Saturday, August 4, 2012

#216 / Capitalism

As might be expected, The Wall Street Journal is pretty hung up on "capitalism." On July 27th, the paper published an essay by John Bussey deploring the fact that capitalism has become "problematic" for the American people. On July 28th, the Journal followed up Bussey's article with an article by Charles Murray, entitled "Why Capitalism Has An Image Problem."

An "image" problem, note. Not any "real" problem; not a problem of substance. That alone may tell us something.

Murray's view is that "Mitt Romney's resume at Bain should be a slam dunk. He has been a successful capitalist, and capitalism is the best thing that has ever happened to the material condition of the human race (emphasis added)."

Sure. And capitalism may be the worst thing that has ever happened to the natural world, the world that sustains all life, including the human race. That observation, by the way, is not found in Murray's article.

Murray is a moralist, and he ends up deploring the fact that people no longer equate "capitalism" with "virtue" (if once they did, as Murray seems to believe). According to Murray:

It should be possible to revive a national consensus affirming that capitalism embraces the best and most essential things about American life; that freeing capitalism to do what it does best won't just create national wealth and reduce poverty, but expand the ability of Americans to achieve earned success - to pursue happiness.

Reviving that consensus also requires us to return to the vocabulary of virtue when we talk about capitalism. Personal integrity, a sense of seemliness and concern for those who depend on us are not "values" that are no better or worse than other values ... If it is necessary to remind the middle class and working class that the rich are not their enemies, it is equally necessary to remind the most successful among us that their obligations are not to be measured in terms of their tax bills. Their principled stewardship can nurture and restore our heritage of liberty....

With all due respect to Mr. Murray, capitalism is going to have an "image" problem if those who advocate for the rich think that changing the "image" of capitalism will eliminate its problematic position in the hearts and minds of the people. Burnishing the ability of the "capitalist class" to project an image of concern, expressing in their persons a quality of "principled stewardship," will not eliminate the complaints, as long as the rapacious destruction of nature and massive income inequality continue to advance.

Those are "substantive" problems, and they are directly tied to the contemporary practice of "capitalism." Changing those "realities" will automatically change the "image." Trying to change the "image," without changing the reality, won't do any good at all.

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