When I was in the ninth grade, in 1966, I was formally introduced to the topic of Capitalism. My social studies teacher, Mr. Lacey, explained that while it was the best system in the world, it had experienced difficulties in the 1930s, due to a form of Capitalism called “Laissez-Faire,” a form that had been thoroughly discredited. Since that time, we’d learned how to regulate the system, and instances such as the Great Depression were unlikely to happen again.
The place I grew up in was not at all liberal. And I doubt that what Mr. Lacey expressed was merely his personal opinion. It was the middle-of-the-road, official position of society as a whole. I was aware that there was a stain of nut-cases who went around doing things like erecting billboards that called for the impeachment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren. I was surprised when one of those nut-cases got himself elected Governor of California—Ronald Reagan. For years, that man uttered some of the most extreme and violent comments made by anybody on the American political scene. I was appalled later when they were able to pass him off as a kindly old man and get him elected President. He was not a kindly man; he was mean. He was an actor. He lived in a fantasy world and told people what they wanted to hear. And because he believed in his fantasies, people had faith in him and voted for him.
When Reagan re-opened the door to “Laissez-Faire,” I remembered Mr. Lacey. I’ve never studied economics, but some things are self-evident. I’ve been predicting this economic crisis for years. The ideas that greed is a virtue (as some have insisted) and that markets are purely independent, self-regulating systems like the weather have always struck me as transparently absurd. To set up a system where the mass of people depend on the benevolence of the wealthy is dangerous. It’s unbalanced. I saw the dot.com disaster coming. I knew that what was happening in real estate could not continue. All these things were easy to see. I’m not claiming an especially keen intelligence. It’s just that I never got caught up in and blinded by the fantasies that Reagan was selling. I’ve known plenty of other people who saw this coming, but we were all on the sidelines. So now we’re paying the price for the materialists’ fantasy. And it’s going to get a lot worse. That’s the truth. But we’ve been needing this. Life is not about money.