Saturday, March 28, 2009

Is Capitalism Dying?

If you know me at all, you know that I'm pro-free market and pro-capitalism. I think capitalism works precisely because people ARE naturally selfish, and capitalism is kept in check by the knowledge that providing bad products or treating people unfairly will eventually lead to lower profits.

However, two things have lately been really irking me about capitalism and making me wonder if we may be in the process of an economic paradigm shift. First, the whole financial collapse. Right there was a whole system left alone by market forces, and look what happened. Rather than using greed as a method by which to keep goods and services at optimum levels, it was used to make extreme profits at the expense of the entire financial system.

Canadian banks, which were regulated far more closely than American ones, have fared amazingly well despite the financial collapse in the US and the overall global recession. Point for regulation...

The other thing that got me thinking about the whole capitalist system was a discussion about green technology over dinner last night. Right now, a lot of green technologies are far more expensive than their non-green alternatives. At what point does higher profit trump sustainability? If using a greener technology allows a company to still make a profit, but it is not as high, what incentive is there for management, whose compensation is typically linked to short-term profits, to go green?

Maybe it's not capitalism so much as the entire stock market phenomenon. Maybe "the corporation," as owned by thousands of individuals out to earn a buck, needs to be transformed into something owned by people who have a greater interest in the company. I've heard of employee-owned organizations, and co-ops (which are customer-owned), and perhaps these models deserve a second look?

Just some thoughts...

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