Yesterday the Financial Times published an article in their series, Capitalism in Crisis by Jeffrey Sachs, one of the youngest economics professors in the history of Harvard University, special adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Its theme was that ”Self-interest, without morals, leads to capitalism’s self-destruction”.
Though self-interest promotes competition, the division of labour, and innovation, it fails to support the common good in four ways which he lists, the third being:
“(S)elf-interest leaves future generations at the mercy of today’s generation. Environmental unsustainability is a gross inequality of well being across generations rather than across social classes.”
Later in the article he declares that – on the whole – global capitalism has shed its moral constraints and that the mantra, “Greed is good” is the operating principle of the top tiers of world society.
Why does he think capitalism is at risk of failing today?
- We are turning our backs on a grotesque worsening of income inequality and wilfully continuing to slash social benefits.
- We are destroying the Earth as if we are indeed the last generation.
- We are poisoning our own appetites through addictions to luxury goods, cosmetic surgery, fats and sugar, TV watching, and other self-medications of choice or persuasion.
- And our politics are increasingly pernicious, as we turn political decisions over to the highest-bidding lobby, and allow big money to bypass regulatory controls.
Unless we regain our moral bearings our scope for collective action will be lost. The day may soon arrive when money fully owns our politics, markets have utterly devastated the environment, and gluttony relentlessly commands our personal choices. Then we will have arrived at the ultimate paradox: the self-destruction of prosperity at the very moment when technological know-how enables sustainable prosperity for all.
Enlightened self-interest would build a different and far better world
The Occupy movement calls for this, as do so many other organisations.
However as Dr Sachs says, if we continue to turn political decisions over to the highest-bidding lobby, the social, economic and environmental damage will continue – a perilous course.