Thursday, June 05, 2008

Capitalism Is Great (CIG) part II

One of the big attacks on capitalism is about how it encourages greed, selfishness etc; the perception that it licenses anything in the struggle to get ahead.

Part of having a capitalist system means not stopping people like Bill Gates making a success of something new, which means toleration of the effects this can have on established companies and their jobs. Big companies do not usually respond to threats like this especially graciously. But attempts to rig the system in their favour usually involve relatively mild things like lobbying for tariffs and subsidies, not outright bans on competitors or the employment of deadly assassins. And the fact that they do game the political system isn't the capitalist bit. Companies die and jobs are lost all the time without anything very dramatic happening, because people don't feel they have an inalienable right to that particular bit of privilege. Partly this is just "the system" imposing itself on squealing little children, but this wouldn't be possible if there weren't a generally internalised feeling that, "If I have the right to drive someone else out of business with my spiffy new idea, some other dude can do the same to me." In America, innovators like Henry Ford and the guys from Google are celebrated.

This is part of the more general principle of what I'd like to call "open access" societies. We support free speech even though speech we don't like might be more successful than ours. We defend a constitution against change even if the change would benefit us. Free speech and constitutions don't survive if people don't generally believe in them, which means taking your lumps when the time comes.

Same deal with capitalism. It enables greed only on certain dimensions but explicitly forbids it on others, and does that more successfully than most other non-capitalist societies.

Or another way, you can get as rich as you like so long as you do it by competing on the grounds of quality and price. See!? Not nearly so evil!

1 comment:

Mandy said...

I like your new blog name...