Over 200 years have passed since the emergence of traditional liberalism, led by Adam Smith. In the modern era, capitalism has evolved into a different system. One that is overly individualistic and promotes inequality. One that favors finance over the real economy and yields recurrent crises. And adamantly seeks to maximize not profitability, but rents, which the system generates and appropriates. The bottom line is king, employment is precarious… So I wonder: Is capitalism itself to blame, or is it the modernity and postmodernity that we are wrapped up in?
I asked myself that a few years ago, at a Congress near Paris. I posed the same question to a professor who had voiced a criticism like the one I just gave. Her response was essentially Marxist: Blame it on capitalism. I didn’t see it that way, nor do I now.
When it comes to the evolution of capitalism from Adam Smith onward and from the industrial revolution to the present, with all the aforementioned problems (and of course many others), I think we are witnessing the development of the individual, society and therefore the economy as dictated by modernity and, more recently, postmodernity. Individualism, for example, did not start in the 20th century; that happened much earlier. The predominance of profitability was not invented by marginalist economists or Milton Friedman. It is hardwired in the DNA of modern human beings. That’s how it goes.
It is an important question, although the response is probably less important. Because today’s capitalism is a manifestation of modernity and postmodernity. As such, the solutions may not come from government intervention, or the involvement of experts, or the political actions of society—since all are influenced by that same modern and postmodern thought. Ultimately, I think this boils down to two battlefronts:
- Theory: We must scrutinize the concept of human beings and society framed within that modernity, which has become so pervasive.
- Practice I am reminded of a quote saying something to the effect that compassion (not postmodern emotivism) and love will change the world. The solution is in the behavior of many people, not in structures.