Capitalism's Third Century; A Triumph of the Unplanned over the Directed

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Capitalism's Third Century; A Triumph of the Unplanned over the Directed


Byline: J.T. Young, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

To many, the economic torch already has passed from old to new. They see today's emerging markets as tomorrow's international economic engines. What Britain was to the 19th century and America to the 20th, China will be to the 21st. Such a perspective sees the trees only to miss the forest. What is dawning is not another country's century, but capitalism's third.

The recent Group of 20 meeting of the world's 20 most significant economies was a testament to the last half century's economic growth. Fifty years ago, America was the world's lone economic superpower. Just 30 years ago, Japan was breaking the Western monopoly on economic superiority.

Today, more than half of G-20's membership comes from what once were dubbed Third World nations - Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea and Turkey.

It is easy to seek to put another national link on the global growth chain. In the 19th century, free markets at home and free trade abroad unleashed Britain. Its natural attributes hardly predicted such an outcome, yet an island on the periphery of Europe became the world's predominant economic power.

The same principles applied to a much vaster nation produced an even more impressive result in 20th-century America. A nascent nation at the 19th century's beginning, it was the world's economic leader slightly more than 100 years later.

The last 50 years' significance comes from their clarity: What primarily propelled England and America forward was capitalism. Because of their historical, political and cultural overlaps, it is easy to overlook capitalism's impact when viewing just Britain and America. Yet recent global economic successes have strayed further from the noneconomic roots, remaining attached only to capitalism.

In contrast to other economic ideologies, capitalism alone is differentiated by its negative emphasis on the state. Capitalism sees the state's absence as central to the economy's success; other systems see the state's presence as central to the economy's success. Its markets over mavens approach has only become more imperative as societies grow more complex. Planning has failed repeatedly in far simpler societies. With planning's failures manifest and societies' complexity growing rapidly, planning is neither preferable nor possible today.

Capitalism straddles today's globe. Every economic competitor has fallen before it - predecessors, feudalism and mercantilism, and would-be successors, communism and socialism. It is the greatest wealth generator in history, and it has done, or is doing, so on every continent and in every culture. …

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