Capitalism



It seems that anyone who has anything critical to say about capitalism is branded a "Socialist." It is used pejoratively in current political discourse. Now along comes an excellent article in the May 13, 2012 New York Times: Capitalists and Other Psychopaths by William Deresiewicz. Let's add this grist for the mill. It's a must read.

I am not a graduate of the Chicago School of Economics. By my own reckoning though, Adam Smith with his so-called "invisible hand" [of the marketplace] is full of it. It is still, however, divinely received truth in some quarters. Surely there are those of good will who hold to this idea for their own good reasons. But, in a culture where profits come first, it's not unreasonable to conjecture that there might be some who adopt this laissez faire approach purely for self interest; either to pander to a constituency, or to brush away scrutiny and controls to reap ever more for themselves, and at others' expense. 

The next big idea that will finally dawn will be concerning cost accounting. This isn't new, but it will I believe become a large topic fairly soon. We're talking full cost accounting. Businesses of all stripes have for too long been shifting costs onto the public sector. A fairly obvious place to look is the environment. Look into the impact of plastics on the ocean eco-system. It's already beginning to bite us in the you know what. It's just one aspect of the impacts on the eco-system from production by-products and waste materials from packaging. Then there's the air, and the land. A while ago I noticed this undercurrent shifting of costs to the public sector with the invention of the so-called disposable glass bottle. Lighter weight means less cost. Not having to process returns, significant cost reduction. The public pays the garbage bill.

So Mr. Adam Smith, if capitalism is based on profits first, what's to keep some malefactor or just plain old dumb ass from mucking things up? As in, what we've been seeing in the news recently.

The argument is miscast as regulation (the Left) versus laissez faire (the Right). Simply put, as you can read in the recommended NY Times article, capitalism has no truck with democracy. Who was it that said, " . . . the chief business of the American people is business"? Calvin Coolidge. Who then went on to amplify: "Of course the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence." And, "We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction."

Encouragingly, there is a growing realization among the enlightened in the commercial and political spheres that "profits first" may not be all it's cracked up to be. We've been seeing new models of enterprise where social values, for both the consumer and employees, are being incorporated into the business plan.

Socialism. The word may still have some negative charge among the great unwashed masses. But, really, what's wrong with social concern? Even Mr. Smith knows that if you load up your own boat with too much stuff, it's going to sink. Or, the ship of state, if it's not more evenly distributed it's not very seaworthy.


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