Who Will Save Capitalism? A Liberal Says Not Big Government

Prompted by an article by a hedge-fund billionaire, and a statement signed by 192 chief executives  of the nation’s largest companies, David Ignatius of the Washington Post ponders the questions that, according to him, many in the corporate world seem to be asking themselves:  Is capitalism in trouble? Does it need another reform in order to save it?

“Corporate America,” he writes, “fears the system is failing… The guardians of capitalism seem to realize that they must respond to right-wing populists and left-wing progressives alike or face a worsening political crisis that is already hobbling the country.”

Ignatius credits (as many liberals do) FDR with saving capitalism in the 1930s, but he (mercifully) does not seem to be looking for another FDR or the government to save the day.

On the contrary, it is quite clear that Ignatius thinks that the saviors of capitalism today will come from the very bosom of capitalism itself—from the people who believe in capitalism, the corporate world.  This is indeed quite a departure from liberal and, a fortiori, leftist dogma, but I’ll take it.

Ignatius has enough grip on reality to acknowledge that Democratic presidential candidates—I presume he means Sanders and Warren, at the very least—“have been strewing proposals for radical change across the campaign trail… many [of which]are wildly impractical and doomed to fail.”

In a sentence that would make George Will proud, he writes “America’s historical experience teaches us that economic reform succeeds when it goes mainstream…”

Ignatius is worried about the extremes of the left and the right, and I share his concern.   But I am not sure he as worried about the left as he seems to be about the populist right.

I say this because Ignatius does not say much about the kind of equilibrium or balance—between profits-is-all-that matters capitalism, and capitalism which cares about the “forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid” of FDR—that he has in mind.  His appeal to FDR raises flags, because FDR’s “New Deal” is the template of the liberal left.

So, is he genuinely interested in saving capitalism from the idols of the left or the right?  Why not acknowledge that since the days of FDR it is liberal economic philosophy that has dominated America, and that it is that philosophy that has allowed the welfare state to grow to proportions that have made it unsustainable.  

Didn’t the country need to move a bit to the right to rein in a big government out of control, and to bring a measure of equilibrium—balance—that had been completely lost, by both parties, for the last 60 years at least?

Why focus on the angst on the part of corporate America, and not on the economic accomplishments of this administration in the last two years.  Accomplishments Ignatius must surely acknowledge that have benefited “the forgotten man” of FDR.  

I agree with Ignatius that “making profits for shareholders”—disregarding the “broader mission to serve customers, employees, suppliers and communities,” as the statement signed by the 192 chief executives reads—is not the corporations’ sole responsibility.  To stick to the profits-is-all-that-matters philosophy will run capitalism and the body politics into the ground.

But Mr. Ignatius, let’s us also give credit where credit is due.  Equilibrium can only be achieved by moving things a bit one way or the other; and in this case, the move to the right was the only right move.