The future of capitalism

When the Bilderberg conference met in Switzerland a month ago, many of their topics of discussion were predictable: Russia, China, and Brexit. (Organizers did not foresee the importance of including Iran on their list.) One of the more intriguing topics was “the future of capitalism.” In spite of the hostility that some American politicians (mostly Democrats) express toward capitalism, I see little reason to doubt that capitalism will remain for many generations.

According to Wikipedia, capitalism had its origins in the Italian Renaissance; the guild system of the Middle Ages and the emergence of modern banking during the same time period are also significant to the beginnings of capitalism. The age of exploration and the industrial revolution both strengthened the power of capitalism. While some countries, including Spain and Portugal, saw government investment in exploration and colonialization, Great Britain and the Netherlands experienced private investment in those areas. Joint stock companies funded the explorers and traders, accepting the risk of such ventures for the sake of the expected profits; the government did little more than tax the profits that were produced.

Karl Marx predicted that capitalism would be overthrown by angry workers in the most industrialized countries. Instead, the first Marxist revolution arose in Russia, and it was followed by Marxist movements in less industrialized countries. Government regulations, along with the growing power of labor unions, responded to complaints about capitalism, reducing its laissez-faire (“leave it alone”) tendencies, but preserving its existence. Regulations about workplace safety, pollution control, and labor laws are accepted by modern capitalists, although debate continues regarding the proper level of government regulation. So long as businesses are privately owned, even though they are regulated, capitalism will continue to exist in the world.

The primary opponent of capitalism is socialism. Many socialist countries are dominated by Marxist movements, generally identified with a Communist Party. During the last hundred years, people have fled such countries in great numbers. Since the Communist Party tended to be totalitarian, restricting the freedom of citizens, it is not easy to separate the political and economic factors involved. Strictly speaking, capitalism and socialism are economic systems that could exist under monarchies or republics, in democracies and in dictatorships. As a result, it may be unfair to judge socialism solely by the number of East Germans, Vietnamese, Cubans, and others who have fled totalitarian socialism, even at the risk of their lives.

But when the economies of East and West Germany are compared before their union in 1989, or when North Korea and South Korea are compared, the results are clear. In fact, the capitalist nations of east Asia after the end of World War II were so successful that, by the 1980s, the government of China decided to return to capitalism, even though the government is still run by a group that calls itself Communist. China’s economic failures under Marxist socialism and its success since it turned to capitalism are another case study for comparison of the two systems.

Advocates of socialism claim that it is more fair, that it divides wealth among all the people rather than allowing wealth to accumulate in the hands of a few successful capitalists. Government regulation again tempers capitalism, breaking apart monopolies and trusts and cartels, setting minimum wages for workers, and in extreme cases (such as during a major war) controlling prices as well as wages. Meanwhile, competition among capitalists for customers and for workers grants advantages to customers and workers that they would not gain in a fully socialist system. If the government owned and managed all the businesses in a country, waste and carelessness would increase, because workers and managers would have less incentive to be careful, efficient, and productive.

In same cases, government competition with private businesses benefits consumers. The United States Postal Service is required to deliver letters and packages everywhere in the country; UPS, FedEx, and DHL must follow the same policy to remain competitive. Competition between federal health insurance (Medicare and Medicaid) and private health insurers could also benefit consumers.

In many cases, people demand more government control out of a sense of what rights belong to citizens. At first, human rights were largely considered freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, and so forth. As the right to life was used to support government programs to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, the concept of human rights expanded. Basic education was seen as a human right, so the government opened schools; now some politicians want to consider college education a right for all citizens. In the same way, treating health care as a human right, some politicians want the government not only to regulate doctors and hospitals but to control them, determining costs and fees and subsidizing health care for low income citizens through taxation of wealthier citizens. Such a move would be detrimental to capitalism.

Even though some loud voices deplore capitalism and want to replace it with socialism, it seems likely that capitalism will remain. Voters will, in the long run, reject politicians that favor socialism and will support politicians who see the greatness of the nation linked to capitalism and private enterprise. J.

