There’s a school of thought that argues that markets are the solution to everything. That money is the best indication of value created. That generating maximum value for shareholders is the only job. That the invisible hand of the market is the best scorekeeper and allocator. “How much money can you make?” is the dominant question.
And frequently, this money-first mindset is being matched with one that says that any interference in the market is unnecessary and inefficient. That we shouldn’t have the FDA, that businesses should be free to discriminate on any axis, that a worker’s rights disappear at the door of the factory or the customer’s at the lunch counter – if you don’t like it, find a new job, a new business to patronise, the market will adjust.
Taken together, this financial ratchet creates a harsh daily reality. The race to the bottom kicks in, and even those that would ordinarily want to do more, contribute more and care more find themselves unable to compete, because the ratchet continues to turn.
The problem with a race to the bottom is that you might win. Worse, you could come in second.
There are no capitalist utopias. No country and no market where unfettered capitalism creates the best possible outcome. Not one. They suffer from smog, from a declining state of education and health, and most of all, from too little humanity. Every time that the powerful tool of capitalism makes things better it succeeds because it works within boundaries.
It’s worth noting that no unbridled horse has ever won an important race.
The best way for capitalism to do its job is for its proponents to insist on clear rules, fairly enforced. To insist that organisations not only enjoy the benefits of what they create, but bear the costs as well. To fight against cronyism and special interests, and on behalf of workers, of communities and education. That’s a ratchet that moves in the right direction.
Civilisation doesn’t exist to maximise capitalism. Capitalism exists to maximise civilisation.
Seth Godin: Writes the most popular marketing blog in the world and is the author of the bestselling marketing books of the last decade.
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