When the financial crisis threatened to topple the global economy, my Russian friends took great delight in calling me from Moscow and sharing the bittersweet response that was making the rounds of a city that always laughs loudest when things go wrong: Everything Marx told us about communism was false, the gag went, but everything he told us about capitalism was true.
In 2008, it was easy to see their point. The lopsided recovery hasn’t brought much comfort, either. Across Western Europe and North America, corporate profits and stock prices have rebounded, but the middle class is more squeezed than ever.
Even so, my Muscovite pals were wrong. Marx didn’t just get communism wrong – he was also profoundly mistaken about capitalism, which turns out to be the best prosperity-creating system humanity has come up with so far.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to evolve. The high-tech, globalized capitalism of the 21st century is very different from the postwar version of capitalism that performed so magnificently for the middle classes of the Western world.
That’s why a lot of people, including many hard-driving capitalists, are trying to figure out how to retool the institutions of capitalism for our time.