A moral economy

Arthur C. Brooks, President of the American Economic Institute, is catching my eye these days and speaking my kind of language. This morning’s Capitalism and the Dalai Lama (http://nyti.ms/1nt5ptR) captures my sentiments almost entirely. Quoting the Dalai Lama with approval, he writes: “Markets are instrumental, not intrinsic, for human flourishing. As with any tool, wielding capitalism for good requires deep moral awareness.” And again, “Advocates of free enterprise must remember that the system’s moral core is neither profits nor efficiency. It is creating opportunity for individuals who need it the most.” Bravo! Continue reading

It’s Hard

This week brought news of the collapse of pooled pension funds. One woman told how she had lost her husband’s pension, which was all of $432. So what you might ask? Well, when the only other income you have is a Social Security check of $900 a month then $432 is a lot of money. As she said painfully, “It’s hard.” The same week brought news of executive salaries and the fact that Larry Ellison had taken home $78 million. Ouch!!! And then came the news that a basketball team was up for sale. Our own Mark Cuban paid $275 million for the Dallas Mavericks. According to the paper he said “laughingly” that he bought it with “fun” money, from an uptick in a share. The contrast between the few who have and the many who don’t is quite mind-boggling.

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

There is a new book out, this one by a Professor Thomas Piketty of the University of Paris. Others more equipped than I am have written excellent reviews. See, for instance, Martin Wolf of the Financial Times at http://on.ft.com/1hIeobd. What emerges from the book is clear evidence that the rich are getting richer and that the process is accelerating. Wealth brings power and enables CEO’s to demand outrageous salaries that add to the pile. The wealthy are unable to spend their wealth and so it accumulates even further. The growing importance of robots doing the jobs that humans used to perform is tilting the balance even further in favor of a small group of very, very rich people. We are returning to the world of feudal kingdoms when the lord of the manor owned most all of it. Wolf suggests that this might not matter economically. After all, he says, the poor in developed countries enjoy lifestyles that the rich of a century ago would envy. On the other hand, he and others do worry that it does matter politically as wealth gives the rich an inordinate share of the vote.