Sunday, January 13, 2013

Yes to Capitalism, No to Greed

The political arena is strange. So much of the time it's about "defining" the opposition. News flash - the left is not against capitalism.

Greed is visceral. We all know what it is. It is all around us every day but it is no longer directly visible to us. The direct connections have been disguised, hidden or broken completely.

It is often greed that drives someone to knowingly dump toxic wastes instead of handling and disposing of it appropriately. It was greed that drove the housing market and the eventual global financial crisis several years ago. It was greed and a feeling of elitist entitlement that lead bankers to grant themselves huge bonuses after being bailed out.

Greed has been pushed on us as the best way to make financial decisions. When it comes to large organizations, large dollar values or large groups of people it is not. Greed is a force that will cause many people to abandon their ethics. We all know that. It's something that we never talk about.

At some point it became wrong to talk about the flaws in our system. We can't mention the flaws in capitalism. We can't mention the flaws in our democratic system. We certainly can't mention the strong points in other systems. Well, you know what, our entire system is based on greed. One of the seven deadly sins is the driving force currently setting the course for our entire planet.

Capitalism is wonderful. It allows for very efficient movement of resources to worthy companies and purposes. However, we need to protect ourselves from the failings and flaws of people. We can enumerate simple common human flaws quite easily. As well as greed we know that rising to power causes people to forget where they came from -- or believe themselves to be better than others.

Throughout human history we have seen what happens due to greed and a sense of being better then others. This leads to abuse of power. The powerful know best, they will make decisions for the rest of the incompetent world, they will tell us what is good for us. They will recreate society in their view. This is not very good for anyone who isn't sitting near the top of the food chain.

We all know this. We all understand this and have seen people change in front of our eyes when the get promoted or otherwise develop a sense of power. While it is not universal it is incredibly common. So, yes, capitalism is great. However, greed and other human flaws are very bad. This means creating a system that allows people to accumulate a lot, through greed, also means that we need to build in strong protections against those flaws.

Those protections have always been regulations. Government regulations. Everyone plays on a level playing field when regulations are enforced fairly and the natural flaws that are expressed in some quantity of people are kept in check. Unfortunately, the powerful have been very successful in declaring regulations as one of societies ills. And yes, when it comes to administration, there can be too many regulations. We have to be able to differentiate between types of regulations.

Many of us, the general public, simply went along with this castigation of regulations. However, something important happened. Reduced regulations and poor enforcement led us to the point of global financial collapse. We all saw it. We all lived it. There can be no doubt that wise regulations, appropriately enforced, are much better for society and commerce than a commercial wild west.

If we can capture this message, this simple to understand truth that everybody knows and understands, then we can open the door to preventing all the ills that greed leads to. If we don't, and continue to battle resulting issues one by one, we may win many battles but we will lose the war. We need regulations. We need everyone to understand that regulations, protections from power, are required.

From there we can talk about poisoning the environment, as an example of harmful greed, and regulate it. We can talk about predatory lending practices, as an example of harmful greed, and disallow it. We can look at people proposing that we allow the rich and powerful to further enrich themselves at our expense and make appropriate decisions. This is simple, true, and can reach everyone. We need to stop getting distracted and start talking in visceral terms.

Yes to capitalism, no to greed.

HOMEWORK: Find examples of greed in society. Find examples of business greed influencing government policy. Identify regulations that are meant to protect society from abuses of power.

No comments:

Post a Comment