If you ask me what I
think about capitalism, I would say maybe it’s
something we should try. Because free market capitalism, what we’re talking about tonight, is not what we actually have
in its supposed epicenter: America, where I live, and about which I write
in “Winners Take All.” A model America is exporting to the world. What we have come to know as capitalism isn’t really capitalism. If capitalism is defined
by a rugged confidence in one’s chances in the marketplace, and the souk of information
or ball bearings or coffee, what I see around me is
something defined instead by slouching insecurity. The most lionized capitalists of our time are a group of mostly men – profoundly insecure men – terrified by the prospect of competing in a genuinely free and fair market. The bankers who plunged the
world economy into the abyss weren’t confident about
their chances in the market, which is why they rigged
regulations and tax codes to give them undue
advantages and immunities. The oil companies that
have given our planet a terminal diagnosis aren’t confident about
their chances in the market. Without rigging policy and using bribery and violence and spreading
fraudulent pseudoscience, many of them would be extinct. The monopolists and would-be
monopolists of Silicon Valley aren’t confident of their
chances in the market – otherwise, they wouldn’t
donate to politicians and spread a phony image of themselves as saviors to avoid regulation
and being broken up. A capitalist self-image of swagger masks a capitalist reality of self-doubt – self-doubt that then motivates
our so-called capitalists to commandeer power to
protect their mediocrity. What I see all around
me is not capitalism, in any meaningful sense
of the word, but capture. Capture looks like 26 billionaires now owning as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity: 3.8 billion people. Capture looks like the global top 1% monopolizing 82% of new
income in a recent year. Capitalism looks like the
few hoarding progress itself, and how does this capture persist? By dressing itself, nowadays, in the costume of enlightenment. “Woke capitalism” is everywhere around us: billionaire philanthropy;
impact investing; give one, get one product;
social enterprises – basically, everything
Bono is involved with. But woke capitalism is all
too often a smokescreen for a manic hypercapitalism that is destroying opportunity and jeopardizing the Earth. But capitalism or not-capitalism, Milton Friedman or Karl Marx, is not the real debate. There’s always gonna be business, and there’s always gonna be government, and the question is the relationship. The debate is, what kind of capitalism and what kind of counterpressures can keep business honest and
keep it in its proper place? Thank you.