Rick Wilson: Are Americans losing faith in modern capitalism? (Opinion)

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Business Insider recently reported some interesting survey results about our current economic system, courtesy of the Harris Poll and Just Capital.

Using a sample size of 1,000, it found that only 25% of Americans think that capitalism in its current form is good for society as a whole. The survey, of course, took place in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which lifted the veil on a host of social and economic inequities.

Just Capital is an organization that describes itself as composed of “capitalists committed to stakeholder capitalism.” According to its mission statement, “Building a more just economy that better serves the needs of all stakeholders is an essential step in pursuing true prosperity for all ... .”

You could call it enlightened self-interest.

In their view, the pandemic and the nationwide uprising against racism and police violence has “revealed an economic system that propagates inequality and instability — a system that we now have the opportunity to repair and rebuild together.”

Which leads us back to the survey. Some of the responses are pretty radical. Among them:

  • 89% wanted corporations to hit “reset” and do right by workers, consumers, communities and the environment.
  • Only 29% viewed the prevailing form of capitalism as offering “the kind of society I want for the next generation” or as one that “works for the average American.”
  • Over 50% wanted a reformed version of the economic system, while around 20% believed that no form of capitalism is good for the public. Put another way, that means over 70% are in the reform or replace columns.
  • 70% favored cuts in CEO compensation and executive bonuses.

Those surveyed wanted, among other things, protective equipment and safe conditions for front-line workers, paid sick leave, wage increases and greater flexibility to work remotely. They prioritized public health and health care for workers and wanted strong protection for the unemployed.

While it would be a bit much to view the data as a call for revolution, it does suggest that we really could be at a turning point.

Capitalism over the past 500 years has been as shape-shifting as the mythological sea god Proteus in “The Odyssey,” who changed into a lion, snake, panther and bear in a wrestling match with the Greek king Menelaus.

Some of capitalism’s forms have been nasty and cruel, as in slavery, early industrialization, imperialism, neo-colonialism and unrestrained globalization. Always adaptive, it has flourished in democracies, as well as authoritarian regimes and brutal dictatorships.

But in some places and times, when tempered by good public policies, a strong labor movement and a healthy civil society, it has shown a more humane face.

It could be that there is a growing demand for the U.S. economy to move in that direction, which is a good thing. The other road just isn’t sustainable.

Rick Wilson works for the

American Friends Service Committee and is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist.

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Hinzman, Mary - 3 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Payne, Gregory - Noon, Brookside Ministries, Mt. Carbon.

Spaur, Annette - 1 p.m., John H. Taylor Funeral Home, Spencer.