01.29.2012 01:00 AM

In today’s Sun: Capitalism sucks. Everyone agrees.

Capitalism, in its current form, has no place in the world around us.

Those words are not mine. They’re a quote, from a fellow named Klaus Schwab.

For the many who are unlikely to have heard of Klaus Schwab before, rest assured — he’s no socialist rabble-rouser.

He’s a billionaire, in fact, and the founder of something called the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at Schwab’s Davos gathering last week, as were dozens of other world leaders and billionaires.

While Harper didn’t perform the last rites on capitalism, plenty of others weren’t so shy.

The capitalist “model” needs to be radically revised, said another billionaire, David Rubenstein, and if we don’t, “we’ve lost the game.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the keynote Davos address, agreed: “We need to debate new methods,” she said.

As I told Krista Erickson on her Sun News Canada Live show, Davos 2012 was different from previous years. Among other things, it was interesting.

55 Comments

  1. smelter rat says:

    I think I just heard Gord’s head explode.

  2. dave says:

    Suppose that instead of treating capitalism and capitalist corproations as divinely sanctioned creatures operating according to the commandments of the great deity ‘Unseen Hand,’ that we treat them as tools that will serve everyone’s needs in a democratic society, period.
    A lot of people are struggling with what was once merely a legal fiction for use in court, – corporate personhood. Corporate personhood seems out of control. It’s as if we have two classes of citizens in our democracies (and everywhere else): an aristocracy made up of corporate nobles, and the humans who till the fields for this corporate aristocracy. ( I understand that in the first decade of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that the vast majority of appeals to the charter were from corporate persons. Corporations arguing freedom of speech? C’mon!)
    We used to have a deal in BC whereby forestry companies could harvest timber in an area on condition that they support the local community. Our present government did away with that. But I think that there might be a model in that old way that could be applied more generally. Provinces and municipalities, democratically elected by the locals, could take a bigger role in the way that they award incorporation and business licences. Corporations do what is in their incorporation charters, so we put into those charters much more in the way of conditions ensuring that the corporations are not just putting in the minimum, and taking out the maximum, but that they are contributing in specified manners to the local communities.
    One way that corporations are freeing themselves of responsibility is through free trade agreements. These treaties make illegal the actions by elected local authorities to protect local workers, environments, and community traditions. NAFTA, and assorted other free trade agreements do this to circumvent local democracies,…and CETA will do the same.
    I could natter on and on with more examples about this, but, basically, I think that capitalism has its strengths, but, like the hubris, the fatal flaw, that allows a useful tendency to mestastisize and to take over in a tragedy, when we allow capitalist corporations to take over everything, we are misusing what could be a useful economic tool for all of us.
    We could control capitalist organizations democratically, rather than allowing capitalist corporations to control our democracy.

    • Jane says:

      Interesting comment re corporate personhood. Thought provoking.

    • dave says:

      Part of the debate about the pipeline to Kitimat and increased tanker traffic that I would like to see is a full public airing of the legislated cap put on the amount that corporation has to pay for clean up, should a spill occur. But corporate power, with its bought and paid for politicians, and the corporate mainstream media do not allow that aspect of the debate to be aired.

      When oil and gas picked up again here in the late 1980’s, many of our local businesses were displaced by transnationals that came to cash in. The capitalist ideologues who okayed this takeover argued free competition. Now, there is no competition – only monoplies, making bags of cash to take out of our country.

      Recently, a private member’s bill, intro’d by a John (something) of the Libs, to hold Canadian resource extraction companies responsible for their environmental and human rights impact in foreign countries was defeated in our House of Commons by the party that belongs to corporate lobbyists.
      CETA looks to allow European (and therefore under NAFTA, American) corporations to take the first steps in getting hold of our municipal water systems, overriding what any local elected councils say.

      Financial corporations certainly impact our foreign policies, as shown by the panic to attack Libya when the Libyan regime was so successful in lining up so many African nations to establish an African currency for trade in African commodities.

      I could natter on with more examples,…but you get the idea. Capitalist corporations make a mockery of any claims of sovereignty – especially by buying democracy.

  3. Brian says:

    “Capitalism sucks” is an easy headline, but if pushed over beers, I hope Warren would admit that the real message of his column is that “financial capitalism” sucks, as opposed to “free enterprise sucks” or “market production and distribution of goods and services sucks” or some other variant. Especially since those other variants have, in the aggregate, produced far more good for society than bad. It’s important to acknowledge both the good and the bad, but acknowledging both means acknowledging both. Wall Street is just one sick component of a very large system, and most of that system is still functioning well, and much of it still functions ethically.

