The Fall of the Towers of Wall Street: Capitalism From the Standpoint of Its Victims
By M. SHAHID ALAM
It has never been easy offering a critique of capitalism or markets to my undergraduate students. Most have never heard an unkind word about these bedrock institutions, which they know to be the foundations of American power and prosperity.
These are hallowed institutions. The power of private capital to produce jobs, wealth and freedom is one of the central dogmas that many Americans absorb with their mother’s milk. To hear this dogma challenged – in any context – is unsettling. I sometimes suspect that this bitter pill is harder to swallow because it emanates from someone who, so transparently, is not a native-born American.
As the weeks pass, however, my students appear to settle down. In the past, they have been reassured to learn that markets have done a good job at delivering prosperity to a few centers of global capitalism. They do work for us, even if they have not worked for most Asians, Africans and Latin Americans.
Nevertheless, the thesis that ‘free’ markets have rarely worked for economies lagging far behind the economic leaders, does not quite take root. The fault could not lie with markets. For too long, the West has believed that Asians, Africans and Latin Americans failed because they were lazy, spendthrift, venal and unimaginative.
My students – like most Americans – have been conditioned to look at capitalism from the standpoint of the winners in global capitalism. Because of the accident of birth, they have been the beneficiaries of the wealth and power that global capitalism concentrates at the nodes of the system. They cannot conceive how a system that has worked so well for them could produce misery for others in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
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M. Shahid Alam: Capitalism From the Standpoint of Its Victims