Authors mull merits of capitalism
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/12/2021 (229 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE Future Of Capitalism is the title given to this book-form transcript of the 25th Munk Debate held in Toronto two years ago. It’s a provocative title but a bit misleading in that the four distinguished thinkers who took part were much more focused on capitalism as it is practised in the present.
Mentions were made of Canadian, Scandinavian, European and Chinese capitalism during the 90-minute debate, but it was clear that their focus was American capitalism, which all of them to a greater and lesser extent found wanting.
At issue was the following resolution: “The capitalist system is broken. It’s time to try something different.”
Debaters on the pro side were author Katrina Vanden Heuvel, publisher of the Nation magazine and Washington Post columnist, and Yanis Varourfakis, economist, academic, author and former Greek finance minister.
Debaters on the con side were Arthur Brooks, Harvard professor of economics, author and Washington Post columnist, and David Brooks, Yale professor of economics, author and New York Times columnist.
There’s not room here to debate the debate.
But in broad strokes Varourfakis and Vanden Heuvel argued that the idea of a liberal democratic capitalism is a fantasy that has been eclipsed by a “predatory and extractive” idea that is destroying the planet while concentrating wealth and power in the hands of an increasingly small number of super rich oligarchs. In modern America, the big guys collude to cut the cake while the little guys compete fiercely for crumbs left behind. Socialism for the rich, they argue, and capitalism for the poor.
Brooks and Brooks (no relation) argued for the devil we know — capitalism has lifted billions of humans out of poverty since the Second World War while building welfare states that educate and medicate vastly more people. The “future,” as it were, of capitalism is more capitalism. The planet, meanwhile, is being saved by capitalists while socialist and communist alternatives run by “thugs” in China and Russia are “environmental disasters.”
There’s a lot of truth in both positions, which might explain why, after the debate was concluded, only two per cent of the 3,000 people who attended had changed their minds. After the debate a small majority of 55 per cent sided with Brooks and Brooks compared to 53 per cent at the start.
There were a few feel-good moments for the Canadian audience. David Brooks reminded them that he was born and raised in Canada while Vanden Heuvel, no doubt, put smiles on faces when she said; “If you wanted to realize what was once called or is called the American Dream, I say again you should come to Canada.”
Gerald Flood is a former Winnipeg Free Press comment editor.