just chose the right moment to jump, thus preserving, nay, increasing his authority. While those who crossed the Sinai Desert will die before entering the Promised Land, Mr. WOLF is about to lead believers in the country of reform.

This is nothing new. Even Jesus did not care much about Cassandras. According to Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus says that any “laborer” who accepts the invitation to the work in the vineyard, no matter how late in the day, will receive an equal reward with those who have been faithful the longest.

Welcome to the vineyard, Mr. WOLF.

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