Last month, “The Nation” magazine published an issue focused on the idea of reimagining capitalism. They asked activists and economic thinkers, “If you had the ability to reinvent American capitalism, where would you start? What would you change to make it less destructive and domineering, more focused on what people really need for fulfilling lives?” The Nation published thirteen responses in its June 27 issue. The magazine also asked selected readers to submit their own thoughts on the subject and published an assortment of replies on its website, including mine. The following is an expanded version of my response.
Capitalism is an economic system based on entirely private ownership of all property and all productive facilities – factories, farms, and service entities. It demands a laissez-faire approach from government, meaning that government is not involved in any way with the production, sale, consumption, or use of any products or services. The company is always right. The company always has all of the power.
Most Americans can’t define capitalism, but believe that our Constitution requires the government to support it as the official national economic system. It doesn’t, but they believe so because our schools produce politically and economically illiterate citizens.
Capitalists are bullies and pure capitalism is a monumental failure. Capitalism has always existed in nations’ economies, but received a significant boost during the Industrial Revolution in the latter 18th century. It is not a political system. It is not synonymous with freedom.
For more than a century, presidents and Congresses fell for the trickle down nonsense and Alan Greenspan’s delusion that corporatists will always behave in a moral fashion, making it unnecessary to regulate corporations and their executives. History proves them wrong.
Left to their own devices, the early corporatists refused to adopt even the simplest workplace health and safety measures, fair wage and hour rules, and environmentally responsible policies. American workers and their unions fought for better conditions for 200 years, steadily gaining ground. Today, the corporatists are so desperate for even more money, that they created an organized plan to destroy the American middle class by regurgitating the good old days of sweatshops and robber barons. Capitalism itself has not failed; the corporatists’ own morality has failed. Their fixation on eliminating “enemies” has destroyed their humanity. It makes you wonder why their parents didn’t love them enough to teach them to be honorable people. Republicans have no morals. Democrats have no spine.
Yet, Congress refuses to perform its Constitutional duty to regulate commerce because Republicans constantly throw temper tantrums and then Democrats roll over and play dead. Even President Obama appeases the republithugs at every opportunity. Capitalism has its place in the grand scheme of things, but we can no longer allow it to be our supreme goal. The misinformation, hypocrisy, and blatant lies are so deeply ingrained in America’s psyche that it’s too late to eradicate them. We have to start over.
There is no magic wand. We can’t fix this with a single law, or batch of regulations, or empty promises. We need to reverse our attitudes, our priorities, and our behavior. We must demand better of our employers, our neighbors, and ourselves.
We begin to reinvent capitalism today by raising tax rates on corporations and the wealthy, closing tax loopholes, and enforcing sensible regulations. Yes, really. We must demand that future corporate and political leaders exhibit the virtues of human decency, honesty, integrity, common courtesy, common sense, and justice. We’ll create a new brand of capitalism based on new principles:
Capitalism is only one part of a multi-faceted economy.
- Blind allegiance to the bogus principles of classical economics will end. They do not work.
- Capitalism isn’t a zero-sum game. There’s ample money for everyone.
- Profit is not the sole raison-d’être for all endeavors.
- Employers will respect employees’ knowledge, skills, and capacity to contribute to the workplace, and their lives beyond work.
- Both employers and employees are entitled to promote their respective common interests through various channels, including chambers of commerce, trade associations, labor unions, and beneficial associations.
- We all must pay for the things we use and we must use our resources wisely. Our taxes pay for the things that government provides.
- Because humans sometimes behave dishonorably, our elected government representatives will regulate commerce and the economy.
- “It’s only business” is no longer a valid excuse for unethical behavior.
It will take at least a generation to see results, but we’ll be in worse shape ten years from now if we do nothing.
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