June 15, 2020

Questioning capitalism?

Proteus the shape-shifter 

Business Insider reported some interesting survey findings last week, courtesy of the Harris Poll and Just Capital. Using a sample size of 1,000, it found that only 25 percent of Americans think that capitalism in its current iteration is good for society as a whole. The survey, of course took place in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which lifted the veil on a host of social and economic inequities.

As reported by Just Capital, the responses are pretty radical. Among them:

*89 percent wanted corporations to hit "reset" and do right by workers, consumers, communities and the environment;

*Only 29 percent viewed the prevailing form of capitalism as offering "the kind of society I want for the next generation" or as one that "works for the average American."

*Over 50 percent wanted a reformed version of the economic system, while around 20 percent believed that no form of capitalism was good for the public. Put another way, that means over 70 percent are in the reform or replace columns.

The epidemic has exposed gross economic inequality as well as racial and gender inequities. Those surveyed wanted protective equipment and safe conditions for front line workers, paid sick leave, wage increases and greater flexibility to work remotely.

While it would be a bit much to interpret the data as a call for the collectivization of agriculture or government ownership of hot dog stands, it does seem to point out that we really could be at a turning point.

Capitalism over the last 500 years as been as shape-shifting as the mythological creature Proteus in the Odyssey, taking numerous forms. Many of these have been nasty, as in slavery, imperialism, neo-colonialism, and an unrestrained global economy. But in some places and times, when tempered by good public policies, a strong labor movement and a healthy civil society, it has shown a more humane face.

It could be that there is a growing demand for the US economy to move in that direction....which is a good thing.

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