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For many of us, capitalism is a part of everyday life. But since the early eighteenth century, the morality of capitalism has been a hotly debated topic. While it has generated unimaginable amounts of wealth, some would argue that it is a system which favors the few over the many. This begs the question, “Is capitalism inherently good or bad?”

In a recent survey by Edelman, 56% of global respondents agreed that capitalism in its current form causes more harm than good in the world. And yes, modern capitalism has undoubtedly been a factor in recent economic disparity.

But one could argue that it is also the driving force for positive change.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, record numbers of Americans are joining the Great Resignation, quitting their jobs in search of search of better pay. That, in turn, has lead to employers across the country to raise wages and other benefits in order to stay competitive. They couldn’t do that without capitalism.

So why do we keep arguing about whether capitalism is good or bad? Probably because most people have an incomplete (or even flat-out misguided) understanding of the topic.

Expert economic advisor Jesper Koll has joined us to shed some light on the issue and weigh in on capitalism’s pros and cons.

“There is no system that has produced as much overall welfare and prosperity, from the very poor all the way up to the very rich, than the capitalist system.”

Jesper Koll

Transcript:

What is capitalism, anyway?

Jesper Koll:

Capitalism empowers individuals to organize other individuals and property into an enterprise in the pursuit of profit.

Now that’s a long and complicated sentence, but the key point is that, number one, you, as an individual living in society, are empowered [and] free to exploit by organizing your friends, your employees, land, intellectual property, et cetera—but [you must do] that in an enterprise form.

So set up a corporation, and that corporation aims to maximize profits, ideally for all stakeholders in the company. But of course, if you say, “No, ideally only for me,” then as an owner, you are perfectly within your right to actually do that.

Capitalism: good or bad?

Koll:

There is no system that has produced as much overall welfare and prosperity, from the very poor all the way up to the very rich, than the capitalist system. If you look at different organizations of how resources within society are allocated, there is no system that has been as successful as capitalism because it actually empowers you. It empowers the individual, rather than giving the rule of oppression—the rule of organization—to somebody who says he or she knows better.

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Is capitalism fair?

Koll:

Look, I think that there is no question [that for] the owners of capital, there will always be a power play that is going on. And in its most extreme form, that goes into outright slavery where you own another human being. I mean, that’s atrocious. But you know, the liberation of that empowers individuals to actually become partners in the business—to potentially become competitors in the business.

That’s, I think, something that we’ve seen primarily in capitalist societies going forward. For example, I’m from Germany, right? I am originally from what was West Germany. And, of course, East Germany was basically under the socialist system—a completely different system. But the big difference between East Germany and West Germany was the fact that if I wanted to set up a company, if I wanted to try my luck at something in West Germany, I could do so freely. That’s the big difference.

And as a result of that, West Germany always had the better cars.

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