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Progressives are right to worry about income inequality. But punitive policy isn’t the answer.

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PRIVATE PROPERTY and, indeed, private wealth, are integral to any free society. They define a sphere of personal control over valuable tangible and intangible goods that is legally off-limits to the state. The prospect of acquiring more property fosters economic growth by encouraging individuals to innovate and produce. And, more subtly perhaps, private wealth — both small fortunes and, yes, large ones — fosters political liberty by helping to create a buffer between the individual and the authorities. Totalitarians of the right and left, by contrast, confiscate companies, houses and farms.

We review this basic political theory and history to make sure it does not get totally lost amid today’s arguments over the role private wealth plays in American society. In recent days, that debate has taken place directly between progressive populists such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the billionaires, such as money manager Leon Cooperman, who would pay stiff wealth taxes Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders propose. The senators insist that they do indeed appreciate the role of business, but are trying to keep it within proper boundaries; the billionaires counter, neither selflessly nor unreasonably, that the candidates are paying lip service to free enterprise — while the stifling impact of their taxes could extend well beyond its intended targets.

Our appreciation, though, does not keep us from believing that federal law should require the wealthy — and especially the superwealthy, such as our owner — to shoulder a greater share of the nation’s tax burden than they currently do. Progressives are right to worry about growing inequality. There were 607 billionaires in the United States in 2018, according to Forbes magazine, a 50 percent increase since 2010. The top 0.1 percent of U.S. households controls 15 percent to 20 percent of wealth (economists’ estimates vary), a degree of concentration not seen since before the Great Depression. Much of this enrichment derives from financial ma­nipu­la­tion and other rent-seeking activity. Certainly, the fact that WeWork’s hard-partying founder and chief executive, Adam Neumann, can get $1.7 billion from investors in return for leaving that troubled company does not confirm the fairness and efficiency of 21st-century capitalism.

Nevertheless, every billionaire is not a policy failure, as a catchphrase on the left would have it. Not even close. Some billionaires, such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates — and near-billionaires, such as “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling — got rich off world-changing innovations that enhanced the lives of millions. Their fortunes are spectacular examples of the general rule that capitalism — debacles like WeWork notwithstanding — is the font of enormous, widely shared prosperity. Nor is this country becoming an oligarchy, another oft-made but exaggerated allegation. The “billionaire class,” as some call it, seems no more unified than the nation as a whole, with George Soros bankrolling causes and candidates on the left and Joe Ricketts on the right. One billionaire, Tom Steyer, may soon find himself competing with another, Michael Bloomberg, for the privilege of running as the Democratic nominee (against yet a third billionaire, President Trump). Both men, despite their essentially unlimited funds, are very long shots.

Obviously, money should not have undue influence over the political process, which is why campaign finance regulation is necessary. Equally obviously, the market economy’s legitimacy depends on equal opportunity, actual and perceived, which is why, contrary to small-government bromides of the political right, government must intervene to protect less-advantaged participants in the marketplace. Achieving some of these objectives calls for more financial sacrifice from the well-off than the federal tax code currently requires. We have repeatedly advocated such measures, such as a restoration of the estate tax, higher rates on capital gains and the elimination of loopholes that favor upper-income households.AD

No reform, however, necessitates punitive policy or generalized vilification. The future of American capitalism is one of the most crucial issues of the 2020 campaign. It must be debated vigorously — and not simplistically.

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Saoirse McHugh: We need to talk about capitalism

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N HER FORTNIGHTLY column for TheJournal.ie, Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party writes about what we can do as individuals in the face of climate chaos.   

A most ludicrous situation is taking place in which we are disrupting weather systems we have relied on for centuries, poisoning drinking water, destroying habitats that provide food and fuel and pushing ourselves outside of the relatively stable climate we have enjoyed for the past few thousand years.

Despite all of this, most of our media and the great majority of our politicians refuse to talk about the reason why I believe this is happening. What is driving us to continue down such a grim and unpredictable path? The answer is capitalism.

Extracting profit from resources (often privately owned) and labour only to reinvest in further extraction has wreaked havoc on our world. The accumulation of profit as a shaping force in society leaves so much unaccounted for and undervalued.

In general, there is no cost given to implications such as resource use, pollution, and (much and all as I don’t like the term) ecosystem services such as air and water cleaning, pollination and nitrogen cycling.

