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How Capitalism Survived The Twentieth Century
One hundred years ago many thoughtful people predicted the decline and disappearance of capitalism. What happened to make their prophecy wrong?
November 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 7
But never, one suspects, with quite the same self-confidence or joie de vivre. The French philosopher Bertrand de Jouvenel remembered a day soon after the end of World War II when he was part of a delegation waiting to welcome Georges Bidault, then the French foreign minister, back from a trip to Moscow. As the train slowed down in the station, a railroad worker ran alongside the minister’s carriage, calling up to the window, “Monsieur le Ministre! Monsieur le Ministre! Is it true they have a workers’ paradise in the Soviet Union?” By the 1970s no Frenchman was so ignorant or so Communist that he still believed the Soviet Union was any kind of paradise. And very few socialists or “progressives” in the United States still believe that the sort of society Edward Bellamy envisaged for the era we are now entering can be created by real people in real time. The defects of capitalism turn out to be in large part defects of humanity. The willingness to seek partial rather than wholesale remedies for these defects, to accept the tenets and institutions of capitalism in ways that the early twentieth century could not have imagined may mean that the world, like its people—even the American people—has grown up.