Before I say my few words about liking capitalism, let me begin by saying that I am fully aware that sometimes it is not perfect. In fact, sometimes it is simply awful. It is a system that can run awry, motivated by unbridled selfishness and destructive greed. It can, and has, been a system which can trap people in terrible poverty and suffering. Capitalism is a system that cannot be let to run free of any social discipline and government controls. It is one that sometimes fails people and where safety nets by social services are sometimes needed to provide the basic necessities of life, including food, shelter, medical care, and education.
Capitalism is a system that always has risks, because it allows people to try out new ideas. And those ideas might fail. So capitalism needs constant surveillance to guide or even reign in ideas, businesses, banks, or any organization that become too destructive, too domineering, too controlling.
Having said that, I still think capitalism is the best system we have devised so far for the welfare of humanity.
When I was young and still ignorant enough to think I had all the answers, I thought that it was possible to set up a system where the risks of capitalism were eliminated. In other words, I thought Utopia was possible. I flirted with communism, and various versions of dogmatic socialism that remain popular today.
I abandoned communism and most forms of rigid socialism because they did not permit people to think for themselves, and because by the time I was in my 30’s, it was clear that it did not work any better at eliminating poverty than capitalism. In fact, capitalist countries with democratic governments were providing a higher quality of life than communist-led countries.
I was also influenced by my nine years living in an order of nuns committed to helping others. It was a rule-oriented life, highly disciplined and organized. It wasn’t too different from living within the military, except that our goals were to serve the poor. But room for creativity, for spontaneous acts of kindness – telephone calls, conversations, letters, even had to be made within certain guidelines – were severely limited. (In the order of nuns I was in, that has changed very substantially, but Rome doesn’t like it, and would like to put all nuns back in their full religious habits and kept within bounds.) But one of the things that convent life taught me was that all the answers can’t be found by confining people within rules, no matter how well-intended.
And today I read two blog posts that made me want to ring the bells for capitalism. They gave examples of ingenious kindness that I think are far more possible within capitalism than within strict systems, even if those systems are deliberately designed for the good of all. One post is from Help Scout, 10 inspirational stories of customer service, the other is about customer service that simply incorporates thoughtfulness.
There are thousands of examples like these, of course, but I read each of them and danced. I’d love to hear if you do too.
Thank you to Raghu, author of About This and That, one of my favourite reads who sent me to the posts above.