David writes:This contribution from David is what I love about David.
March 06, 2006
In defense of capitalism, and some real black history...
Great essay in the current Atlantic by Clive Crook, marveling at how little "awe" we have for the success of the free market and it's comcomitant freedoms. It's called "Capitalism: the Movie" on page 46 of the March issue. Nice to have a good reminder that if we take what we enjoy a little too much for granted, we are in danger of letting it slip away. His point is basically that there is an underlying assumption in our culture (demonstrated through the movies) that business and the free market is a bad thing, and the heroes are the ones who escape being downtrodden by it. He ends with this paragraph:
How about a movie in which a firm prospers under threat of competition by selling things that people want at an affordable price, paying its workers the market wage, and breaking no laws, thereby advancing the common good? Well, you see the problem.
. . .
He makes two claims here:
1. Our movies demonstrate a fierce anticapitalist current in American (U.S.) society.
2. Individual capitalist agents who obey the rules of the marketplace are not the vicious villains the popular media portray them as but, rather, the heroes of our civilization who advance the common good.
Why do I love this stuff from David? Because it gets at the core of GTD and what distinguishes GTD from Covey.
What would Covey have us do? He would preach to us about integrity, honesty, win-win, and paradigms of interdependence.
What does David do? He does not ask what the intentions are of the heroic capitalist. He does not ask what values the capitalist hero holds or what character ethic this captain of industry represents. David recognizes what Adam Smith recognized in 1776: if we structure our social system according to market principles then it's good to act as selfish, egoistic, money-grubbing individuals. Or, as Gordon Gekko said in "Wall Street" (the movie), "Greed is good."
David approvingly quotes Crook who describes capitalists as advancing "the common good." But of course the secret of capitalism is that capitalists need not intend the common good in order to advance it. In fact, capitalism is constructed on the assumption that individuals will not will the common good, they will will their individual good.
Of course, I don't find it odd that there are oases of cultural expression where greed is traduced rather than celebrated. I would certainly not, however, characterize popular U.S. culture as anticapitalist. In the U.S. today Donald Trump is a cultural icon. He slaps his name on buildings all over Manhattan, casinos, and TV shows. Martha Stewart was temporarily slowed down by her imprisonment for obstruction of justice but she was returned with her star shining brighter than ever. In fact, she and the Donald battle it out for the premier position of celebritydom.
GTD reflects our free market popular culture. Work from the bottom up. Covey represents a delusion. Covey wants to sell his products to the big corporations that pay the big consulting fees. He feeds them anodyne maxims from the wisdom of the ages. They pay him to feel good by writing noble mission statements. The reality is that the capitalist ethic is be selfish, be greedy, and the masses will benefit.