What we're living in now is the worst of both worlds, call it socialist capitalism. During the good times, the rich get richer and the free market is revered. During the bad times, the rich get bailed out by the middle class and the poor.
Anthony Faiola writes in today's Washington Post:
But the hands-off brand of capitalism in the United States is now being blamed for the easy credit that sickened the housing market and allowed a freewheeling Wall Street to create a pool of toxic investments that has infected the global financial system. Heavy intervention by the government, critics say, is further robbing Washington of the moral authority to spread the gospel of laissez-faire capitalism.
"People around the world once admired us for our economy, and we told them if you wanted to be like us, here's what you have to do -- hand over power to the market," said Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University. "The point now is that no one has respect for that kind of model anymore given this crisis. And of course it raises questions about our credibility. Everyone feels they are suffering now because of us."
In Seoul, many see American excess as a warning. At the same time, anger is mounting over the global spillover effect of the U.S. crisis. The Korean currency, the won, has fallen sharply in recent days as corporations there struggle to find dollars in the heat of a global credit crunch.
"Derivatives and hedge funds are like casino gambling," said South Korean Finance Minister Kang Man-soo. "A lot of Koreans are asking, how can the United States be so weak?"
Other than a few fringe heads of state and quixotic headlines, no one is talking about the death of capitalism. The embrace of free-market theories, particularly in Asia, has helped lift hundreds of millions out of poverty in recent decades. But resentment is growing over America's brand of capitalism, which in contrast to, say, Germany's, spurns regulations and venerates risk.
"Obviously the crisis comes from an important regulatory and supervisory failure in advanced countries . . . and a failure in market discipline mechanisms," Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF's managing director, said yesterday before the fund's annual meeting in Washington.
In a slideshow presentation, Strauss-Kahn illustrated the global impact of the financial crisis. Countries in Africa, including many of those with some of the lowest levels of market and financial integration and openness, are now set to weather the crisis with the least amount of turbulence.
Shortly afterward, World Bank President Robert Zoellick was questioned by reporters about the "confusion" in the developing world over whether to continue embracing the free-market model. He replied, "I think people have been confused not only in developing countries, but in developed countries, by these shocking events."
In much of the developing world, financial systems still remain far more governed by the state, despite pressure from the United States for those countries to shift power to the private sector and create freer financial markets. They may stay that way for some time.