Nikita Khrushchev’s shoe-banging braggadocio to the contrary, capitalism has pretty much vanquished communism and established itself as the world’s most successful economic ideology. When you think about it, though, how could it have turned out otherwise? In the cause of creating material wealth, which, to the human psyche, represents survival itself, capitalism harnesses the enormous energy of self-interest, while communism (as well as socialism, its kissing cousin) does the very opposite.
It would seem then that, given its ever-growing success, capitalism must eventually carry everyone on the planet to economic Nirvana. But will it? Or is there a dark side to this moon? Isaac Newton, scientist, might remind us in this regard that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, while Isaiah, prophet, might remind us there is a valley for every mountain, and Milton Friedman, economist, might remind us there’s no free lunch. In other words, before we allow ourselves to get carried away with the seeming boundless ability of capitalism to deliver prosperity to all, we might want to take a step or two back.
Inherent to capitalism, we can now ‘see,’ is a form of myopia that manifests in two ways: (1) in the form of bottom-line thinking, and (2) in the form of the tragedy of the commons. In regard to bottom-line thinking, capitalism focuses on achieving as much gain in the short term as possible – bigger profits, larger market share, etc. – without attaching any meaningful scruples to the means of achievement, as indeed is generally the case whenever any mortal thing sees itself as continually under threat. Actually, capitalism sees itself not so much as continually under threat as continually at war, with everything at stake. Which leads us to the tragedy of the commons.
In its nearsightedness, capitalism takes no notice of, or responsibility for, any of the negative consequences it causes in its drive to maximize its survivability. Hence, rivers get polluted, groundwater gets contaminated, global warming gets triggered, soil gets depleted, species get exterminated. All such consequences remain outside capitalism’s circle of concern, at least until such time there is sufficient blow back to singe the seat of capitalism’s pants, at which point it might well be too late for there to be any meaningful change in attitude or behavior among all concerned.