According to some in the American media, capitalism is on trial in the Republican primary battle. These pundits are buying the spin from such Republican luminaries as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Jim DeMint, Karl Rove, Mike Huckabee and John McCain. According to these sages, the spate of attacks on Mitt Romney’s record are an assault on capitalism.
You and I know that’s nonsense despite the media chatter.
Romney was a predator. He raided healthy companies, stripped them of their assets, loaded them with debt and sold them at a profit to enrich himself and his fellow-investors. The stripped companies frequently failed and the result was widespread job losses.
That’s not capitalism as I understand it.
Capitalism is not necessarily predatory. It’s a system designed to encourage thrift and ensure stability in the economy while providing incentive for innovation and productivity. Governments issue bonds, for example, to encourage their citizens to save. They could just as easily print all the money they need, but they choose to “borrow” it – or at least some of it – from citizens. The stock market is another example. It is supposed to give everyone an opportunity to take a chance on business. You ante up some of your income and you pocket your winnings – or lose your stake. And the stakes provide capital to fuel the listed companies.
To me, capitalism is best illustrated by the children’s story of the little red hen who diligently planted and harvested her corn while her barnyard neighbors stood idly by. In the end, it was the hen and her chicks who ate the corn.
Of course, it would be charitable of the hen to share some of her corn with the less prudent, but as a capitalist hen, she did no such thing. A socialist hen (or a Christian hen) would argue that good fortune should be shared even with fellow-citizens who might be less deserving.
There’s a valid moral debate here. I can see why some people would resent being told what to do with their hard earned money. I can understand their position that they should be free to give what they want to whomever they want. Obviously, in a complicated society where everyone is dependent to some extent on others, this argument is flawed, but at least there’s room for debate.
The problem is that capitalism has been perverted to such an extent that it now embraces outright fraud. The financial elite has figured out how to control the system’s outcome. With huge sums available for investment in the stock market, for example, they can manipulate stock prices and rake in obscene profits. And by acquiring companies to dismantle them and sell their pieces at a profit, people like Mitt Romney can grow enormously wealthy.
To call this capitalism is to sanction fraud. The practice may be legal but it is is morally reprehensible.
Why arrest the shell game con artist who tricks passersby with his sleight-of-hand when you allow corporate tricksters to grow rich?
“Free enterprise” cannot include the freedom to defraud.
In any society – capitalist or otherwise – the government has a responsibility to ensure fair play and to protect the vulnerable from predators.
The way I see it, the Romneys of this world are not capitalists but robber barons.