The Other I

October 22, 2016

Why I still like capitalism

Filed under: Just Stuff,The Economy: a Neophyte's View — theotheri @ 4:45 pm

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.

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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.




  1. Empowerment in usually-doctrine-driven religion is an interesting thought!

    I vaguely recall hearing a famous quote that communism is the best thing to happen to mankind except it doesn’t happen.


    Comment by tskraghu — October 22, 2016 @ 5:27 pm | Reply

    • I’ve never heard that quote before, but it’s spot on, isn’t it? Come to think of it, I suspect it might be spot on for all our theories about utopia, whether they are religious or secular.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by theotheri — October 23, 2016 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

      • I cant quite place it either.

        Yes, our choice has to be for the best among the imperfect.


        Comment by tskraghu — October 23, 2016 @ 3:36 pm

  2. I tend to agree. I also remember reading that capitalists, what today we call “entrepreneurs,” were encouraged by and seen as the wonderful future for the revolutionaries in France. It quickly turned into something less pretty, with the capital accumulating in the hands of a small number of people and everyone else reduced to a subsistence living (the enclosure phenomenon in the UK had a similar effect well before this time, sheep being the factories of that time).

    Socialism in some European countries did tame capitalism to some extent, make it less brutal. The resulting system is what is called Social Democracy: a more or less free play of capital with the kind of safeguards you want. The German economy is the best example of a big economy that worked this out more than a century ago, but so are most other western and Scandinavian economies. Oddly, the US and Russia today most resemble the brutal earlier versions of industrial economies.

    I think my point, Terry, is that none of this gets worked out amicably because it is just or because a current pope happens to favor it. The tempering of capitalist greed only occurs when it is forced on capitalism, as it was in 19th-century Europe. As long as we shy at the word “socialism” and associate it with a totalitarian place like the USSR (the Nazis were socialists too, don’t forget) we throw the baby out with the bath water. Half the population of the United States of America live at or near the poverty line. That’s what happens when capitalism is not properly regulated by “socialist” principles (which were also those of the first Christians, I need not add).


    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — October 22, 2016 @ 6:20 pm | Reply

    • Tom, I suspect we are pretty much in agreement. I steered away from using the term “Social Democracy” because it’s means seems to range from the far left to the far right. Over here, right now, for instance, we are remembering that indeed Hitler was a “socialist” and that Jeremy Corbyn’s version of “democracy” shares some terrifying similaries — including antisemitism and a refusal to condemn physical violence against even members of his own party who disagree with him.

      But I totally agree with yhou that the creativity and ingenuity made possible by a capitalist system generates the need for social and political control. Given that creativity is an unending process, I think the need for political vigilance and change is also endless. In other words, there’s no perfect system that’s going to keep working without continuous change. Would you agree?


      Comment by theotheri — October 23, 2016 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

  3. I think social democracy is a centrist, i.e. moderate, political position that is demonized by the right (which is now the de facto center) as something far-left and radical, Terry. Were Bismarck and FDR radicals? The problem with European social democrats nowadays as I understand it is that, like American Democrats, they no longer dare put forward a real social-democratic agenda, while what they did espouse and legislate in the past is constantly being eroded.

    I follow Corbyn and the criticism of him in the media. I have yet to see any basis for the allegations made against him. He seems to me to stand for the Labour Party platform of the post-War era and an anti-imperialist foreign policy for Britain. I don’t know why I am shocked to find Brits susceptible to the same or even more virulent demagoguery as I see in America (the Clinton campaign considered denouncing Sanders as an atheist during the West Virginia primary; that would have hurt him much worse than pointing out his Jewishness, they figured). I suppose I expected something more of the Brits — an unfair expectation on my part.


    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — October 26, 2016 @ 6:40 pm | Reply

    • Like you, Tom, I am also shocked by the virulence of the anti-immigrant expressions – both verbal and in physical violence – here in Britain. It is certainly what swung the Brexit vote.

      I disagree with you about Corbyn, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason is that a great deal of his intolerance of the expression of political differences within his own party and either tolerance or denial of physical bullying by members of his Momentum group and anti-Semitism within the party is not reported in the international media. It is often missing even from the main stream media over here.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — October 26, 2016 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

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