Is a capitalist-sociality economy inevitable?
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What will the economy of the future look like? To answer that we must first consider the current trajectory and the ways in which modern capitalism operates, who it benefits, and if it is sustainable.
In this video, historians, economists, and authors discuss income and wealth inequality, how the American economy grew into the machine that it is today, the pillars of capitalism and how the concept has changed over time, and ways in which the status quo can, and maybe even should, change.
“It’s not that hierarchy is bad,” says John Fullerton, founder of Capital Institute, “it’s that hierarchy where the top extracts from below is definitely bad and unsustainable.” He says that the modern capitalist system works this way, and that it perpetuates the cycle of growing inequality.
ANAND GIRIDHARADAS: Wealthy corporations and people love to ask the question: What can I do? What should we do? What can we start? What program could we launch? I would say to the billionaire change agents and corporate social responsibility departments of our country: Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what you’ve already done to your country.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: The United States is a country which is among the least equal in the world. According to Credit Suisse, which is a Swiss bank and not some kind of crazy left-wing organization, we are second in the world in wealth inequality after the Russian Federation. In the United States since the 1980s, basically 90 percent of the American population has seen no improvement in either wealth or income. Almost all of the improvement in wealth and income has been in the top ten percent and most of that’s been in the top one percent and most of that has been in the top 0.1 percent and most of that has been in the top 0.01 percent, which means that not only are people not moving forward objectively, but the way they experience the world—and this is very powerful—is that other people are on top.
JOHN FULLERTON: Living systems have what are called healthy hierarchies—so it’s not that hierarchy is bad. It’s that hierarchy where the top extracts from below is definitely bad and unsustainable. So, take the lion in the forest or in the jungle. The lion is at the top of the food chain, but the lion sits around sleeping most of the day rather than eating and killing all day. And the lion, therefore, serves a very healthy hierarchical purpose in the food chain keeping the herd, keeping the balance between smaller animals and larger animals. But when the king of the jungle decides to extract as much as possible for its own benefit, you have a very unhealthy system. And unfortunately, that pretty well describes how the modern capitalist system works, where there are benefits of scale; the bigger get bigger, they get more powerful, they get more political influence. But their intention is to maximize shareholder value because that’s what we do. So, the cycle of growing inequality is sort of locked into the system design.
GIRIDHARADAS: Before you want to start something of your own—a little private, unaccountable venture—do an audit. What do you pay people? Do you pay people enough? Do you use subcontractors to avoid responsibility for those workers? Do you pay benefits? When do your benefits kick in? What do you lobby for in Washington? Do you lobby for things that make everybody have a better life in America, or do you lobby against social policies that would cost you something? What’s your tax avoidance situation? Do you happen to be this earnest company that wants to change the world? I mean, is this company paying its full measure of taxes? Does it use tax havens? Does it do the double Dutch with an Irish sandwich tax maneuver? Does it send money to the Cayman Islands and then back and do all this complex routing?
ALISSA QUART: Now to be middle class, you might not be able to have a summer holiday. You might not be able to own your home. You certainly wouldn’t have two cars. What interests me is also we had this idea of the middle class as a solid thing and now it’s a shaky thing. We also had this idea in the middle of the twentieth century of it as a humdrum, boring thing that we wanted to escape, kind of like Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates. And now it’s like everyone just wants to get into it, into the dream, the American Dream of the middle class that’s now so unstable. One of the things that happened was unions weakened. It used to be that 30 percent of employees were in unions in the ’60s and now it’s…
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