On Capitalism, Version 2012

An Op-Ed in the New York Times for March 13, 2012 by Thomas Friedman expounds on a new book, “Power, Inc.” by David Rothkopf, editor-at-large and chief executive of Foreign Policy. Rothkopf is apparently (I have not yet read the book, just Friedman’s Op-Ed about it) expounding on the future of Capitalism. No longer facing a threat from communism, various flavors of capitalism are now engaged in a competition to decide what form of that economic and political ideology will emerge as dominant for the immediate future. For my part, I am not very interested in this competition, although free-market capitalists ought to rejoice, as they believe religiously that competition inexorably brings about the greatest possible benefit. Left unsaid is how those benefits will be distributed.

My problem is with the very idea that capitalism should prosper. This implies a belief in progress, and that progress means by definition more. At the top of the capitalist pyramid of power are the capitalists themselves. At the bottom are the millions enslaved by this economic system or worse yet are brought to their end. On a certain level, it matters not what flavor of capitalism prevails. All capitalism is predicated on eternal growth of the economy, and if possible on profits that increase even faster than the growth. This leads inexorably to degradation of the environment, degradation of whatever values we may possess, and increasing stratification of society. It is simply not a stable economic system, or social system for that matter. It only works if you think only of yourself in the short run. I’m 72 years old, but I have three grandchildren aged 4, 2, and two months. They will be at my current age in some seventy years, say, in 2090. I won’t be around, but let’s hope they will be. If half of all the petroleum discovered has been consumed in the last half century or so, what will be the situation in 2090? A blog post is not a suitable forum for detailed discussion of the fate of the Earth, but it should be clear to anyone with an unbiased mind that it will not be good. The Left and the Right have the same goals regarding growth, they simply want different distribution of the result.

I believe we must discard rigid ideological positions about left and right, liberal and conservative, and come up with a new paradigm for sustaining the planet and its inhabitants, not just humans, but all inhabitants. An economic system must be devised that is not chained to expansion fueled by debt and credit. I can’t say what that system might turn out to be, but it most emphatically will not be capitalism in any form. Capitalism is driven by power, not by love, and by greed, not by compassion. This must change.

1 comment to On Capitalism, Version 2012

  • Hey there, jim ulrich here. read your bio and like your remarks. I agree with your prophecy about capitalist systems and with your hope for whatever might replace it. both Biblical scenarios still seem possible to me, that the postponement of a new paradigm presages doom, and yet the possibility of transformation offers a new and better day. I fear the Biblical assessment of human nature is also relevant, that we have these conflicting dispositions within us, for harmony, and also aggrandizement. Therefore I suspect that whether the market system implodes or evolves into some new shape, we will carry our genes forward and still beat each other up. The personal microcosm of this is like your story about the person in the lab who discounted your discovery, only to steal the idea and develop it for himself. That behavior is not the result of capitalism. It’s a human trait, partly genetic, that capitalism merely expresses. George Hunston Williams was my prefessor at Harvard. When I found evidence of the radical Reformation in England before Wycliff he put it in the galley proofs for the next edition of his book and never discussed it with me. Later he said to me, “Did you see you’ve been immortalized.” His little triumph in the marketplace of knowledge confirmed my decision to leave the the scholarly academy for good. The will to power will survive the storm that finishes capitalism. My hope is that the same wisdom in creation that gave us compassion and intelligence will prevail among a righteous remnant of our descendants.

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