At this moment – at the culmination of an age of unfettered capitalism and the dawn of an era of government activism – we are begged to consider the constitution of our financial markets. I think we can all agree that capitalism is an intoxicating brew, and, like other fine ales, it’s capable of eliciting the best and worst attributes within our collective human character.
We have seen Warren Buffet amass his fortune fastidiously and with great humility and virtue. We’ve also seen Bernard Madoff squander hard-earned family fortunes and graciously given philanthropic endowments. Here, the continuum of good and evil within capitalism is on panoramic display, and so too is the power of one man to become the cog in the machine.
And it is by the avarice and misanthropy of men like Madoff that we begin to question the divinity of capitalism and its role in our future. Headlines of rapacious greed and chilly winter nights have enlivened a feeling of disdain for the powerful and prosperous. They have, in an instant, transformed from the white knights of commerce to the henchmen of Adam Smith.
This worries me. Yes, the clandestine machinations of certain financial elites have been exposed, and yes, their skullduggery has bore destruction far and wide. But a man is a man by himself, and to blame all wealthy men for the sins of a few would be egregious and improvident.
We cannot fall victim to the temptation to go on a Marxist witch-hunt. Our government now understands this card game must be played under the vigilant eye of a veteran casino pit boss, no longer the stuff of stealth hands and slapdash oversight. The men who’ve engorged themselves through deceit and duplicity have arrived at their day of doom; their reckoning is now. As Warren Buffet famously said in his 2001 chairman’s letter to Berkshire Hathaway, “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”
The water has receded quickly and birthed a nude beach – one whose sands are not adorned with vixens au natural, but pruned old men writhing from the cold of shame. But these are not the men that define capitalism. They are brazen defectors to the canons of free enterprise. The generals of capitalism put a car in your driveway and a laptop on your desk. They built the rockets that took us to the moon and run businesses that ship French cheeses and Greek baklava to your local market. The financial villains of today are not indicative of the greater business community.
It seems that as economic globalization begins to bear tangible cultural consequences, the vitriol of the anti-capitalism whisper campaign becomes more venomous. And as the visibility of the negatives increase through new media, so do the positives become obscured and easily forgotten. To some, the fruits of capitalism have begun to taste less delicious, perhaps even bitter. Some have begun the search for alternative models; many more have simply tasked themselves with uttering rancorous pejoratives toward the free market system.
It is perhaps easier to conjure words of rebuke than words of advice, an iniquity with which we are all familiar. But lest I remind you that it is solely the force of capitalism that struck man from his indolence and set him to work. It is capitalism that lit the blazing inferno within the human mind. It is in the space where the psychological authority of incentive collides with the human instinct for innovation that capitalism exists. In its absence, incentive and innovation would divorce, with the latter mortally dependent on the former. The same could be said for the forces that collided to form the universe – that if they had never met, the potential of our cosmos would have never been realized and our journey never begun.
Thus as I realize that I’ll never be the best man I can be until I’ve found my wife, man had never discovered his true capabilities until he wed capitalism. It was when man coupled himself with the market that his mind was unlocked and set upon the task of invention.
So we mustn’t grow weary of this union and incline ourselves to rebellion and derision. We must grasp firmer the reins of capitalism, harness its powers and ride this wild stallion to the greener pastures on the horizon.
Jordan Pokross is a fourth-year global studies major.