A ‘love’ that will be lasting our lifetimes.
An individual’s relationship with capitalism is very much a passionate, emotional love affair, similar to those read in books and watched on the silver screen. We are so fervent in our consuming that we turn in desperation to loans and lending.
Emotion hits us right between the eyes, like a dramatic break up, when we’ve borrowed more than we can repay, and we watch our possessions- that are tightly clung to our chests- slip from our fingers.
A man who dishes the juicy details of our consumer’s love affair is Michael Moore, in his 2009 documentary: “Capitalism: A Love Story”.
With his powerful introductory home video footage of families being evicted from their homes, coupled with the notorious ‘Condo Vultures’ (Floridian real estate agency whose business flourished due to the increasing foreclosures); Moore highlights the ugly side of any coupled relationship; going behind the men and women with pound signs for eyes, and pay checks as their ‘beloveds’, to show us the truth.
Once in a while a character in our rom- com will commit a selfless act of love, and Moore doesn’t forget to show his viewer this either; as Dr Jonas Salk (the inventor of the polio vaccine) refused to patent his life saving inoculation, leading Moore to question why the brightest of our current generation are being seduced by finance, not science.
And like any closing chapter of a fervent love story, Moore’s declaration ‘rule by the people, not by money’ is enough to leave you wondering whether capitalism and democracy’s turbulent relationship will stand the test of time.
Capitalism enables human choice, by establishing a social contract that makes it possible for individuals to exercise their franchise and free agency; providing escapes from poverty and the opportunity to create wealth for themselves and others.
Able to understand ownership of an object is straightforward, and once a society can develop rights to something tangible it can progress to developing rights for the intangible such as life, liberty and happiness.
By enabling an individual to act for themselves and to be the residual claimant for the benefits and costs of those actions, capitalism fosters economic growth, eliminates poverty, fosters human dignity, stimulates innovation and fosters invention- a recipe of success- which of course is what we all want- we all want to be somebody or prove something in our short life, which is perhaps why we (despite its major faults) are still head over heels for capitalism.
The free markets are ‘supposed’ to lead free societies, but today’s global economy has placed the government as the back seat drivers as big businesses take the wheel.
Initially wherever Romeo be, Juliet would flourish, so wherever capitalism is, democracy must soon follow suit (or vice versa); but today their fortunes are beginning to diverge as we see with China: they have embraced the market freedom but not the political.
One of the beauties of democracy is to allow people to address these issues constructively; however overhanging this freedom is a sense of political powerlessness, as no “democratic nation is effectively coping with capitalism’s negative side effects”.
An idea proposed by economist Robert Reich, is a clear delineation of the boundary between global capitalism and democracy between the economic game on one hand, and how its rules are set on the other.
But surely citizens living in a democratic society have the ability to alter the rules of the game so that the cost to society is not so large?
We do, but as Reich highlights we’ve increasingly left those responsibilities to private sector companies, whose “squadrons of lobbyists and public relations experts pretend as if some inherent morality will compel them to look out for the greater good.”
Democracy’s weakness comes for the fall of capitalism, allowing companies to invest even greater sums in lobbying, public relations, bribes and seeking laws to give them that competitive edge, resulting in an arms race for political influence.
So how can we reclaim our voice? How can capitalism and democracy walk hand in hand in the sunset together, without it becoming a tragedy for the majority? Or does one have to sacrifice in order for the other to blossom, but surely we have the right to both market freedom and political freedom?
In a society where we have to have access to the latest immediately, where competition is cutthroat, money’s beguiling voice drowns out the democratic cries.