The Logic of American Capitalism is often complained of by Europeans. America is noted as the fons et origo of capitalist invasion and 'rip off culture'. Yet it is a surprising thing that Britain has been much more comprehensively captured by institutional capitalism than America, with much less effective antibodies.
Let's take a few examples which have randomly struck me in the past couple of days. Though not a fan of football, it is interesting to me that a system of soccer organisation that used to represent and reflect local areas is now more or less a case study in various varieties of capitalism. The 'premier' clubs have become dividend-based share companies acting, as economists would say, like monopsonists over local talent and lording it over smaller organisations. Some have slipped into a style of late capitalism more akin to the sort of industrial feudalism of the robber barons of the nineteenth century than anything associated with the twenty-first century west. Individual footballers demand their 'market worth' almost without regard to anyone else, and display almost no loyalty to country or locality; and the whole thing is topped by a governing body which seems to be a mix of jobsworths and has-beens. It is an interesting point that the steak restaurants and cigars to be had outside the FA are almost as good as the cream cakes within. Yet the whole industry appears to be an awful failure and consistently disappointing.
Contrast this all with 'capitalist' America. Schools and universities offer scholarships for sports; different teams consistently win top trophies; and elected or representative commissioners safeguard the interests of fans. I am not a sports fan, I have to emphasise again; but isn't the difference instructive?America seems to have a vibrant organisation which is minimally incestuous, which feeds into communities and which guarantees fun for the fans; Britain seems to enjoy the worst aspects of what one suspects unpleasant city traders think about mediterranean or south american economies.
Or take public space and advertising. Would Americans ever tolerate the destruction of spaces like Grand Central station, union station or the washington metro by the sort of crass commercialism and advertising which dominates British spaces in London? WOuld they further treat offensive or shocking presentations and installations as simply 'art' or 'ironic' and submit on the basis that 'it gets money in' or 'there is nothing that can be done?'. America tends to limit--if that is the right word--its more crass publications to the airwaves and malls, though I am well aware that the sheer weight of architecture and history in British spaces would themselves be an invisible censor and antidote to the adverts. Still, the difference is again instructive. America's capitalism is vibrant, unrepressed, but in public not untrammelled, generally.
Thirdly, I have some experience with university alumni programmes in Oxford and England generally. It is notoriously difficult to find european teachers, small businesspeople, retirees or professionals who would sustain any sort of travel, intellectual study, or orgainsed cultural organisation that involves going somewhere different and actually thinking under the guidance of a scholar. There are eighty year old americans whom I know who spend their summers travelling the world discovering new things and teenagers who aspire to do so, and not in any passive or narcissitic way. It is equally (madly) difficult to find any system of university organisation in Britain which embraces fully the idea of programmes of vacation study as anything more than disguised money raising and a diversion from 'proper' university business, (Rewley house and Kellogg college in Oxford being honourable exceptions). Indeed, 'proper' intellectual activity in europe seems to involve sustaining a propertied and relatively closed bourgeois in its prejudices, whether about art, sport or palestinians.The Americans I meet make financial sacrifices to get away from a purely financial environment; paradoxically the success of their capitalism allows the rich to build their defences against the means that got them that way, and the poor at least are articulate in their anger. They challenge themselves and hold to the Spinozan idea that rational people must seek outside truths whilst having a good time...
Journalistic licence. There are plenty of self obsessed snobs and there is plenty of despair in America too, but at least the one group and other outlook isn't institutionalised in anything that seeks to matter.
Finally, take the last American century. The leaders of the Republic have not just been the slavish servants of capital; the Jeffersonian tradition of trammelling and regulating public space and creating civic equality as a counterweight was evident in multiple candidates in 1912, the New Deal, the Great Society, and the Clinton Administration. Even George W Bush used the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism and responsible government after Enron, though I would be sensible not to push that point too far. Could anything in Europe match the debates of 1912, 1968, 1992 or 2006 about what a country ought to be and where a republic should go?

This is a long post, and I apologise to any reader. I was just thinking aloud; is it that America has maintained a civil society of sorts, looked capitalism in the face without any delusion or compromise, and offered to those who seek it a more questing, unrepressed, intellectual and civic environment, where everyone is still a minority, than Europe does? And is there some clue there to the vibrancy of the economy, the engagement with issues that Europeans sweep under the carpet, the population growth and the continuing exhilarating exuberance of America that many still see there? Is that why Britain is still more grey in summer and Canada, if worthy (especially if you are of slave or minority descent!) still boring?


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