Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the compatibility of liberty with capitalism in her third blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The current economic theory of the ‘free market economy’ and capitalism requires a world of scarce or finite resources, together with ‘infinite wants’ of the consumer, in order to work. Scarce resources drive consumer acquisition and increases the market value of the resources. This balances nicely with a key tenet of the liberal view: the freedom to acquire whatever you want, even (or especially) at the expense of others.
The free market economy with unconstrained and unrestricted growth at all cost is now impinging on the freedoms and livelihoods of others. This effect occurs within the market supply chains who manufacture and supply goods, services and natural resources. It occurs with those who do not have the means to afford current market value. This causes even greater scarcity in key earthly resources such as food, water, mineral deposits and energy. It also has a clear link to climate change.
We have the strange paradox of capitalist freedom of acquisition that leads to the undermining of liberty and human rights of others. This has been the pattern as long as the market economy has operated throughout history. Whilst the individual is encouraged to be competitive and individualistic, from a spiritual point of view consumerism proves to be an empty vessel that contains no nourishment. Capitalism promotes ‘happiness’ through acquisition of money and goods over community and individual spiritual prosperity and growth. It undermines the public ‘good’.
What other models can we consider going into the future that can promote liberty and freedom? It is interesting to explore some models that reverse the paradigms that we live within today and speculate on futures driven under different mental models for both liberty and economic good.
One model that we see today is the governance-driven capitalism model, where societal benefit is promoted alongside profit. This can be seen for example in the ‘B-CORP’ model, where capitalist endeavours can be nurtured spiritually by knowledge that they are promoting good in the world, or at least not causing harm.
Others observe that the future will evolve into a post-scarcity economy, where resources are abundant through greater utility and efficiency of innovation, and digitisation will provide both basic and greater needs of the world’s population. This is predicated upon greater information about the world we live in. However, when the commodity underpinning the economy is data or information, where will ownership lie?
Another model suggested is that of ‘Commoning’, where ownership and control of resources is participatory. Resources are protected from sale in the market and belong indefinitely to the community that created them or nurtured them - in the same way that a river might be maintained by communities along its banks, instead of being consumed or sold by a third party to outside interests. In such a model, data would be owned and consumed by those that generate it.
In all of these models, how will the desire of the individual to acquire at the expense of the community be balanced with the community good? One presumes in the manner that this has always been resolved, through some form of political governance, either provided internally by the community, or presided over by a benevolent external body. Benevolent governance seeks to balance the needs and wants of a community against the resources generated or available. It seeks to regulate the internal and external stakeholders’ interests against moral or ethical dilemmas.
Accountable benevolence, ethics, morality and human rights must be clearly defined in accordance to a normalised common good. This clarifies what the community finds tolerable for the welfare, safety, security and health of the community members. The result is the antithesis of capitalism, to which liberty is incompatible.
© Ruth Lewis 2019