LTE: Rethinking Capitalism
Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 27, 2014 01:02
Capitalism is under attack. Believe it or not, Boston College can help save it.
The 2008 financial crisis has led us down a path of economic soul-searching, and rightly so. As students at a Jesuit, Catholic university, it should concern us that public and clients’ trust was betrayed. It should concern us that millions lost their livelihoods and that families found it harder to make ends meet. It should concern us that in the aftermath of the Great Recession, our country is substantially more economically polarized. These are realities from which we cannot turn away.
Saving capitalism means addressing these concerns head-on. To overlook these problems leaves those who support free-markets open to charges of ignorance and callousness. People have lost hope in capitalism. Is it any wonder why restrictions on the free market and government interventions are more palatable than ever? Not to confront these concerns is to make it even easier to believe that the system promises nothing more than inequality for all.
I refuse to give up hope in the promise of capitalism because it is not really the system that is amazing but what people can do within it. Here’s one point of view—as liberal democracies have proliferated around the globe, freer economic systems have meant that hundreds of millions have been able to lift themselves out of poverty. Millions of Chinese now enjoy a standard of living once thought unattainable just a generation ago. Millions more are finding that their talents and abilities can be rewarded.
A free market respects individual talent and ability. Can the same be said of more oppressive economic systems? Is it not truly a miracle to see what people can do with hard work, talent, accessible credit, property rights, and the rule of law? Capitalism empowers individuals to find happiness from their earned success.
Others believe this to be hogwash, and I don’t blame them. It is hard not to see people struggling on the streets, next to multi-million dollar apartments. It is hard to stomach child-poverty and food stamp participation rates that grow with each passing year. It is hard not to graduate from BC and want to do something.
One’s first reaction is to replace or curtail the free market or to abridge the economic liberties that our country ensures. Many of our lecturers imply this seductive answer, but we know it to be wrong. We know other systems to be limiting individual liberties, to be the starting grounds for oppression, and to disregard the worth and dignity of others. Other systems are not the answer.
It is easy to diagnose these many economic maladies as a systemic problem with capitalism. I disagree. The maladies we see result when people in the system are divorced from a moral code—when capitalist leaders solely worship money. The problem is not with the system but a defect in our education of future leaders. Capitalism needs moral leaders—not just scions of profit. And that is why BC can play such a crucial role in saving capitalism. BC educates men and women for others. Compassion resonates through everything we do, and BC can be a catalyst for compassionate capitalism.
Compassionate capitalism does not run away from individual moral obligations and social justice. We need leaders who do not leave solving the problems like poverty to others or the government. We need leaders who engage—who incorporate service into their worldview. We need leaders who can check themselves. We do not need leaders who regulate the behavior only by threat of harsh laws and sentences. We do not just need law-fearing leaders, but also God-fearing ones. We do not need systemic regulations that deny the immense opportunities of the free market. Instead, we need leaders—men and women who think of others along with their own profit. BC helps to foster this culture already, but we should own it more and expand it.
Educating these future leaders will not be easy, but truly healing our society does not mean upending it. Bridging the gaps in our society does not mean highlighting its divisions. Moving our society forward does not mean curtailing the liberties that have saved us from falling backwards. Capitalism can be a force for good, but yes, it is also easy for people to be cold to others and the defects of the world around us. But see—the problem is also with people, not just with the system.
Even if capitalism makes it easy to have stone-cold hearts, then at BC, let’s continue to set more of those hearts on fire.
UGBC Executive Vice President