- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
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In the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama, many in the Republican Party are soul searching, trying to determine where “their man” went wrong in his inability to attract a majority vote.
Some reasons proffered include that he was stiff and unrelatable, or seemed willing to take any position to get elected, and that he should not have attempted to coast over the finish line after a strong first debate performance.
A key substantive area being examined is why the Republicans nominated a candidate from big business as the nation was trying to recover from a recession that many think was brought on largely by excesses of big business (i.e., irresponsible lending by big banks). As Newt Gingrich said, why would the party nominate someone who looks like the guy who fired you?
Deeper beyond this evaluation have come questions about our core economic system of capitalism. Much of the debate in this year’s presidential race focused on Wall Street/Detroit government bailouts, attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital experience, the J.P. Morgan $2 billion trading loss and even concerns about who knew what during Facebook’s IPO.
These issues focused the American psyche on what works best and what doesn’t seem to work well for many in America’s form of capitalism.
Much of the criticism of corporate capitalism is exemplified by overseas outsourcing. When Americans see their employer companies stripped bare and their jobs shipped overseas, leaving them and tens of thousands of others laid off from work, they feel something is wrong with an economic system that not only allows that to occur but also celebrates it as “efficient” capitalism. Most Americans don’t want socialism, but many voted this past election for a different form of capitalism that they feel doesn’t harm them.
It appears that what America needs is capitalism with a moral ethos. Insatiable greed is not good (regardless of movie character Gordon Gekko’s opinion on the matter). America experienced this form of capitalism, unhinged from its moral underpinnings, firsthand in the 1880s when robber barons plundered the nation’s people. This form of unfettered capitalism led to sweatshops, unsafe working conditions, child labor, corporate monopolies and company towns that held people in practical indefinite servitude. Then, after a public outcry, the pendulum swung the other way, and government began to respond with regulations on business. This cycle has continued down to today.
What about a return to capitalism as practiced by men like Andrew Carnegie, who followed the Judaic economic principles as expressed in the biblical Book of Ruth? There, in ancient Israel, farm owners were required to not harvest the corners of their fields but to leave some crops gleanings for the poor to reap. That form of capitalism promotes an ownership society that doesn’t neglect its less fortunate citizens, and thus reduces government intervention to redistribute wealth.
The alternative appears to be what has happened over and again throughout American history. When citizens believe that capitalism has gone too far and people begin to get hurt in large enough numbers (e.g., the recent mortgage meltdown leading to widespread foreclosures), then elected officials often have government step in and force an ethical response. This often leads to overregulation, too much government control and the inevitable corporate search for loopholes.
I believe the best form of capitalism is self-disciplined and informed by a moral ethos or worldview that places a proper balance on what I would term the three legs of the capitalist stool the means of production, the needs of consumers and the well-being of the producers (the employees). This form of capitalism leaves some “gleanings” around the edges for the less fortunate (i.e., their employees and the underprivileged). This could mean reinstituting once-popular corporate practices such as profit sharing, equity opportunities for employees and some form of corporate loyalty to the communities they serve.
The wealthy industrialist and American’s first billionaire John D. Rockefeller is reputed to have responded when asked how much money is enough by saying, “Just a little bit more.” Now more than ever, we need a form of capitalism that knows when enough is enough.
Paul Comfort, Queen Anne