Read My Lips

Taking Stock of Capitalism

As U.S.-style capitalism comes under attack, what do the world's preeminent thinkers say about capitalism?

Takeaways


  • "The United States has been inept at exporting democracy, but it has done a fine job of spreading capitalism." (John Gapper, chief business commentator for the Financial Times, November 2006)
  • "Unbridled capitalism (winner takes all, like in America) does not work — unless you can cope with an underclass." (Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore, February 2008)
  • "Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries, whereas capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings." (Winston Churchill)
  • "Capitalism's role is to increase the economic pie, nothing more." (Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, October 2007)
  • "Countries that run away from globalization in the 21st century will pay a heavy price for decades to come." (Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, December 2007)

How will the global financial crisis affect U.S.-style capitalism?

“I’m scared about the next year, but I’m very optimistic we’ll come out of this in good shape. We very well may come out of this horrible situation with a better version of American capitalism — it’ll be a little tamer, it’ll be a little more regulated. But this country is built on an appetite for risk. We don’t want to be France.”

(David Ruder, former SEC chairman, October 2008)

How can capitalism be blamed for allowing the crisis to occur?

“Greed — the Rh-negative bloodstream of democratic capitalism — is what triggered a global subprime mortgage fiasco.”

(Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI editor at large, November 2007)

How has the U.S. government failed to let capitalism flourish?

“The problem with the U.S. economy, more than lack of regulation, has been government’s failure to control the systemic risks that government itself helped create. We are not witnessing a crisis of the free market — but a crisis of distorted markets.”

(Washington Post editorial, October 2008)

What should be the most basic goal in a capitalist system?

“Capitalism’s role is to increase the economic pie, nothing more.”

(Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, October 2007)

What is the relationship between capitalism and democracy?

“Capitalism is global now, democracy is not. We are moving toward one unified world market that is home to democratic and authoritarian systems alike.”

(Harold Meyerson, Washington Post columnist, September 2007)

How has the United States contributed to this trend?

“The United States has been inept at exporting democracy, but it has done a fine job of spreading capitalism.”

(John Gapper, chief business commentator for the Financial Times, November 2006)

What's the connection between capitalism and poverty?

“We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well. I like to call this idea ‘creative capitalism.'”

(Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, January 2008)

In what way is globalization similar to capitalism?

“Countries that run away from globalization in the 21st century — as with those that ran away from capitalism in the 20th century — will pay a heavy price for decades to come.”

(Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, December 2007)

How does the U.S. model of capitalism compare to that of Europe?

“The European model of a more humane capitalism and a more multilateral approach to foreign affairs is a badly needed counterweight to America’s laissez-faire economics and its my-way-or-the-highway foreign policy.”

(Harold Meyerson, Washington Post columnist, July 2006)

Why is Western Europe suspicious of U.S.-style capitalism?

"It may be that elements of capitalism are seen by some in Europe as morally wrong in the same way that birth control or nuclear power or sweatshops are seen by some as simply wrong in spite of the consequences of barring them.”

(Edmund Phelps, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics, October 2006)

What's an outside opinion of U.S. capitalism?

“Unbridled capitalism (winner takes all, like in America) does not work — unless you can cope with an underclass. We stay with the losers, make sure they have enough to live on with health care and equal education opportunities for children whose parents can no longer afford it. It’s very important they not feel abandoned.”

(Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore, February 2008)

What's one explanation for the vitriol currently directed at capitalism?

“Market capitalism is being pilloried, but the cause of our despair is humanity’s propensity to sway from fear to euphoria and back.”

(Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, August 2008)

What do some conservatives see as capitalism's antagonist in the modern world?

“Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism.”

(Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal columnist, July 2008)

And how do environmentalists look at capitalists?

“After much searching and considerable reluctance, I’ve concluded that most environmental deterioration is a result of systemic failures of the capitalism we have today and that long-term solutions must seek transformative change in the key features of this contemporary capitalism.”

(James Speth, Dean of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, April 2008)

How can capitalism be a negative force?

“Today, the marketplace is dominated by the voices of traditional capitalism. Many of these voices speak on behalf of corporations, urging consumers to buy more goods and services as quickly as they can. The sole messages are: Buy more! And buy now! And we wonder why so many young people are alienated and why older people often feel their lives have been less than fully satisfying.”

(Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, January 2007)

What is a key challenge to capitalism?

“Capitalism is an unjust system because of huge imbalances between capital and labor.” (Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, March 2006)

What's a more extreme view?

“Capitalism will lead to the destruction of humanity.”

(Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, August 2006)

What's the outlook for capitalism?

“Global capitalism is an ailing system. The main question is whether the illness is curable — or terminal.”

(Michael Hirsh, senior editor at Newsweek, March 2006)

Is failure in capitalism unavoidable?

“The old saying is true: Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin.”

(Allan H. Meltzer, professor of Political Economy at Carnegie Mellon University, December 2007)

What is perhaps the biggest threat to capitalism?

“Capitalism’s most dangerous enemy are capitalists.”

(Robert J. Samuelson, Newsweek columnist, January 2008)

And finally, in the eyes of one eminently quotable Briton, how do capitalism and socialism differ?

“Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries, whereas capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings.”

(Winston Churchill)

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