By Dr. Larry Fedewa
(June 9, 2019) I cannot leave the topic of the wealth gap in today’s America without commenting on the most fundamental factor in the origin and the evolution of Western capitalism. That factor is the existence of Judeo-Christian values.
It is not an accident that capitalism originated and owes its development as well as its endurance through the past millennium in a civilization dominated for much of that time by the Judeo-Christian religion.
The most unique and the most fundamental standard of that ethic is the equality of all human beings in the sight of God. Thus we all have equal rights to salvation, to justice and to the fruits of the earth.
Capitalism is founded on this principle of equality. Without it there would be no reason for an economic system which provides a means of distributing the goods of the earth to as many people as earn possession.
The foundation of capitalism is the concept of private property. As an economic system, capitalism provides the conditions for acquiring and keeping private property. These conditions are expressed in money, the language of capitalism, and they are protected by a legal system which is intended to treat all with respect. The use of money instead of goods or services, as in a system of bartering, has made practical the accumulation of value, which is called “capital” from which the name of the system is derived.
While capitalism has made possible the reduction of human poverty, the viability of democratic institutions and upward mobility, it is not without its limitations and potential evil. Its greatest threat is greed. Greed has led to monumental evils in the history of capitalism, including slavery, mercantilism, and social evils such as child labor and all manner of criminal behavior.
Through ever vigilant counter-forces, however, such as religion, organized labor and government regulation, capitalism has evolved into a more benevolent system in the advanced versions of Western civilization.
The capitalist system, however, must continue to evolve in order to integrate new developments in technology and the social consequences of these innovations. One of the most significant of these consequences is the gap between the very rich and the middle class which has been developing for the past generation and has become critical since the “Great Recession” of 2007-8.
This disparity has been noticed and denounced by the American Left and many in the mainstream of American life. There have been warnings by various sources of violence and even revolution. While these predictions may be extreme, the fact remains that the control of up to 80% of America’s wealth by 1% of the population is an affront to the America’s sense of fairness, not to mention a dangerous threat to the future of America’s consumer economy.
It is also a sin against God’s people. The sin is not so much that of individuals who are proceeding according to the accepted practices of the current system. The evil is in the distortion of social justice which has occurred more or less undetected through the recent past.
What happened was the explosion of digital technologies and their impact on productivity. The vast increases in productivity over the past generation have caused increases in wealth unimagined by earlier generations. Under the old customs, the distribution of that new wealth went to the inventors and the investors of the new technologies, and the workers who actually produced the products and services were left behind. No one entered the arena to question this arrangements to fight for the rights of the workers. The effect is the creation of two worlds, two societies, one consisting of the very wealthy and the other of everyone else.
This development threatens a reversion to the 18th century, before the French Revolution, when feudalism reigned in the Western world. This situation must be rectified by a redistribution of wealth. There are only three alternatives: 1) maintain the traditional “trickle-down” theory of capitalism – which has never worked in human history; 2) empower the government to confiscate the wealth of the 1% through taxes and then to re-distribute that wealth through welfare programs; or 3) through a reformed capitalism which recognizes the right of workers to share in the profits (or losses) of their companies. That such a capitalism can exist is proven by the “Conscious Capitalist” and similar movements.
Like most Americans, I believe in the dignity of work. I also believe in the cooperative business model practiced by the 1600 Conscious Capitalist member businesses with their 3 million employees. I also believe in the superior morality of this approach to business.
As I wrote last week:
“Why are the workers not entitled to a greater share of the gains which these increases in productivity have brought to life in the public square? After all, without them, these innovations would still be unknown, condemned to eternal obscurity. By what right do the owners (investors) get to determine that they are entitled to 80% of the firm’s assets while the workers – whose role is also critically important to the success or failure of the enterprise – collectively receive 20% or less?
“These are human beings, not robots, not slaves, not units to be discarded or exploited. The old “survival of the fittest” logic does not belong, is not expected, and is not to be tolerated in today’s capitalism. Each company, each organization, each business is based on a culture akin more to a family or a tribe than to a 20th century factory. After all, we spend more time at work than at home, at play, or in social activities. More of our lives with our fellow workers than with our families.
“Success in the business world of this new century demands the pride of accomplishment, respect for the dignity of work, and a company culture which strives to promote the human goals of joy and even love of one’s fellows. These are the coming, growing companies, the ones which will survive and thrive in the dawning of the new day.”
A reformed capitalism can revive the prosperity of the middle class, tackle the geo-physical problems of our time, expand the shadow of progress to the underdeveloped lands , and lead this generation to new heights of world prosperity. But the light of the new capitalism must not be extinguished by misguided government controls which dampen the spirit and crush the mind. For America must continue as the light of the world to conquer the darkness of poverty and totalitarianism, or the world will face another Dark Age.
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