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People and Politics Forum 26. 12. 2008

"Is capitalism immoral?"

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The Marx Factor

Marx has just published a new version of “Das Kapital”... Bishop Reinhard Marx, that is. The Catholic archbishop of Munich borrowed the name from Karl Marx’s famous work, but the new “Das Kapital” is no communist manifesto. Archbishop Marx takes Karl Marx and the Communist ideology to task in his new book. But he also attacks current capitalist excesses, and says the criticism is as true today as it was in the 19th century. In the new “Das Kapital”, Marx describes wild stock market gambling as sinful.

Our Question is:

"Is capitalism immoral?"

Charles Smyth, from the United Kingdom says:

"Capitalism is the only economical system in which each and every one of us benefits from the efforts of a few. We owe this to the fact that free markets allow an unimpeded flow of money and goods. In addition to that, capitalism alone guarantees the protection of private property. Capitalism’s self-regulating dynamic is intact until the state intervenes, as is the case in the current financial crisis. Although it is state intervention that frustrates these functioning mechanisms, it is capitalism itself that becomes the scapegoat. Archbishop Marx should return his attentions to the Catholic church. It’s clear that he knows as much about capitalism and the economy –that is, ‘nothing’- as his more notorious namesake."

April Rain DiMayo of the Philippines concurs:

"As Friedrich Nietzsche put it: Capitalism cannot be simply fit into categories such as ‘good’ or ‘evil’. It is the nature of man itself that is fundamentally immoral."

Peter Tsavalos of South Africa, says:

"Any system which does not provide for the welfare of the broader population at large will eventually be exploited by unscrupulous, corrupt and dishonest elements in our society. That applies to Soviet communism as well as neo-liberalism. If a society is unable to gather up the courage to check the excesses and inequities of its economic system, then unsavory characters like Madoff, Mugabe and Bush will continue to abuse society at large. No matter what they are called –communist, socialist or democrat- any politician who could care less about the well-being of the population is immoral."

Horacio Velasco from the Philippines puts it differently:

"Any form of capitalism that is not practiced according to ethical guidelines and with an a sense of social responsibility is, in fact, grossly immoral. The system is then reduced to maximizing profits through market competition that is fixated on accumulation. By ignoring these basic truths about the nature of capitalism in this form, those who profit from it most afford themselves one additional luxury –of conscience. They couldn’t give a damn what effects capitalism has on others."

Klaus Uhle from Canada shares the sentiments of many others:

"Western style capitalism is neither more or less ‘moral’ than any other economic system being practiced. Thanks to Wall Street’s irresponsible behavior, and the debt-driven world wide economic financial crisis it has set in motion, ‘capitalism’ is receiving much public criticism. Capitalism is still the best economical system being practiced today—it’s certainly better than state- or centrally-planned economies. It is the system that is best-suited for providing people, through the market, the products they need. It is particularly dynamic –and unique- in that it provides self-correcting mechanisms. It learns from its mistakes. And so it is that lessons will be learned from the current crisis. Financial transactions will be regulated and hedge funds will be restrained. The primary sources of this crisis, Wall Street and London City, could and should have been prevented from creating this financial mess by restricting the amount of speculation they were allowed to engage in."

Martin Burmeister of Venezuela agrees that the culprits are IN the system, not the system itself:

"It is not ‘capitalism’ that is immoral, but the few people that have selfishly and immorally exploited it. This type of behavior should be dealt with as a crime, and the perpetrators prosecuted. Unfortunately, the public and the media all to often mistake the behavior and actions of men, with the system itself."

Gerhard Seeger of the Philippines concurs:

"Capitalism doesn’t have to be immoral. The freedoms that this system provide were undermined by the greed and unscrupulous behavior of some, who sought to get rich at the expense of others. They often did so in a deceitful, criminal manner, as the events of late have shown. With...a little more honesty and sense of responsibility towards society as a whole, capitalism, tempered in a social market economy, would work out quite well."

Michael Scharna of Costa Rica takes another perspective:

"No. Independent of communism, capitalism and other ‘-ism’s, morality is a creation of the times or the era in which one lives. Politicians and others who hold power decide what morality is, and whether one’s accumulated wealth should be managed or if it is just or unjust to ‘share’ that wealth!"

Lee Davis of the USA makes a clear analogy:

"Capitalism is a tool. You don’t ask yourself if a hammer is ‘moral’ or not. The problem is that we have come to let capitalism rule our lives."

Wolfgang Hoebler of Mexico points a finger, unmistakably:

"Capitalism is not immoral –it is the many rogues such as Madoff, who exploit the system to their own dishonest ends, who are immoral."

Olaf Henny from Canada is clear on capitalism:

"Certainly not! Capitalism is the only economic system that generates enough wealth to pay for a sustainable social net."

Amin Zoqurti of Jordan considers the roots of the system’s failure:

"It’s clear that capitalism is a very successful system. Most of the developing countries are employing it. Is that moral? I don’t think so. There are too many poor people –without water and food- who are living near the very wealthy....sometimes even in the same district. Why are some people poor and some rich? Often, it’s because their parents were that way."

Erwin Scholz from Costa Rica muses once again, this time on money:

"Money is neither good or bad,

it brings you what you need to have,

it serves man well in any season,

if it doesn’t devour his sense of reason."

Douglas Titus from the USA turns the discussion around to look at a much lauded alternative:

"Socialism is immoral! We have already witnessed in the Soviet Union the destruction of the heart and soul that occurs when the people are dependent upon the state. Capitalism is not perfect but market economies work if the state does not interfere in them. But what of those who are harmed by the market? The state should stay out of those matters as well. Churches and private organizations are the ones who should provide the necessary assistance."

The editorial staff of ‘People and Politics’ reserves the right to shorten letters received.