SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (MarketWatch) — Yes, capitalism is working … for the Forbes 1,000 Global Billionaires whose ranks swelled from 322 in 2000 to 1,426 recently. Billionaires control the vast majority of the world’s wealth, while the income of American workers stagnated.
For the rest of the world, capitalism is not working: A billion live on less than two dollars a day. With global population exploding to 10 billion by 2050, that inequality gap will grow, fueling revolutions, wars, adding more billionaires and more folks surviving on two bucks a day.
Over the years we’ve explored the reasons capitalism blindly continues on its self-destructive path. Recently we found someone who brilliantly explains why free-market capitalism is destined to destroy the world, absent a historic paradigm shift: That is Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the new best-seller, “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” and his earlier classic, “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?”
For more than three decades Sandel’s been explaining how capitalism is undermining America’s moral values and why most people are in denial of the impact. His classes are larger than a thousand although you can take his Harvard “Justice” course online. Sandel recently summarized his ideas about capitalism in the Atlantic. In “What Isn’t for Sale?” he writes:
“Without being fully aware of the shift, Americans have drifted from having a market economy to becoming a market society … where almost everything is up for sale … a way of life where market values seep into almost every sphere of life and sometimes crowd out or corrode important values, non-market values.”
Sandel should be required reading for all Wall Street insiders as well as America’s 95 million Main Street investors. Here’s a condensed version:
In one generation, market ideology consumed America’s collective spirit
“The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation — an era of market triumphalism,” says Sandel. “The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom.”
And in the 1990s with the “market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving the public good.”
Today “almost everything can be bought and sold.” Today “markets, and market values, have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us,” says Sandel.
Over the years, “market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.”
Examples: New free-market capitalism trapped in American brains
Yes, it’s everywhere: “Markets to allocate health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, recreation, procreation, and other social goods unheard-of 30 years ago. Today, we take them largely for granted.”
Examples … for-profit schools, hospitals, prisons … outsourcing war to private contractors … police forces by private guards “almost twice the number of public police officers” … drug “companies aggressive marketing of prescription drugs directly to consumers, a practice … prohibited in most other countries.”
More: Ads in “public schools … buses … corridors … cafeterias … naming rights to parks and civic spaces … blurred boundaries, within journalism, between news and advertising … marketing of ‘designer’ eggs and sperm for assisted reproduction … buying and selling … the right to pollute … campaign finance in the U.S. that comes close to permitting the buying and selling of elections.”