On a previous post, Kathryn Fenner had the following to say (sort of taking off on something Phillip had said) about our economic and political systems:
Free market capitalisn is the best system going for creating wealth, but it is really poor at distributional equity. You have to redress it somehow, or the disenfranchised will reinstate a Hobbesian jungle, and kill the freedom of the market. In a really capitalist society, the capitalists drive around in bullet-proof limos and hide behind gated compounds while the rest of the society scraps and scrounges…many “developing” nations are like this.
In response to both, I wrote a series of comments, and for the sake of coherence, I will now edit them together as the rest of this post…
That’s not capitalism; that’s oligarchy. You find it in totalitarian systems (Stalinist Russia) with a small “Inner Party” with exclusive access to foreign goods, or in strongman-type dictatorships (such as with the Caudillos you see so much in Latin American history). And despite what Occupy Wall Street may think, that’s not what we have.
For capitalism to work, you need a thriving middle class (and NOT the bullet-proof oligarchs). Businesses need customers and skilled workers. There needs to be lots of unfettered economic activity.
This, by the way, is why all of those people turned out for that announcement Friday. Far from being just the “politicians” Doug universally despises, it was a cross-section. Yes, there were politicians of all stripes — and one of the wonderful things about an event like this is that Democrats and Republicans are happy to celebrate together, which is a good thing for the Republic.
But there were all sorts of representatives of business and academia. People I run into everywhere — Rotary, church, on Facebook, Twitter, etc. It was sort of like the last episodes of “Seinfeld,” when all these memorable characters from previous episodes crop up. Everywhere you turn, recognition. And they are people you don’t normally see together.
(At one point, Page Ivey — now with USC, formerly of the AP, formerly of The State — and I were standing near Bobby Hitt, and she remarked that it was like being in The State’s newsroom in the late 80s. I said something about The State having sent two writers, and she corrected me — yes, Jeff Wilkinson is still with The State, but Chuck Crumbo was with Columbia Regional Business Review. THAT publication had sent two — Chuck, and Jim Hammond, also formerly of The State. By the way, Chuck had also once worked at The Wichita Eagle, where I had been in the mid-80s. Memories of past lives, everywhere.)
Even Walid Hakim from OC fit into that category. He and I sit on the Community Relations Council board. He’s a nice guy and a very dedicated, helpful board member. I enjoy conversing with him. He, too, was attracted by the promise of new economic activity, if only to protest it.
It was particularly fitting that so many ex-newspaper types were there (and I didn’t name all of them I saw). A weakened newspaper, which is what The State and so many others were going into 2008, is like a canary in the coal mine for the local economy. If things slow down, or suddenly seize up the way they did in September of that year, the already-distressed newspaper keels over. Newspapers, relying almost entirely on advertising for life, are enormously dependent upon their communities thriving economically.
I’m acutely aware of it in the marketing game as well. As was pretty much everyone there. We can feel the fluctuations more easily than a lot of people with fixed salaries who have never seen volatility up close and personally. We all truly welcome the promise that a large new industry brings — especially one that pays a lot of people well — and how that can positively effect everyone in the community. And we have greater appreciation than my friends with The Nerve have for a community, as a community, taking on some small risk in order to encourage such growth — and an expanding industry can be one of the best kinds — in their midst.
Because for capitalism to work, everyone needs to thrive — blue collar, white collar, and yes, the Fat Cat investors. Lots of people able to buy cars and shop in the stores, and pay taxes so that we can pay for the governmental services that provide the framework for healthy economic activity — roads, parks, schools, laws that uphold private property rights.
One more point — for private and public to function together so that the whole community benefits, it is essential that people in the community have some faith in, and respect, those institutions. That is one reason why I so consistently denounce movements that are built upon the delegimization of such institutions. That includes the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, the Libertarian Party, the Sanfordistas in the Republican Party. Any movement that has its basis in lack of trust of these institutions.
Yes, by all means, point to problems with the system, as Nicholas Kristof did in that column that Phillip brought to my attention. Point to things we can fix, to make the system better.
But there is nothing worse than unfocused outcries against the system itself. Because a free and open republic in which capitalism can thrive to the benefit of all classes is the best hope mankind has yet come up with for mutual benefit in a community — or rather, in a complex web of communities, which is what we actually live in.
Man is a social animal. He does not thrive in isolation. And he interacts through institutions, from the family to the federal government, from Mom and Pop shops to large corporations. The idea is to work together to keep those institutions healthy and functioning as they should for the benefit of all, not to try to tear them down or make them pariahs or shrink them until they’re small enough to drown in a bathtub.
The movements or philosophies that would do those things are the enemies of our communities, and therefore the enemies of every one of us. And I stand against them.