    So, to the Kinsella liberals out there, I think you win points in this argument not by repeating slogans that suggest capitalism sucks, but by moving past resentment to clearly say “we need the better parts of capitalism – fostering innovation, rewarding enterprise and mobilizing investment – but we need a new model that does so without leaving the productive parts of society captive to political cronyism and speculation.”

    I’d be intrigued by that. But not by round XXI of the generic “capitalism sucks, the establishment’s wrong, society’s NFU” circle jerk.

    • Pat says:

      You do realize you are part of the 99%, right?

    • Brian says:

      Yeah, Gord, you got me. When you said “…to say it sucks and thus should be crippled or spat upon is to wish we lived at Tanzanian levels of economic prosperity – the rough equivalent of where the western world was in 1910.”

      Yup, that’s exactly what I’m saying by saying I don’t want the productive parts of society captive to political cronyism and speculation! Finally, someone understands me.

  4. Raymond says:

    “Or, like Stephen Harper, they’re afraid of what people might do if they aren’t controlled”

    Go back to bed. Compared to some former PM’s, Harper’s a libertarian.

    • Pat says:

      Financially, yes – Socially, no. He controls every message, he controls every party member, he controls every policy, and he blatantly lies in order to keep Canadians in the dark (“will you be cutting corporate taxes?” Harper:”No, that was never the plan” – then you look in the platform and it says in bold letters ‘Tax Cut for Job Creators (Corporations)”…

  5. Pat says:

    Gord – I don’t really agree with your logic. Calling someone who has obviously benefited from capitalism a “big government type” who supports job regulation and entitlement seems a little bit backwards – is it possible that the opinions of capitalists who mirror your own sentiments are the only ones who are worthy? If so, that is stupid (though not entirely unexpected, given every comment your ever put on here)… Your commitment to avoiding the opinions of someone who is obviously a specialist shows exactly how much of a Harper stooge you are. That man says he is an economist based on ZERO actual experience – his opinion on the subject shouldn’t matter when compared to someone who has actually been a success/seen the issues in the current system. If you held everyone to the same standard as Harper you would have to acknowledge me as a historian, political scientist and authority on public administration, which you have refused to do in the past – accusing me of being inherently biased, as though you aren’t. I guarantee that I am less biased than you are (I do not support any particular party, and I’m all over the place on individual issues – though generally fiscal conservative and social liberal). You, on the other hand, are predictable.

    My issue with all of these billionaires coming out and saying capitalism isn’t a solid system in its current state is that they have obviously benefited from capitalism and lax regulations in the past. For instance, would Warren Buffett or Klaus Schwab have made so much money if they actions they are championing now had been in place? It is akin to Gretzky passing 2000 points, then saying that he would prefer the NHL bring in rules that limit goal scoring. What has changed the minds of these people?

  6. I gotta agree…why don’t the Liberals run on the Capitalism sucks issue in the nest election..

  7. frmr disgruntled Con now happy Lib says:

    How about sustainable economies, Mr Tulk?….but if you and your ilk want to carry on with the same “log it, burn it, pave it” mentality please do so……You and I wont be around to worry….

    We shouldnt be purchasing prosperity at the price of environmental sustainabilty……

    I hope your grandkids/great grandkids arent left thinking: “why didnt they do more to stop the degradation of the planet”?…

    • frmr disgruntled Con now happy Lib says:

      Beg to differ Mr. Tulk…..why you equate sustainability to some form of lesser quality of life is beyond me… Perhaps the level of environmental impact will recede with the lessening of the worlds population…..in the meantime, how much biodiversity will be lost, and what will be the quality of life for those living on the planet when the population finally ebbs?

      The fact of the matter is if we do not change our ways, the standard of living for many of future generations will suffer…..one can have economic growth and yet still maintain the environment if govt AND private industry are willing to work towards that goal…
      So far Mr Harper has shown very little leadership on this issue…..but why worry when the second comings right round the corner……

    • Dave Ruddell says:

      “The carrying capacity of this earth is several orders of magnitude greater than the level at which we currently utilize it.”

      Several orders of magnitude? Are you sure that means what you think it means? Let’s say by ‘several’ you mean 4; you’re stating that the earth could sustain a population 10,000 times greater than it currently has. Approximately 70 trillion people?

  8. allegra fortissima says:

    Klaus Schwab is a very far-sighted man, and far away from being a socialist, fascist, communist, anarchist or all of the above. Did politicians and business leaders listen to him last year? Yes, but apparently not well enough. Will politicians and business leaders listen to him this year? Yes, and hopefully well enough!

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/06/bankers-bonuses-crisis-social-risk

  9. smelter rat says:

    Well, there you have it folks. End of argument. Move along now, nothing to see here.

