Monday, 13 July 2015

Capitalism Needs a Makeover

For better or for worse, capitalism has allowed us to achieve the level of civilization that we find ourselves at today, because it has allowed us to use one of the most inherent elements of human nature - greed - in order to produce better products and better ways of doing things that ultimately benefit multitudes of people - and make someone very wealthy.  Try to ask yourself if many of the products and services that you use today would exist if not for capitalism.  For example, would many of us be carrying iPhones if the folks at Apple thought they couldn't make a fortune selling them all over the world?  How about the car you drive, the soda you drink, or the food that you eat?  The fact is that these things and many others would not exist if the people who invented them didn't think they could get rich off their creations.  Unfortunately, I can't really think of any example of someone creating something so innovative that it changed the world without first asking himself or herself, "What's in it for me?"  The truth is that capitalism and the greed upon which it is based is the key driver of civilization.  It is ironic then that what is driving our civilization is also destroying it.

Indeed, it is capitalism that is causing us to destroy our environment and fight wars over increasingly scarce resources.  So what do we do about it?  Do we ditch capitalism in favour of some other alternative?  Well, for those you who know your history, you'll know that we've tried to ditch capitalism before - and failed miserably.  In the last century, a large part of the world embraced the ideology of communism because they thought it was the path to a utopian society where everyone was equal and poverty didn't exist.  But of course, the communist experiment failed because the masses had no incentive to create or innovate when they knew that whatever they produced would ultimately become the property of the state.  After all, what's the point of creating something new or making something that already exists better when you know that the communist party bosses are going to reap all the benefits anyway?

Okay, so communism was a flop.  Any other bright ideas?  Maybe we don't need an alternative to capitalism.  Maybe we just need to make capitalism better.  But how do we do that?  Well, let's start by asking ourselves, what's wrong with capitalism today?  If I ask a bunch of people this question, I think I can predict what some of the answers will be.  Someone might say to me, for example, that it's unfair that such a tiny percentage of people control the vast majority of the wealth in any given economy.  Another person might mention the fact that there are a few tycoons out there zipping around the world in private jets while billions of people don't even have enough food to eat.  And perhaps someone else will tell me that it's wrong for big company bosses to be raking in millions or even billions while their rank-and-file employees struggle to get by on what passes for a minimum wage.  But of course, all of these people would be referring to the same problem, and if they wanted to, they could just tell me what the problem is in one word: inequality.

Yes, the fact of the matter is that although capitalism's rising tide may lift all boats, it doesn't lift many of them enough and it lifts a few of them so high that they ultimately drown the poor folks in the boats below them.  Now don't get me wrong.  I'm actually a very staunch capitalist.  I firmly believe that people who work harder or smarter should get more than those who don't work as hard or are not as smart in the way they work.  However, I do not believe in the kind of capitalism that creates a world in which people must choose between feeding the kids or paying the rent, or worse, a world where one's very survival is threatened by simply not having enough food to eat.

As I've already said, we do not need to find an alternative to capitalism.  We just need to make it better, just like any good capitalist who wants to get rich makes a product that already exists better.  The capitalism that I espouse is one in which people can still get rich, but not to the extent that they can accumulate so much wealth that they inhibit the ability of democratically-elected governments to ensure that people who are not rich can at least have enough food to eat, a safe home, a good education and all the rest of the social and economic rights that everyone is supposed to be entitled to.

There are already countries in the industrialized world that have made great strides towards the kind of capitalism that I'm talking about.  But it is not enough for just some countries to move towards a more humane, socially just capitalism, because their ability to maintain it will always be curtailed by having to compete with economies that do not strive for more equality.  So for example, as long as there are countries like China and India, where workers are not paid a living wage, it will be very difficult for workers in developed countries like the U.S. and Canada to acquire a living wage when the businesses that would have to pay that wage can just pick up and move to a country where workers aren't paid what they deserve.  Hence, for a more just capitalism to permanently take hold anywhere, it must take hold everywhere.    


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