When these are factored into cost it can have an alleviating impact, but of course the natural world does not trade in dollars and no amount of money can ever compensate for species extinction, coral reefs dying or the damage caused by oil spills like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The need for growth and the relentless expansion into and enclosing of new commons, such as carbon use and genetic information, means that capitalism is entirely incompatible with a finite planet and a just world.

Despite all this it is rare to hear our economic system discussed openly in Ireland outside of a few groups or lone politicians. It has developed the impression of being outside of our control, almost like some God imposed this system upon us.

When the conversation comes up politically, our elected representatives shy away from it and speak in vague terms about prosperity and growth. They do not delve into the idea that not only do we have the power to begin changing our economic system, but we have a moral and environmental imperative to do so.

‘But look at North Korea and Cuba’ 

I am not fully sure why there is such hesitancy to speak about capitalism. Is it because decades of American television have well and truly damaged the ability to talk about it without somebody bringing up the Soviet Union and communism?

I myself have had so many conversations where capitalism comes up and is met with: “But look at North Korea and Cuba, look at how many people died in Soviet Russia.” No doubt atrocities occurred in countries which were under a different economic system.

However, that argument ignores and minimises the atrocities that have been carried out in capitalist countries. The suffering and destruction capitalism has caused and is continuing to cause in the world is immeasurable.

It is a system with its origins in colonialism and to this very day there is a massive extraction of wealth from previously colonised countries. The social, physical, and economic violence used to keep these relationships in place is beyond comprehension and much of it has become accepted as normal.

It is ridiculous to talk about environmentalism without talking about capitalism, yet many people do so. Not only is it a part of our lives but it is the system within which we all operate.

It is all that most of us have ever known and for that reason people tend to avoid the conversation, perhaps for fear of looking radical or outside of the world of common sense.

The promises of green growth or sustainable capitalism are tempting, yet I fear that every year spent chasing these will-o-the-wisps is a year lost while continuing to worsen our predicament.

There will be no climate justice until we move to a different economic system. We need to halt the extraction of wealth from previously colonized countries and, more than that, repay and compensate these countries as fully as possible.

Obviously, it is not just capitalism that damages the environment. There are discussions of petroleum-based socialism and of communism focused on growth, which are extremely damaging too but we have arrived at a time where capitalism is the dominant economic model.

There is no point in skirting around the issue, we need to transform our economies and recognise that any politician who is not engaging in the conversation about our economic model and ways to change it is wasting everyone’s time. 

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Letter: Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness

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Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness. All Hanson offers is more of the same prescriptions that brought us to climate change, inequality, huge government, corporate and private debts, erosion of our infrastructure, a health care crisis, international turmoil, etc.

How about some ownership and something new? If we redefine the goal as sustainability instead of growth, universal equity in services and opportunity, building community instead of dominance, and building a world for the seventh generation in the future, then we must acknowledge that capitalism as we have known it is broken.

Rather than try to pigeonhole the opposition with a derogatory label, let’s find a way to utilize human character to fulfill the promise of a better world for all living creatures both now and in the future.

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Let’s restore our values, do away with capitalism

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One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures, the writer says.

In this past decade, we witnessed a degeneration of politics across the spectrum, with social media, notwithstanding its use, becoming the worst platform for corrosive politics.

We also witnessed moral degeneration and character assassination as influenced by capitalism.

The moral degeneration in SA is very high and that directly reflects the politics of our country.

This open letter is an invitation for us, more especially ANC and Alliance partners, to think critically about who we are as a society and perhaps champion ways in which we can restore some of the values that we have lost.

No more buyers for the escapism Top Billing is selling

Of all the feasts and feats of Top Billing in the past 23 years, there are perhaps not enough Gucci slides that can quite help it dodge its flip and …Opinion1 month ago

One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures. And one of our loopholes as the ANC from 1994 onwards was not to restore our values of ubuntu and revive the black family unit.

Twenty-five years into democracy, it is in our hands as ANC to dissociate ourselves with capitalism because capitalism is an evil that causes the corruption we are seeing now.

It is capitalist ideas that are behind killings of our comrades.

Capitalism is an inherently evil system that thrives on hate, jealousy and inhumanity.

Viwe Sidali, Duncan Village, East London

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