Habits of Failure

The American Conservative, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Habits of Failure


Twenty years after the end of the Soviet Union, "Eurocommunism" is finally gone. From the dictionary, that is. The word wasn't a term of abuse coined by right-wing talk radio to describe Scandinavian social democracy. Rather it was, as Canadian columnist Robert Fulford notes, Moscow's own word for a Bolshevism with Western characteristics sure to take root in France and Italy any day now-"now" being some time in the 1970s.

After 40 years of disuse, "Eurocommunism" has at last lost its place in the Oxford Concise Dictionary. If obsolete words take a long time to die, the habits that accompany obsolete ideas linger even longer.

Communism's decline and fall was part of a wider phenomenon, the loss of faith in central planning everywhere. America ended the 1970s disillusioned with the Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and Richard Nixon's price controls. In Britain, the carefully managed relationship between government, labor, and industry had shattered, bringing Margaret Thatcher to power. By the 1980s, even avowedly socialist leaders on the European continent retreated from planning. It's a familiar story.

And there was more: American industry-once tightly concentrated under the belief that very large companies with huge economies of scale would own the future-professed a new decentralist strategy. By the 1990s, IBM seemed a living fossil, AT&T the tiny, lizard-like descendant of some great reptile that once ruled its ecological niche.

Today it can be hard to understand why there was ever a vogue for bigness in business and government. But there were reasons: creative destruction of small enterprises had cleared a path for consolidation by the beginning of the 20th century. …

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