On the other side are those that reject democratic capitalism, believing it leads to chaos, bubbles, exploitations and crashes. Instead, they embrace state capitalism. People in this camp run Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and many other countries.
Many scholars have begun to analyze state capitalism. One of the clearest and most comprehensive treatments is “The End of the Free Market” by Ian Bremmer.
Bremmer points out that under state capitalism, authoritarian governments use markets “to create wealth that can be directed as political officials see fit.” The ultimate motive, he continues, “is not economic (maximizing growth) but political (maximizing the state’s power and the leadership’s chances of survival).” Under state capitalism, market enterprises exist to earn money to finance the ruling class.
The contrast is clearest in the energy sector. In the democratic capitalist world we have oil companies, like Exxon Mobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, that make money for shareholders.
In the state capitalist world there are government-run enterprises like Gazprom, Petrobras, Saudi Aramco, Petronas, Petróleos de Venezuela, China National Petroleum Corporation and the National Iranian Oil Company. These companies create wealth for the political cliques, and they, in turn, have the power of the state behind them.
It might be worth looking at these assertions in light of how wealth is distributed ... concentrated might be a better description ... in America. The 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, from the Federal Reserve Board, reports the following distribution of "Equity," which includes individual stocks and equity mutual funds, whether held in retirement or non-retirement accounts:
Bottom 50% 1.5%
Next 40% 19.6%
Next 5% 12.4%
Next 4% 30.5%
Top 1% 36.0%
The SCF also reports the distribution of holdings of "BUS" -- the value of privately-held businesses:
Bottom 50% 0.4%
Next 40% 6.0%
Next 5% 5.5%
Next 4% 25.5%
Top 1% 62.7%
The two categories are of roughly equal size: Equity $13.7 trillion and BUS $14.9 trillion. So one might reasonably estimate that the top 1% have roughly 50% of the aggregate value of these two categories, and the next 4% have about 28% -- leaving 22% for the bottom 95% of us.
If state capitalism puts, say, 80% of business in the hands of the top 5%, is it that much worse than what we've got? In some ways, yes -- but the question is worth pondering.
Brooks closes with this:
We in the democratic world have no right to be sanguine. State capitalism taps into deep nationalist passions and offers psychic security for people who detest the hurly-burly of modern capitalism. So I hope that as they squabble, Obama and BP keep at least one eye on the larger picture.
We need healthy private energy companies. We also need to gradually move away from oil and gas — the products that have financed the rise of aggressive state capitalism.
More than "needing healthy private energy companies" we need to start collecting for the commons more of the value of the natural resources they draw from our common supply -- not to mention forcing them to privatize the environmental risks associated with drilling. Remember what Henry George said about a well provisioned ship? He who controls the hatches controls his fellow human beings.
And of course, we need to be undertaking the shift of incentives which will redirect sprawl into the underused sites in our cities. Land value taxation -- untaxing buildings, and uptaxing land value -- will produce the urban density which will lead to walkable cities and populations which will support effective public transportation systems. It will provide technologically modern housing affordable to people at all levels of the income spectrum, close to their work -- for those who want that. The reduced pressure on the suburban markets will lower prices there, too, for those who want that. That urban redevelopment will also create more commercial venues in the centrally located places where specialized businesses thrive. And of course all that building activity creates jobs, and those new technologies will produce buildings which use less energy and produce less pollution. And because untaxing buildings removes the penalties associated with things like solar power, all the incentives will be pointing in the same direction.