"They might not like to admit it, but europeans don't mind a bit of capitalism"

Nowhere is contempt for free enterprise, and its linked evils of wealth and profits, more intense than in France. Nicolas Sarkozy has declared laissez-faire capitalism “finished” [43% of the French considered it “fatally flawed”]….Today’s bosses, always cigar-chomping, are subject to satire, scorn and even “boss-napping”. Communists, Trotskyites and the New Anti-Capitalist Party are treated not as curiosities, but serious talk-show guests.

Why is France such an outlier? It could be Catholic guilt, or lingering Marxism (economics textbooks teach pupils about the conflict between capital and labour). It may be the enduring romance of revolutionary rebellion, or the creed–or at least myth–of equality….”Elsewhere, material success is readily admired…billionaries are applauded (and envied), bosses are acclaimed, self-made men celebrated,” writes Alain Duhamel, a French political commentator. “In France, not at all. Wealth embodies evil, money the devil.”

Perhaps, however, it is time to let the French, as well as other corners of market-averse Europe, in on a dark secret. The truth is that theirs is a capitalist society. For while Europe’s leaders rail against profits and wealth, its firms stride into new markets and rack up giant profits…

Such firms [such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and Sodexo] strut unapologetically into China, India and Brazil, vaunting their “sales-driven, consumer-centric” mission to achieve “world-class efficiency”. And (whisper it) they also create the riches that the French, Belgians, Spanish, Greeks and others say they despise (but are happy to redistribute)…

…Up to a point, corporate profit-seeking and political profit-denunciation can rub along together. The French seem to have no trouble filling up their shopping trolleys with American-branded washing powder or cheap plastic swimming pools made in China, selected from a vast choice stacked in hangar-like suburban hypermarkets. They like the low prices global competitions brings them, just not the profits their supermarkets make…

This article, which comes from The Economist, July 24th-30th 2010 on p. 54, confirms a lingering suspicion I have had over cultural criticism: that is, that anti-capitalist themes sell really well in the global market. Literally, books, bumper-stickers, movies and music with the aforementioned slant, to name a few, are highly marketable by business elites who are more than willing to sell identities that simultaneously make a profit and denounce free-market capitalism. Is capitalism the obverse side of anti-capitalism; two sides to the same coin? In being reactionary, it seems, socially minded individuals have inadvertently caused the profit-seeking economy to chug at a higher rate of exchange.

I think this is no less true for the new wave of reactionaries: hipsters. As Herbert Marcuse had said much earlier, hipsterism is merely a half-baked opposition that, in meaning to be revolutionary, ends up confirming the structural integrity of business-as-usual. Perhaps purchasing thrift-store apparel, quaffing the “working man’s” beer, and retooling old bikes were some innovative steps towards  jamming the capitalist machine, but the process misfired when corporations caught on to the trend and began selling their own mimetic versions of the same stuff. So rather than disabusing the market, hipsterism, on the whole, unseeingly drove capitalism on to new expansive limits.


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