David Callahan: A gentler capitalism

Every few decades, America’s business leaders change their minds about what obligations corporations and the wealthy have to society. This happened 100 years ago, when ex-robber barons like Andrew Carnegie invented modern philanthropy to address social ills, and in the mid-20th century, when leading executives stopped fighting unions and backed more generous wages and benefits. It also happened in the 1970s, when big business rejected that compact with labor, leading to the harsher free-market ethos of the 1980s and 1990s.

Now, corporate leaders are shifting their thinking once more, calling for a gentler form of capitalism.

The latest evidence came last week from two titans of business, H. Lee Scott Jr., chief executive of Wal-Mart, and Bill Gates, the retiring chairman of Microsoft. At an annual meeting of thousands of Wal-Mart employees and suppliers on Jan. 23, Scott pledged that the company — long one of the most ruthless firms in America — would promote energy-efficient products and improve labor conditions in its supply chain. Scott even said that Wal-Mart stores might one day generate electricity with windmills and solar panels. The very next day, Gates, whose company is still under court supervision stemming from an antitrust settlement in 2002, used a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to call for a new “creative capitalism” in which “more people can make a profit, or gain recognition, doing work that eases the world’s inequities.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy

7 comments on “David Callahan: A gentler capitalism

  1. libraryjim says:

    I remember when Sam Walton was alive, he made sure Wal-Mart carried many products Made in America. Since he died, however, it is very difficult to find ANYTHING in the store with the Made in America stamp on the label. That’s a policy I’d like to see return.

  2. RalphM says:

    Robber Barons, either from the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries eventually seem to realize that there are only so many mansions and other luxury items to buy. In my opinion, it’s guilt that drives the philanthropy.

    It’s nice that WalMart wants to improve working conditions for those people in the manufacturing chain; millions of Chinese will benefit…

  3. Padre Mickey says:

    I think a gentler capitalism is right up there with the compassionate conservatives; something which doesn’t exist.

  4. AnglicanFirst says:

    Embedded within American culture is our sense of the “common weal’ worked out in conflict and compromise in over one thousand years of British history.

    We have also inherirted a British tradition of free enterprise which served to stimulate the economic growth of the United States to the general level of national ‘well being’ that we all enjoy today. If you don’t appreciate our level of material security, then I suggest that you travel to the third world, which I have done many times, and you will return to the USA with a deep sense of how blessed we truly are.

    We also inherited from Britain a sense of how to govern ouselves democratically, again with a sense of the “common weal.” The application of this sense of the “common weal’ has not always been a smooth and consistent national experience.

    This sense of the “common weal” and our free enterprise system has brought the USA to the point of controversy that it faces today.

    Some think that individuals should no longer have to think about or worry about food and shelter and medical treatment. Others who say that “you can’t get something for nothing” should get a job.

    But, those who graduate from higth school each year and who, for some reason or another, and that’s a lot of people, are left without jobs when Americans who want to pay less for what they buy, buy in huge quantities, goods manufactured overseas.

    To me a “gemtler capitalism” means that our business leaders, both large and small, are not just capital amassing activities within the USA. Our business leaders, must temper their decisions based upon the “common weal.”

    By making decisions that will provide Americans with jobs and may increase the cost of goods. The merchants may be incurring a profit loss. But when you look at the problems caused by Americans being unemployed or working under their capability in jobs with no benefits or not hope for further self-improvement then the economics are not good for the “common weal.”

    The end result is the demand for improved welfare benefits for the unemployed and the underemployed. In addition, people who don’t work can’t pay for their own health care. All of this provides the opportunity for the progressive left to prescribe taxation fof those of us who waork hartd for a liveing to support those who can’t or won’t take care of their own needs.

    I have to say, that the ideologically driven disregard for the “common weal” is the Achilles Heal of those of us in the USA who want to avoid government intervention in our private lives and increased government taxation.

  5. libraryjim says:

    Padre Mickey,
    You forgot the ‘winky’ smiley. Don’t forget the study which stated that conservatives, and religious conservatives even moreso, give more to charities than those who claim to be ‘liberal’.

    And I’ve found this to be true when looking at what our conservative parish gives back to the community.

    Compassionate conservatives do indeed exist and thankfully so.

  6. Kate S says:

    I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart a few years ago, for two reasons: A profitable store in Trois Riveres became instantly “unprofitable” and was closed after the employees unionized; and I prefer to shop at Canadian companies.

  7. magnolia says:

    i boycotted wal mart for a long time but since i discovered that they are actually doing something to reduce their environmental impact and the fact that they offer many organic products in their grocery, i have come back. i live in a smallish town and these things are rather hard to come by in any great variety. and from what i have read it isn’t just all warm and fuzzies, they have saved a great deal of money by going that way as well.