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Tuesday, October 17, 2020

Is the Worm Turning?

In an opinion piece on October 16th, titled "Rumblings of revolt in Europe as sweat-shop capitalism grows", Britain's Daily Telegraph (normally a reliably right-wing paper) said:
"Across Old Europe (except Sweden), there is a weariness with market doctrines and an inchoate sense that elites have fattened too much on the toil of others, breaching the unspoken social contract rooted in Europe's culture."
The writer points to events in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and even Holland where politicians are finding themselves forced into measures to restrict the freedom of markets and corporations. As the writer points out: ". . . democracies have the power to humble markets, and do so when pushed."

Such moves are anathema in most American business circles, where it is believed that an unfettered market is the best of all possible situations. Of course, this is an assumption, if a convenient one for some, and the only sensible way to treat assumptions is the way hunters treat deer: to blaze away as soon as one is sighted, in the hope of either killing it or flushing out any supporting evidence.

The most probable cause of Europe's seeming disenchantment with free-market doctrines is the excessive amount of wealth being channeled into the pockets of a handful of top executives and investors. The usual cry of those opposed to higher taxes, or any restrictions on top people's incomes, is that doing so would cause these rare and wonderful creatures to take jobs overseas. This too is an assumption, as is the notion that the success of any business depends on securing heroic executives to lead it. There seems to be virtually no hard evidence for either one.

It is sometimes comforting to believe that rich people are heartless, money-grubbing egotists who have zero loyalty to anything other than their numbered Swiss bank accounts. Comforting, but silly. There are people at every level who are interested in nothing but money. Not too many, I believe, and no more at the top than anywhere else. Where people choose to live and work is a decision based on many factors, with payment only one of them. You won't retain people who don't want to stay, whatever you pay them. Nor will managers leave simply because they could, in theory, earn more elsewhere—especially if they already work in one of the highest-wage economies in the world.

And if high-profile, heroic leaders guaranteed business success, why is the typical period of tenure for American CEOs less than two years? Why do we see a parade of such people being fired every month?

In the past few decades, big business has had a great run at controlling the levers of political power. But it's as well to recall that politicians are fickle friends, especially if the choice arises between failure at the ballot box and being nice to old business buddies. Yet there doesn't have to be a problem. Economies don't have to swing between the extremes of unfettered capitalism and narrow-minded protectionism. We already have a sovereign remedy against the social unrest that tends to happen when the rich and powerful (like kings, tyrants, and the nobility of the past) drive ordinary people into acts of desparation.

It's called kindness. If leaders and investors remembered to treat others with kindness, they would be allowed to get on with their lives in peace.

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4 Comments:

Marianne said...

This is why I love you Coyote!

"...the only sensible way to treat assumptions is the way hunters treat deer: to blaze away as soon as one is sighted, in the hope of either killing it or flushing out any supporting evidence."

2:46 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

It's very good to hear from you again, Marianne.

I'm glad you aren't upset by my metaphor about the poor deer. I'd be very reluctant to slaughter a deer (or any other animal that wasn't actively trying to slaughter me), but assumptions and similar mental vermin bring out my killer instincts, I'm afraid.

4:18 PM  
Sevenoaks said...

This kind of comments reveal how deep is our society turmoil. Our capitalism is drifting too much toward right. Among good will people is emerging the awareness that this conduct is simply not human as it does not reply to many of humans' deep needs.

1:19 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, Sevenoaks.

You are right that there needs always to be a balance between the natural processes of capitalism and the needs of people. There is no reason why we should not manage this, given some thought and goodwill,

7:07 AM  

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