Is this supposed to be capitalism?
Geoff Colvin writes that a motivating factor in the recent crash in corporate profits, as well as the sharp decline in home values, was the phenomenon that “people began to believe that the more they borrowed, the better off they would be. Their thinking went like this: With the cost of capital so low and asset prices rising steadily, risk was evaporating.”
The precipitating cause of the downturn was that consumers “began to live within their means, shutting down the profit-growth machine.”
Any business or industry profit model that depends on consumers driving themselves deeper and deeper in debt is morally flawed and economically unsustainable. That’s not capitalism, that’s consumerism.
Compare the latter with the former, represented by this statement of a first principle of capitalism, “Thrift the First Duty”:
…thrift is mainly at the bottom of all improvement. Without it no railroads, no canals, no ships, no telegraphs, no churches, no universities, no schools, no newspapers, nothing great or costly could we have. Man must exercise thrift and save before he can produce anything material of great value. There was nothing built, no great progress made, as long as man remained a thriftless savage. The civilized man has no clearer duty than from early life to keep steadily in view the necessity of providing for the future of himself and those dependent on upon him. There are few rules more salutary than that which has been followed by most wise and good men, namely, “that expenses should be less than income.” In other words, one should be a civilized man, saving something, and not a savage, consuming every day all that which he has earned.
You don’t need to agree with Andrew Carnegie about everything to recognize the truth of these statements. Thrift is one of the things that separates civilized capitalism from savage consumerism.