Capitalism in a nutshell
by Nandia Foteini Vlachou
At some point, not long after the beginning of Pablo Larraín’s No (2012), the responsible for the “Yes” campaign (in the referendum that was to decide the political future of Chile after 15 years of dictatorship) presents the rationale behind it in the following way: “In this country, anyone can be rich. Attention: not everyone, anyone. And as long as everyone wishes to be that ‘anyone’, we cannot loose” (translated from memory). This phrase perfectly encapsulates the essence of capitalism, and explains why it grips populations all over the globe. Everyone wants to be that anyone. It also stresses the (frequently overlooked) fact that freedom to get rich (or not) is not tantamount to political freedom, contrary to most capitalist rhetoric.
The line reminded me of an incisive passage from a book that I read and loved, a polemic (and it should be read as such) about class and identity. It’s called The Trouble with Diversity. How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (New York: A Holt Paperback, 2006), by Walter Benn Michaels:
“Young people in America have about as realistic an assessment of their economic situations as, say, the contestants on American Idol of their singing ability. Indeed, American Idol…is a kind of emblem of our fantasies about success, and the popularity of the show is a function of its ability to portray us to ourselves. Although, as in any tournament, only one person will win, the system the show embodies is in in a certain sense absolutely fair: every contestant has a chance to win, and to take your chance, all you have to do is try out. So there’s a kind of formal equality of opportunity among the contestants…[T]his is where what one critic has called the ‘delusional self-confidence’ of the participants kick in. If you start factoring in your talent and your hard work and the intensity of your commitment to ‘following your dream’ (a phrase that at this moment in American history appears to have almost talismanic power), you can find yourself thinking you’ve got a real shot…So what the show presents is both a vision of the world in which the truly talented will succeed (the American dream!) and a vision of the high level of self-deception – I’m talented! I will succeed! – required to live happily in that world (the American delusion)” (pp. 194-195).
And that’s where capitalism lies in the end: between dream and delusion.