Monday, September 28, 2009

Capitalism and democracy

I can't stop thinking about this quote from Michael Moore's new film:
"Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil," the two-hour movie concludes. "You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people and that something is democracy."
The problem here -- besides the fact that replacing an economic system with a political one is nonsense -- is that capitalism is extremely democratic. Arguably it is even more so than our political system of representative democracy.

In politics one votes for a legislator tasked with representing your interests. The legislator must seek to represent the views of thousands, or even millions, of his/her constituents and various interest groups. As a result, few people ever elect someone who perfectly represents their own views, with a typical best case scenario a legislator whose voting record is mostly in agreement with the voter's own sentiments.

In capitalism, however, one can directly vote for what they want in every business transaction they engage in without an intermediary or proxy. Dollars can be used as votes for the kind of products and even ethics one wishes to support. If one, for example, believes in such things as "sustainable" business practices, locally-grown products, "fair trade" and a "living wage" for workers one can choose to patronize businesses which engage in such practices. We vote for the things that we want more of by purchasing them while boycotting those things we wish to see less of. All of these decisions help to collectively shape the world we live in.

Another benefit of capitalism is that, unlike politics, it isn't an all or nothing proposition. In politics only one side can prevail, while under capitalism many different people and interest groups can be accommodated. We don't, for example, all have to purchase the same kind of cereal, or even the same kind of breakfast. We don't have to take a collective vote on what to eat in the morning, or whether to eat at all. Rather each of us can vote with our dollars and obtain what we wish for.

That doesn't mean every person will get exactly what they want. The person who wishes to dine on penguin eggs imported from Antarctica will probably come up short. But it truly is amazing how many different tastes and wishes capitalism can provide for.

Capitalism is a system in which people vote, not once a year, but every day for the type of world they wish to live in. What we see around us is largely a result of those decisions and interactions -- our votes. In fact, what Moore proposes is a profoundly undemocratic system in which an ever larger portion of our lives is shifted to the public sphere where decisions are made collectively, via our political elites, rather than by individuals. He surveys the world around us, finds much that he disagrees with, and seeks to use politics as the mechanism to impose upon us his own preferred world order.

Capitalism isn't just democracy, in many respects it is its purest form.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How can this be so clear to you and I, but so misunderstood by many? Such a simple but profound concept. Is it the prevalent hypocrisy in many peoples' lives that prevents them from seeing this? Capitalism is not just democracy but an expression of individual freedom in each choice they make. We could eliminate much regulation if we trust the individual to choose for him/herself. Government should seek only to see that honest information is available to allow intelligent choices.