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Classic Capitalism for Romantics?

(This post and the previous one—Natural or Unnatural?—were triggered by a recent post entitled, Socialism for Dummies And Nature for the Savvy.1)

What does one say to Econ Romantics1 when seeing they see not? when hearing they hear not? And what is it they do not see and hear? Could it be the real world of nature and human nature2? Could it be the contradictions in their own reasoning?

How do we always get to the state of “crony-, corrupted-, monopolistic-, fascist- capitalism” if it is not via the romantic notions of free, unregulated, invisible-hand dynamics that allows the natural man3 and his Systems to do their own thing for their own (so-called) best interest? Adam Smith’s invisible-hand may have some application to small, local economies, but go national, mega, or global and the natural, capitalist hand always becomes a fist.

Indeed, what a boon the romantic construct of “free markets” has proven for people without conscience (PWOCs) in a real world where too many meet the criteria of psychopathy4—where corporations (CWOEs) rate even worse.5 Even Adam Smith knew that  the trio of competition, profit motive, and human nature was a toxic mix that a Utopian notion of “free markets” could not survive:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies, much less to render them necessary. (The Wealth of Nations, p. 148—I.X.I)

When masters combine together in order to reduce the wages of their workmen, they commonly enter into a private bond or agreement not to give more than a certain wage under a certain penalty. Were the workmen to enter into a contrary combination of the same kind, not to accept of a certain wage under a certain penalty, the law would punish them very severely; and if it dealt impartially, it would treat the masters in the same manner. (The Wealth of Nations, p. 164—I.X.I)

Adam Smith even recognized the meritocracy trap:

… This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect, persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages. (The Theory of Moral Sentiments, p. 58—I.III.III)

Is not the current college admissions scam6 the perfect exposure of meritocracy posturing? that what we call meritocracy often has an underbelly of vice and folly, faking and fraud, entitlement and egoism, oppression and suppression, crime and corruption?

When will the Econ Romantics finally admit that classic capitalism is a phantom construct that could never survive unredeemed human nature?—a human nature that has manifest in every age, beginning with Cain7? a human nature exacerbated by a competitive system and spirit that stimulates the worst aspects of the natural man? a competitive system that rewards greed, corruption, and conspiracy? If the word conspiracy bothers anyone, just re-read Adam Smith above—just review the entire history of those pursuing and protecting power and gain.

Take this romantic statement:

In a free-market economy as in nature, when something emerges that is non-natural and which tries to block nature and prevents the natural system from running, that non-natural element is quickly rooted out. Hence, the classic, capitalist, natural economy has built in protections against greed and corruption.8

Yet in numerous paragraphs the author laments the corruption of so-called classic capitalism. But if the “classic, capitalist, natural  economy has built in protections,” why has this “natural” economy not corrected the greed and corruption that characterizes the present system? How does classic capitalism expect to protect against fear and favor paradigms that PWOCs exploit to further their power and gain agendas? How does classic capitalism expect people-WITH-conscience to freely and fairly compete with PWOCs who will say and do anything for the sake of increasing power and gain—to “ensure [their] own survival”? with PWOCs who seek to compromise and corrupt everyone and everything for the sake of domination? How does classic capitalism expect to “control” PWOCs without violating the “free” in free-markets?

The simple, historical truth is that free-markets can never survive PWOCs. PWOCs love the romance of free competition. In economics, competition is the very toxin that poisons “free and fair.” Competition justifies and rationalizes most of what PWOCs do for power and gain. Thus, as long as we romanticize power and wealth in place of “wisdom and virtue,” we fall squarely into “the complaint of moralists in all ages” (as Adam Smith says) and into the concentrations of power and wealth in the hands of a few PWOCs running CWOEs.

Competition for profit and market-dominance is the heart and gut of capitalism, but, as usual, romantic, classic capitalists shunt the natural, inevitable consequences of competition (concentration, corruption, conspiracy, disparity, elitism, etc., etc.) onto the tyrannies of socialism—a conflation and projection that boggles plain and simple observation—manifesting a classic blind spot that might warrant a reading of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People and an in-depth consideration of The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium.

Do we really think that competition is a heavenly value? How much advancement and artistry have we forfeited because competition was the paradigm we preferred over freely-chosen cooperation and sharing? What would our world be like if more of us chose the better-half of our dual natures—freely sharing our skills, gifts, and potential—becoming unnatural beings—refusing to be corrupted by the dueling fists of socialism and capitalism?9 As one writer observes:

Mammon is wiser in its way than the dictator, for money enslaves not by force but by love.10

What if most disparities and poverty are inevitable by-products of a competitive system (classic or otherwise) that blatantly rewards greed, corruption, and dominance?—that penalizes transparency and integrity? What if we promoted a system that encouraged and rewarded the gifts and potentials11 of every human from a win-win perspective instead of the win-lose of competition? a system that rewarded the best of the individual within society and society within the individual? a system that honored values beyond profit and bottom line? a system that was not a toxin but an elixir favoring transformation?

What if we are already witnessing a blossoming of cooperation and sharing that is beginning to transform parts of our world? Has humanity ever shared so freely and so much (e.g., apps, podcasts, videos, themes, plugins, photos, books, wikis, crowd-funding, open source, gifts-without-guile, etc., etc.)? What if Daniel Pink is right that there is a greater motivator than money12—a motivator that competitive capitalism may not comprehend (may even try to corrupt) because it cannot put a price to it?

What if we could, person by person, business by business, begin shifting away from the poisons of competition and bottom-line obsession into a paradigm of freely-chosen cooperation and sharing? Would it make a difference if our economic system appealed to the best in human nature instead of the worst or instead of crushing the human spirit? Would we find more truth and hope for humanity—fewer lies about the poor and disadvantaged; less romanticism about powerful, wealthy elites—if we fostered and honored the Spirit of Cooperation above that of competition and/or control?

1. Here is a recent example that energized me again:
2. New Testament | 1 Corinthians 2:14 ~ But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (Bold emphasis added.)
Both history and observation seem to witness that mankind has a dual nature where self-will (typifying the natural man) resists divine design and potential.
3. Natural or Unnatural? at
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5. CWOEs = corporations without ethics :
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8. See footnote 1 above
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10. Walter Wink. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Kindle Locations 818-819). Kindle Edition.
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Note: In anticipation of the cry that a gift economy, itself, could never survive the unredeemed nature of PWOCs and the so-called “undeserving” poor—that a gift economy (mutual/reciprocal offerings) is not just its own egregious romanticizing, but unbelievable-pie-in-the-sky—there may be truth in that because PWOCs corrupt everything they can, even gift-giving, BUT, if people with conscience began living a gifts-without-guile economy, maybe PWOCs and CWOEs would have less opportunity to corrupt and more opportunity to witness a better way.