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‘Inclusive capitalism’? Why not simply ‘capitalism’

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I like the word inclusive. Who doesn’t? My colleague certainly likes the word inclusive, especially when I include more money in her paycheck. My wife likes the word inclusive, when I include her equally in my share of assets and especially when I include myself in the housekeeping. Now even the pope likes the word inclusive. It is a word that’s simply impossible not to like.

However, when the feel-good word “inclusive” is applied to the not always feel-good word “capitalism,” it’s a little like mixing oil and water for lovers of socialism. They assume that capitalism is a naturally selfish “look out for your own short term gain while everyone else loses” economic system.

Socialism, on the other hand, is more like the mystical Ubuntu, the “I am because we are” spiritual karma of the human economy. They think socialism – or even better, communism – is the economic system of inclusion and commonality par excellence. After all, if socialism is not social-oriented and communism not community-oriented, then what are they?

Well, that’s what Pope Francis called for on November 11 in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, as reported by Zenit’s Jim Fair, while lauding the intentions of those gathered as part of an exclusive “Council for Inclusive Capitalism.” The Council is a VIP advisory group of 500 top business leaders who met with Francis in 2016 as part of a Fortune-Time Global Forum of concerned capitalists. Their common objective, shaped by social scientists, ethicists, and moral theologians, was to address the twenty-first-century challenge to “forge a new social compact” on the global economy.  As Fair writes, inclusive capitalism is a perspective that  “eliminates poverty and allows everyone (emphasis added) to benefit from development.”

Can’t the two words – supposedly self-contradictory – just get along and work together? Why form an elite council of Fortune 500 executives to promote both capitalism and inclusiveness?

The Council must have calculated the formula, if  inclusive + capitalism = a fair and prosperous economy for everyone, then why not give it a go?

During the audience Francis said a lot of beautiful words and waxed eloquent about the human capacity for service, stressing that it is sinful to treat one another like excess consumer waste, as part of the “throw-away culture.” Quite rightly, before the group of Inclusive Capitalists, Pope Francis said capitalism can’t just be about “balancing budgets,” that business is a most “noble vocation” that can be used as “an instrument for integral well-being.” When capitalism is kind and considerate of others’ well-being, it means more than “improving infrastructures or offering a wider variety of consumer goods,” the pope said. “Rather, it involves a renewal, purification, and strengthening of solid economic models based on our own personal conversion and generosity to those in need.”

Okay, we get it. Yet, what about when capitalism has to do what it has to do for the sake of progress and prosperity for all? This is when it gets ugly. What do we say when capitalism, in acts of what Schumpeter called “creative destruction,” must throw its economic babies out with the bathwater, as whole industries are replaced along with entire work forces? What do we say when it leads to bankruptcy or the buying out of dying, poorly performing companies by more innovative and prosperous ones?

Do we then slap capitalism on the wrist and say: “No, no, bad capitalism. That’s not inclusive of you! No one gets left behind. Just make sure everyone gets paid. And if you can’t do it, find a way to do so via some eternal font of government welfare. Remember the capitalist system per se is not about you, it’s about them.”

I am slightly fantasizing and, therefore, exaggerating for effect. The point is that capitalism already is inclusive by nature. There is no need to assign a new adjective to an economic system that already requires cooperation between economic agents and economic recipients, between service providers and those served, between customer care officials and the customers themselves. Capitalism, gone global, makes the impossible human community possible: the tight, interwoven, and colorful fabric of human collaboration between nations, along with their entire GDPs, their laws, their cultures, their religions, and every single hard worker while striving as a team for Adam Smith’s vision of The Wealth of Nations.

We must remind Pope Francis – and other doubters of capitalism’s natural propensity for inclusion – that capitalism is not just about hard capital (the material means, the money, or any of its capital assets) but also and much more so about soft capital (the caput, that is, our intelligent heads, moral collaboration, the intention to serve, create, and produce goods). It’s all about achieving the common good in wealth for all the nations, not simply for my profit today.

Capitalism is part of man’s natural social order and striving together for flourishing. It’s about exchange. It’s about markets. It’s fundamentally about providing goods and services to others.

Adam Smith’s eighteenth-century vision is often chastised for promoting “self-interest.” In reality, though, Smith was concerned not so much with self-interest but with the mystery of “human togetherness” in the great exchange of humankind.

It’s a shame we have to attach platitudes to the natural attributes of capitalism.  We understand the Pope’s concern, since there are many false economies claiming to be “capitalism” that in effect are none other than cartels, monopolies, cronyism – all of which are built on frameworks of selfishness and ultimately self-destruction. Just go to Buenos Aires, and you’ll plenty of empathy for the Argentine pope. Regardless, it’s high time we praise capitalism for what it actually is, and not for what it isn’t or often pretends to be.

This is what Francis, in yesterday’s concluding remarks, says so eloquently about capitalism: It “serves the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and make them more accessible to all (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 203) … It is not simply a matter of ‘having more,’ but ‘being more.’ What is needed is a fundamental renewal of hearts and minds so that the human person may always be placed at the center of social, cultural and economic life.”

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Michael Severance

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