Joseph Stiglitz Calls to Abolish the Capitalist Church of Self-Interest
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Betty Sue Flowers described capitalism as a kind of religion that people were afraid to question and tamper with lest some great evil be unleashed (which many call “socialism”). Such beliefs are not based on rational thinking, she reminded the audience, and do not fall away in the face of evidence and statistics, no matter how compelling. “The ideology of capitalism can only be confronted by a stronger ideology,” she said, “one of justice and love.”
Dr. Cornell West, who was in the audience, took up this theme in commenting that even if we could convince 1 percenters that promoting justice and opportunity for all was in their self-interest, that still would not be enough. He recalled that all the great social movements, from the Civil Rights Movement to the Women’s Movement, had been motivated by strong moral values which were linked to stories about something much deeper than Me-Firstism.
Myths are stubborn, but they can die. The myth of the inferiority of blacks, for example, was dealt a body blow in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” the promise of which culminated in the election of Barack Obama as president. Myths about women – despite GOP attempts to preserve them – are dying, too.
The idea that human beings are better off acting selfishly would have been laughable to Shakespeare, anathema to Jesus, absurd to Darwin and insane to Freud. Even Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, would have recoiled from the crass self-interest philosophy promoted by Ayn Rand and preached by acolytes like vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan.
Cooperation, compassion, and justice are the cornerstones of human well-being. We can hope that the selfishness peddled by the Romneys and Ryans and the lying “Free Marketeers” will eventually be recognized for the snake oil that it is. Conversations like Wednesday night’s move us closer to that moment.