  10. Justin says:

    And Gord you are wrong once again, as always. While I do agree that over regulation is a business killer, the fact you would call the people who put the forum together “clowns” is priceless. Never mind your dear leader made the keynote speach. I find it funny, people of your ilk who go on about the evils of public entitlements when in fact big business are the biggest whores of government entitlements, e.g. Tax cuts, credits.

    • frmr disgruntled Con now happy Lib says:

      {{{APPLAUSE}}}

    • Cynical says:

      Public entitlements are the bane of the insurance industry. They provide the coverage against risk without rewarding legions of middlemen, each raking off a share. Mr. Tulk is simply representing his own narrow self-interest. I emphasize the word “narrow”.

      • Cam says:

        Hey Gord, how many entitlements have you turned down?

      • Justin says:

        The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many, that should be your motto mr. Tulk. But I digress, where I will agree with you mr. Tulk is the need to foster growth among small to mid sized businesses, but currently were not doing that. The corporate tax giveaway is designed not to increase jobs but to help corporate Canada horde more wealth, while their employees are told to ‘tighten the belt a little further’. The working class in Canada have been beaten down in this recession, and I fear they will have to give a little more in order to please their corporate masters.

  11. Raymond says:

    Justice served.

    • Lawrence Stuart says:

      “Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meteorological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type. Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence.”
      ― Salman Rushdie, Shame

  12. Steve T says:

    The vast majority of capitalism, and those who work within it, is highly preferable to the alternative. However, the one area I agree needs to be reigned-in is that of CEO (and other C-suite) remuneration. It is low-hanging fruit for the anti-capitalism crowd to hold up these grotesque pay packages as an example of all that is wrong with the Western world. So, neuter their argument. Create a tax regime where all income over $1m is taxed at a very very high rate. Entrepreneurs are exempt, and this could be relatively easily identified via patents, copyrights, ownership, etc.. And, no, patents filed by companies would not exempt their CEOs (or the company) from the tax regime.

    Certainly, this may cause some head offices may migrate out of the country, but does that really matter? If we keep the general business tax friendly, and reduce the personal income tax on ordinary people, then companies will still set up factories here in Canada – which is a lot more beneficial to the economy than 2 or 3 millionaire CEOs.

    Interestingly, this approach may bifurcate the celebrity world. Musicians would qualify for the entreprenerial exemption if they own the copyright to their music. Actors and athletes, on the other hand, would not be exempt. Which, quite frankly, would be fine with me.

    • Philip says:

      Income inequality is a central problem of what passes for Capitalism now but it isn’t the only one. You can’t address income inequality without looking at globalization. An economy made up of service industry workers and hedge fund managers isn’t a particularly healthy one. An economic system which rewards income equality and globalization is patently broken and needs to be fixed.

      • Cam says:

        Not. Look at the envirionmental damage in Asia for a start. Gord you and the fellow beleivers keep spewing that stuff. Sooner or later it will catch up.

      • Philip says:

        I’m sorry but I am fairly certain that neither Capitalism nor Globalization have the moral qualities you ascribe to them Mr. Tulk. Economic systems are not morality plays. They may be efficient or inefficient, to varying degrees but not good or evil.

  13. Lawrence Stuart says:

    Capitalism doesn’t suck. It has unleashed human creativity and allowed us to transform this planet, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. The real importance of capitalism is precisely the increase in the realization human potential that it has allowed.

    What sucks is the notion that we can simply take our hands off the steering wheel, and all will be well. What sucks is the belief that more supply side voodooism is going to solve the debt and inequity issues, and address the over consumption of ever scarcer resources. What sucks is the slow but steady slide from democracy to plutocracy in the Western world.

    The argument is not against capitalism, but against blind faith in the power of a deified notion of “the market” to solve all the challenges we face. What Davos tries to facilitate is a consideration of how to keep the the increases in human capacity growing, and growing in such a way that the benefits are realized by the widest possible number of persons. No small task.

  14. Lawrence Stuart says:

    “Honour is greater than life with dishonour in their culture. It really doesn’t matter and it will make no difference in their community.”

    Bullshit.

  15. Dan says:

    Social Democracy.

  16. Chris says:

    I remember from John English’s book about Trudeau that he got in trouble in 1976 for suggesting something similar. When economic times are bad, as now or in the Great Depression, some want to make great changes to the system rather than patiently awaiting the inevitable upturn in the economy. Those who believe in capitalism should see these suggestions as warnings that if things don’t get better soon, the public will support some serious interference in the system, ie. much more state control. I don’t think we’re remotely at that point yet in Canada and hope that we only get some modest and helpful reforms out of this crisis, ie. a little tinkering.

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