Who ever imagined that in the year 2009, the President of the United States and the protesters who sought to disrupt the G-20 Summit would actually agree on something?
“Capitalism is immoral” was one of the phrases scrawled on several of the banners carried outside the summit meetings this past week. And although he has never said this in so many words, indeed President Obama would seem to be in lock-step with that assertion, or at least with the sentiment that the assertion entails.
But whether you’re a protester or the President, to assert (or even to simply “imply,” as Mr. Obama does) that “capitalism is immoral” is to invite a slew of crucial questions. And the first and most obvious question that this raises is, “what does this assertion mean?”
Presumably, protesters - - and those who think and believe like them - - intend to convey with their “capitalism is immoral” statement that the mechanisms of the free market have failed to produce “moral” economic outcomes. Executives earn too much money, non-executives earn too little. Business owners exploit their employees, and as a result the employees can never “get ahead” and gain new ground with their personal finances.
And it’s not just protesters outside the G20 Summit who believe these things. I suspect that a great many Americans think and believe that the free market has produced “immoral” outcomes, as well. But it is not sufficient to simply say “the free market is immoral.” If one really believes this, then one must ask themselves “what system would make for a better alternative?” Yet without formally asking this question about “alternatives,” most people who believe that the free market is immoral presume, almost instinctively, that an economic system with more government controls and mandates can produce a more “moral” outcome.
So let’s assume for a moment that this is true, that more government controls and mandates on business can produce a more “moral” outcome for the economy, and for the broader society. If this is so, then one must also answer this question: who is the individual person that is so wise, so all-knowing, so just and so good, that they can make all the decisions necessary to produce this “more moral” economy?
Don’t kid yourself - - this is high-stakes stuff. If the mechanisms of the free market - - that is, private persons and organizations who, driven by their own natural interests, seek to acquire the best possible goods and services at the lowest possible prices, and who seek to sell their goods and services for the highest price they can get for them - - if the decisions and behaviors of individual private citizens don’t produce a desirable outcome, then which individual can make all the “right” decisions, and mandate all the “right” behaviors, so we can all enjoy a desirable outcome?
People of the “protester mentality” don’t often consider these more detailed, more delicate, and more difficult questions. Yet, world history is replete with kings, queens, dictators, and - - yes - - even Prime Ministers and Presidents - - who are certain in their own minds that “as long as I’m making all the decisions, then things will turn out good.”
This is precisely the certainty that President Obama displays. In the past three weeks, alone, our President used his influence to oust the C.E.O. of the General Motors Corporation, and now appears to be more-less hand-picking a new board of directors for G.M. As was noted in a Washington Times article two weeks ago, Mr. Obama’s Treasury Department appears to be creating a new position in our government - - the office of the “U.S. Executive Compensation Specialist” - - a government appointee who will determine how much money business managers and executives will be “permitted” to earn, and who will also seek to take away earnings from Americans who are believed to have been paid “too much.” It also appears that, via the Treasury Department, Mr. Obama intends to have other CEO’s removed and replaced as well.
So is this the pathway to a “more moral” U.S. economy? Nobody questions that there have been serious failures among many American corporations. But does this one man, Barack Obama, know the banking, and insurance, and automotive, and healthcare, and energy businesses so well that he, alone, can determine what are “fair” wages, and prices, and practices in all situations.
Such an assumption of the U.S. President defies the limitations of the executive office as set forth in the U.S. Constitution. But constitutional limits don’t seem to matter to our current President.
So now it is left to the American citizenry and the U.S. Congress to determine if this one man, Barack Obama , is so wise, so all-knowing, so just and so good, that he can make all the decisions necessary to produce this “more moral” economy. How will the American people respond to this all-important question?