Wall Street meltdown may trigger food sovereignty move in developing world.
Whatever the events on Wall Street mean, nobody should believe the overblown claims that the current market crisis signals the death of "free market" ideology.
Free market ideology has always been a servant to the interests of capital, and its presence ebbs and flows depending on its usefulness to those interests.
Rest assured: the ideology will come roaring back when the bailouts are done. The massive debts the public is accumulating to bail out the speculators will then become the rationale for deep cuts to social programs, and for a renewed push to privatize what's left of the public sector.
We will also be told that our hopes for a green future are, sadly, too costly.
What we don't know is how the public will respond.
If the state can intervene to save corporations that took reckless risks in the housing markets, why can't it intervene to prevent millions of Americans from imminent foreclosure?
By the same token, if $85 billion can be made instantly available to buy the insurance giant AIG, why is single-payer health care - which would protect Americans from the predatory practices of health-care insurance companies - seemingly such an unattainable dream?
Now that it's clear that governments can indeed act in times of crisis, it will be much harder for them to plead powerlessness in the future.
Another potential shift has to do with market hopes for future privatizations.
For years, the global investment banks have been lobbying politicians for two new markets: one that would result from privatizing public pensions and the other from a new wave of privatized or partially privatized roads, bridges and water systems.
Both of these dreams have just become much harder to sell: Americans are in no mood to trust more of their individual and collective assets to the reckless gamblers on Wall Street.
With the World Trade Organization talks off the rails, this crisis could also be the catalyst for a radically alternative approach to regulating world markets and financial systems.
Already, we're seeing a move toward "food sovereignty" in the developing world, rather than leaving access to food to the whims of commodity traders. The time may finally have come for ideas like taxing trading, which would slow speculative investment, as well as other global capital controls.
And now that nationalization is no longer a dirty word, the oil and gas companies should watch out: someone needs to pay for the shift to a greener future, and it makes most sense for the bulk of the funds to come from the highly profitable sector that is most responsible for our climate crisis. It certainly makes more sense than creating another dangerous bubble in carbon trading.
But the crisis we are seeing calls for even deeper changes than that. The reason these junk loans were allowed to proliferate was not just because the regulators didn't understand the risk. It is because we have an economic system that measures our collective health by GDP growth alone. So long as the junk loans were fuelling economic growth, our governments actively supported them.
What is really being called into question by the crisis is the unquestioned commitment to growth at all costs. Where this crisis should lead us is to a radically different way for our societies to measure health and progress.
None of this, however, will happen without huge public pressure and the kind of direct action that ushered in the New Deal in the 1930s. Without it, there will be superficial changes and a return, as quickly as possible, to business as usual.