Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Soul of Capitalism

“The Soul of Capitalism”

William Greider

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble
As a practicing freelance philosopher, I always begin with a definition of terms. In “The Soul of Capitalism” my first questions are; What does Mr. Grieder mean by the word “soul” and how does he define Capitalism? We want to be on the same page here.
The sub-title of this book is, “Opening Paths to a Moral Economy”. So I interpret the Soul of Capitalism to be concerned with its fairness - the fairness of the economic system.
We already know from reading “Who Will Tell the People” that the fairness of the Political System has been corrupted and marginalized - to say the least. We also have learned from reading Mr. Greider that the two are impossibly intertwined.
Capitalism, as we all know, has never been much on fairness. Capitalism has always been considered more like Mother Nature - the way it is; not the way it should be. It’s like mathematics. It’s supply vs. demand; it’s guns or butter. Its operation can not be denied or interfered with, without deleterious effects, we are told.
There are many who consider this to be “fair”. If that is the way it is, that’s the way it is. I would guess that there are many who because of the title of this book will not even bother to pick it up. Because, they believe that Capitalism is the way it is and that by its very nature it is soulless - as is a machine or a hurricane.
But in picking up on this discussion Mr. Grieder is continuing an old philosophical discussion among “The Worldly Philosophers” as Mr. Heilbroner refers to them; Ricardo, J. S. Mill, Marx, Veblen, Henry George, St. Simon, Godwin, Smith, Maithus etc.
Economics was once discussed as “Political Economy”. There are those radical fundamentalists today who claim that there should exist a “Separation of State and Economics”. And that only if this separation is maintained will the natural economic evolution of proper events take place. Any interference by government will result in disaster.
Those on the other side of this argument claim that the above theory is impossible to substantiate since 1) no such state or condition has ever existed to substantiate the argument 2) when, in the past, such a condition was approached, collapse and failure were invariably the inevitable results 3) and failure and collapse will always be the case with such a scenario because of the basic fallacies of the fundamental principles of the Free Capitalist dogma - supply vs. demand (even in regard to human beings) and unfettered destructive competition, being the two most obvious.
Mr. Greider on his web site refers to his promotion of this book as; Trying to sell hope in hardback.
I’m sure that I am not going to be the first to inform Mr. Grieder that this book does not fill one with a great deal of hope. On the other hand it is encouraging me to think - ever so slightly - in a more egalitarian and economically positive manner. It is nice to know that there is at least one other human being who is still concerned about these matters. Mr. Grieder tells me that there are many, many more and he provides some of their names and email addresses. I have not entertained such utopian thoughts since my junior college days in the 1960s.
Mr. Grieder does suggest in this book that he hopes that it will inspire the younger generation. I hope so too, because I am well aware that this particular member of the older generation is very difficult to inspire.
But if you are looking for positive, practical and sensible economic ideas - that are currently working and in practice by a few folks right as we speak - Mr. Grieder has pages full of them in this latest book “The Soul of Capitalism”.
My problem is that I have and even deeper cynicism than Mr. Grieder - or Tom Paine or even Karl Marx.
I struggle to believe that the problems of mankind are merely systemic. Sometimes, I think that they are endemic - endemic to all of humankind. I must say that I sometimes believe as did Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Gandhi and others - that first we must find our own soul and then put the seed of that soul into humankind. If we can do that, almost any system will work.
When I said that to my wife, she said: “Yeah right! Tell that to your buddy Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Germany. I think your philosophy is a good rationalization for not doing anything.
So with my wife’s criticism in mind, I recommend reading Mr. Grieder’s book. At least he is trying to do something and actually doing something is better than philosophizing about the virtuous self-righteousness of doing nothing.
One other thought occurs to me with regards to Capitalism.
When J. S. Mill was analyzing this particular problem in his “A Theory of Political Economy” he said something to this effect:
So if we admit that the fundamental rules of economic dogma can not be denied and that we must conform to them in our attempts at earning money and operating our businesses - competition, supply and demand etc. - well so be it. But after we have conformed to these demands and made our fortunes we are then free to do with our incomes and our wealth as we please - and so too are governments who gain their wealth after the fact. There are no economic rules or dogmatic restrictions on how we must spend our money after we have earned it. We are once again in command and fate is once again in our hands.
This being the case, can we not redistribute or spend this wealth in any manner we choose? Who is to say that now that we have our wealth and have earned it according to the rules, we can not dispense with it in any manner we now choose? We can give it to the poor; we can buy land for the land-less; we can cure the sick; or we can use it to conquer the world; or gamble it away at a Casino or a stock market. At this point we are once again in control of our economics and our economics are not in control of us.
So then if governments and individuals choose to use their economic wealth to compensate for what seem to be the obvious inadequacies of our hard and fast and oftentimes cruel economic system who is to say otherwise?

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