I saw a headline last week saying that the lack of a war is hurting our economy. The writer, of course, never questioned whether an economic system that requires war is itself moral. As always, capitalism stood as the unquestioned assumption within which the author could think.
For us to debate whether we can make it economically profitable to save our planet from climate change, or to educate our children or to provide basic health care for all our citizens is an unthinkable monstrosity; and yet one instantly loses credibility if one mentions the word “capitalism” as the problem. It is as if doctors were forbidden to mention the name of a disease and could only address symptoms. Whether someone is a liberal or conservative, as long as they are using the profit motive as their context for doing ethics, they are certifiably insane.
Some of our wisest souls have said as much:
We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifices. Capitalism was built on the exploitation of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor, both black and white, both here and abroad. -Martin Luther King, Jr
The crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.- Albert Einstein
The bible forbids charging interest, which would make capitalism impossible, but even the most literalist bible thumping preacher in America would never admit it. We put “In God we trust” on our coins, but, to be honest, we should stamp “In profit we trust” on our bibles.
There isn’t a single major crisis facing America today that we can solve within the context of capitalism. An unfettered market will seek out war because war is the most profitable business of all time. An unfettered market will find ways around every attempt to protect the planet or the most vulnerable of our species. If we do not learn to think beyond the profit motive, our national epitaph should read, “Strangled by the invisible hand of the market.”