“If you had the ability to reinvent American capitalism, where would you start?” That was the question The Nation posed to sixteen activists and thinkers for our special issue on “Reimagining Capitalism.” When we invited readers to submit their own answers, we were pleasantly surprised at how many responses came pouring in.
Below is an edited selection of these reader proposals, which we will be updating and expanding over the next several weeks. Brilliant, fresh and driven by a deep desire to broaden the terms of our national debate, the ideas here confirm that the true solutions to our economic crisis are readily at hand. The challenge, then, is to persuade our leaders in Washington to get to work.
Proposals for July 11:
Karl Eysenbach (Eugene, OR): Just as a ruined castle can be recycled and turned to better use, so we might think about transforming the military-industrial complex into an environmental-industrial complex. God knows that global warming isn’t getting any better, and at least some very knowledgeable scientists predict that climate change could hit with an evil wallop sooner than many people think. Boeing, Rockwell, E E & G, Blackwater, etc. may have what it takes to save the planet if reconfigured correctly in the midst of the next economic crisis. What better thing to do than turn all of that technological infrastructure around into retooling for solar, wind, geothermal or other sources of alternative low/no carbon power?
Martin Maudal (Claremont, CA): We need a sort of corporate Hippocratic oath required before granting a corporate charter: First, do no harm; second, serve the common good; third, obey all laws; fourth, and only after fulfilling the first three requirements, earn a profit for your shareholders. If we could somehow inspire state attorneys general to take back their right to grant and revoke corporate charters based on the public good, it’d be great!
Patricia O’Malley (Pittsburgh, PA): Most Americans can’t define capitalism, but they imagine that our Constitution requires it. It doesn’t. Congress refuses to perform its constitutional duty to regulate commerce because Republicans throw tantrums and Democrats roll over and play dead. Even President Obama appeases the Republithugs at every opportunity. The misinformation, hypocrisy and blatant lies are so deeply ingrained in America’s psyche that it’s too late to eradicate them. We have to start over. We should begin by raising tax rates on corporations and the wealthy, closing tax loopholes and enforcing sensible regulations. We should demand that future corporate and political leaders exhibit the virtues of human decency, honesty, integrity, common courtesy, common sense and justice. We should create a new brand of capitalism based on new principles:
— Capitalism is one part of a multifaceted economy.
— Blind allegiance to the bogus principles of classical economics will end.
— Capitalism isn’t a zero-sum game. There’s ample money for everyone.
— Profit is not the sole raison-d’etre for all endeavors.
— Employers respect employees’ skills and capacity to contribute to the workplace, and their lives beyond work.
— Both employers and employees are entitled to promote their respective common interests through various channels, including chambers of commerce, trade associations, labor unions and beneficial associations.
— We all must pay for the things we use. Our taxes pay for the things that government provides.
— Because humans sometimes behave dishonorably, government will regulate commerce and the economy.
— “It’s only business” is not a valid excuse for unethical behavior.
It will take time to see results, but we’ll be in worse shape ten years from now if we do nothing.