As much as I may NOT want my grandkids to grow up, just keep them at the age of four for my pleasure and enjoyment, that’s not going to happen. Neither can we keep America the way it was, which is good news for people America was never great for. Perhaps you enjoyed an idyllic childhood. In many ways, I did—lucky us. But we can never go back to childhood’s bosom. White America is now rainbow America.
Our faulty memories of the good-old days is why we think the past was better than the present. Flawed memory or not, there can be little doubt that America was never great for everyone. And now we find ourselves between what was and what will be. We would save ourselves much grief by accepting that our whiteness has turned yellow and all the bleach in the world can’t change that.
Capitalism has made America great, people exclaim. America is where everyone can make it big. They claim. Some of my friends speak of economic competition like it’s one of Jesus’s apostles. But Jesus didn’t only have one apostle. He had twelve.
Is today’s economic system what the founding father of Capitalism intended way back when? Grasping onto a reality of our liking is like ignoring chest pain because we’ve been healthy for 70 years. Issues change—tissues age.
There is much discussion of whether Capitalism is a good or a bad economic system. Polls show many young people favor Socialism while other Americans say Capitalism is the best system. But, defenders of “Capitalism” as practiced today have a gap in their knowledge that needs updating. Capitalism, as expressed today, is a morphed version of the original design skewed towards the wealthy. Eating an orange is a superior delivery system to swallowing a vitamin C capsule. Like all the components of “true” Capitalism, the whole orange delivers complementary nutrients to nourish the entire body system, instead of too much of one (bottom line profits) element.
In his famous book Wealth of Nations Adam Smith (1723-1790), father of Capitalism, proposed the idea that people following their own self-interest produces the best economic results. We adopted this part. What is not mentioned today is that Smith spoke at great length about more wealth to the common people, via labor specialization and increased productivity. This system would benefit a nation’s economy and lead to a greater society. Smith was a philosopher who believed strongly in promoting the greater social good. He understood that one spoke on a wheel can’t balance the bike.
Another familiar name associated with Capitalism is Milton Friedman, who died in 2006. Friedman stated a theory many business schools follow today: a corporations’ only purpose is to make profits. What’s left out of the business curriculum is that Friedman favored a “negative tax” (a.k.a. UBI—Universal Basic Income).
On a recent podcast from “Rule Breaker Investing,” Jay Jakup talks about the Mars Corporation’s (candy and pet foods) forward-thinking approach to business. Mars leaders have long asked the question, “how much profit is enough for the company?” They understand that Capitalism is not just about financial capital but also, very importantly, about human capital, social capital, and natural capital.
This understanding of Capitalism is taking hold in many corporations. It’s a part of the world we are moving into. CEOs see that, yes, profits are important but so are people, society, resources, and the environment.
Following our inborn self-interest alone is not enough. My husband and economics teacher puts it this way: “Capitalism has proven to lead to the best economic results. But it leads to the best overall results for society only when it is regulated, there is widespread competition, far less income inequality, and an accepted perspective that pursuit of long-term goals is far more favorable than that of short-term profit-only goals.” In other words, what we have today is Capitalism gone amuck.
For Capitalism to be a wheel that moves the entire economy, the wheel must have many spokes (benefits). The human well-being spokes must include American Indians, people of color, the physically challenged and mentally impaired, poor of all colors, millennials, etc. Putting military spending ahead of people belongs in the past (What has it gotten us in the last seventy years?). Yes, we can say what a woman on FB posted about inequality, “life is not fair.” If we adopt this view, then yes, we don’t have to learn anything new, not read another book about economics, and just keep associating with like-minded friends who will grow fewer as progress marches forward. Fairness is an embedded value; repressing it results in unease and nights with poor sleep.
My granddaughter Isobel just turned eighteen, wide-eyed, and excited to be starting her college education. Changing our values at eighteen is far easier than at seventy. Righteousness and/or opinions grown over decades are deep-rooted weeds. For most of us, the people we live with, the people we call friends, and the books we read are our biggest influencers.
When Tim and I came together, our cups were full of responsibilities with little time for discussions of our political or economic views. But our differences didn’t take long to surface. After our first date, Tim sent me a bouquet that no doubt pinched his wallet. I called to thank him indicating that a pair of shoes would have been a better choice thus clearly communicating my financial situation and no-nonsense socialist economic views (flowers are frill when money is in short supply). At this point in my life, I’d made enough errors in my choice, of partners. I answered as authentically as I could.
Walking to the voting station with me for the first time, after receiving my US citizenship, Tim said, “I don’t know why I’m so excited for you since you are likely to cancel every one of my votes.”
Change is not just difficult, it’s painful. For a socialist and a capitalist to grow together meant heated discussions, but resulted in greater openness and understanding. The Republican party used to stand for fiscal responsibility, fair taxation, true free-market Capitalism, and policies for greater overall social well-being. We experienced this after WWII for a few decades. The Capitalism Smith imagined is the fairest and most moral system man has created thus far. But that’s not the economic system we have today.
What economic system the future brings depends on if we want to make America better for everyone, or to push ahead equipped with faulty information about Capitalism that’s led to a moment where so few have so much while so many have so little. The election outcome will be our collective choice. When the flame of my candle extinguishes, I want to know that I walked on the side of fairness, to uplift all people. In economic terms, Arthur C. Brooks, professor at Harvard Business School put it this way: “I am a very public proponent of democratic capitalism with a modern welfare state.” That sounds like a goal worth pursuing.