Capitalism was born with a soul
That unbridled avarice “is the equivalent of capitalism” is a “naïve conception” that should be banished to the “nursery school” of history. So observed Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904) —Darrin M. McMahon (Professor of history, Dartmouth College)
In our society the holiday season seems to arrive like a bailiff pounding on the door with a summons to shop! Here on our Gulf Coast we get to go shopping in a truly free market—free from bad weather, cumbersome clothing, disgruntled crowds, commuter gridlock and a manufactured horizon. Such freedoms are the result of our being blessed with a pristine natural setting and the conservation-minded citizens who care for it.
We are also favored by a political commitment to our country’s founding goal of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The democratic capitalism of our community makes it a wonderful place to do business—in or out of season. Rising above the naïveté of anti-globalists who accuse all capitalists of greed and some unscrupulous businessmen who argue that “greed is good,” we need to focus on the original vision of how goods should be exchanged in a free society.
Adam Smith (the father of modern economics) theorized that rational self-interest and competition would lead to economic prosperity. In The Wealth of Nations (1776) he observed that it is not “from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Yet Smith (who gave the better portion of his own fortune to charity) also observed that along with possessing self-interest, we, the people, are gifted with an instinctive concern (“sympathy”) for the welfare of others.
Therefore, as the market brings men and women into ever wider networks, our ties of mutual benefit urge us to gauge our conduct through the eyes of others while we extend our sympathetic bonds. Far from rewarding naked greed, the free market encourages: a) self-restraint; b) transparent integrity; and c) fair dealing with the protection of private property. In short, the market is good not only for business, but also for human beings. This explains the confidence of test pilot John Glenn (the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth—on February 20, 1962), who remarked after landing: “As I hurtled through space one thought kept crossing my mind—every piece of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.”
Wise Mr. Smith also understood that the system would at times need governmental help in providing an opportunity to those who are poor. He advocated investing economic capital into social capital (e.g., providing universal schooling and sending essential goods and services to where the market had not yet reached on its own). No economic or political system by itself guarantees the redirection of selfish passion into productive behavior. As Zsa Zsa Gabor put it, “I’ve been married to a communist and a fascist, and neither would take out the garbage.”
Well, welcome to our home, where we not only remove the trash, but also recycle it. Come enjoy this season, made warmer and brighter when you go out to eat or to shop because our businesses operate in a way that is responsible both to themselves and to their customers.