Those secret groups that run the world

Imagine what could be done if someone could gather together the most influential people in the world—leaders of industry, finance, academia, government and politics, perhaps even entertainers and members of the media. Imagine what would happen if all these people would speak to one another and—more important—listen to one another. Imagine each of these important people gathering insight into other points of view, other approaches to leadership, and other goals for business and government.

You do not have to imagine. Meetings like this actually happen. In fact, there are three regular gatherings that meet this description. The oldest, founded in 1921, is called the Council on Foreign Affairs. It consists of American leaders, and it clearly was begun in an attempt to ward off the isolationism that was dominating American thought after the Great War was over. The next, founded in 1954, is called Bilderberg. It includes Americans and Europeans, and it dates to the aftermath of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War. Along with them is the Trilateral Commission, founded in 1973, and including Japan as well as North America and Europe. Recently other east Asian countries have been included in the Trilateral Commission along with Japan.

The three groups have common interests and goals. They share one other trait: all three are accused of being secret organizations plotting to control world events. Conspiracy theorists regularly invoke one or more of these groups when they try to explain how a hidden elite force is running the world, causing everything from terrorist attacks to the fluoridation of water.

Some years ago, the governor of a certain state was invited to join one of these three groups. After he accepted, he received dozens of letters from alarmed citizens—some from his state, and some from other states. They warned him that he was being sucked into an evil cabal, one bent upon one-world government and other nefarious plots. He was cautioned that known Communists had addressed meetings of this group. (This was while the Cold War was still happening.) The governor’s staff mailed a reply to these letters with his signature. The reply emphasized that the group existed only to listen to different points of view so people would understand one another. The group had no agenda apart from speaking and listening. In many cases, that reply induced a second letter scolding the governor for naivety and recommending a book to the governor, a recently-published book which claimed to reveal all the dark secrets of this particular group.

Conspiracy theorists focus upon these groups because they seem elitist and powerful. Accusing other people of conspiring to run the world reduces one’s own personal responsibility to the world. A person who believes that a secret elite controls the world and that the rest of us are helpless is a person who feels free to ignore the problems of others. Feed the hungry and shelter the homeless? Cut back on littering and on wasting fuel? Be kind to a stranger? Why bother? THEY are in control, and these small gestures cannot change anything. Moreover, doing any of these things might just be playing into THEIR hands.

The Rockefellers and the Rothschilds are wealthy families. They are regarded with suspicion by many conspiracy theorists. But the Rothschild fortune and the Rockefeller fortune were acquired in the same fashion that Bill Gates and Sam Walton became wealthy more recently. Such wealth begins with an idea—a thought about how to give other people what they want and get paid for doing it. Having that idea, the entrepreneur advertises the product or the service. As profits build, they are reinvested in the company. Further investigation of what people want and how to provide it, and continued advertising, bring about a growing business that eventually produces a family fortune. This procedure requires effort, determination, and a little bit of luck. Competition and economic downturns might stifle the company for a while. In the end, the Rockefellers and the Waltons are wealthy today because of a predecessor in the family who worked very hard over a period of time to succeed.

With privilege comes responsibility. Rockefellers and Rothschilds sponsor efforts to improve the world for everyone. They contribute to schools, hospitals, libraries, concert halls, art museums, and other social benefits. They create foundations to continue helping other people. They fund and participate in gatherings (such as the three mentioned above) because they agree that powerful people should speak to one another and listen to one another. Far from conspiring to control the world for their own benefit, they are giving back to a world that made them rich by wanting what their predecessors sold.

Yet these wealthy and powerful people are like everyone else. They are sometimes thoughtful and considerate. They are sometimes petty and self-centered. They can be suspicious of one another. They are neither interested in combining forces to rule the world nor capable of doing so. And, I suspect, they are both puzzled and amused by the countless theories that claim that they are doing such things right now. J.

Back from Dresden

The participants of the Bilderberg Conference for 2016 have returned to their homes around the world from Dresden. We can now enjoy the various conspiracy theories regarding this annual, invitation-only gathering of some of the world’s richest and most influential people.

From their own press releases, we know that they talked about the United States election, China, Russia, migration and refugees, and the “precariat” and the middle class. (Precariat describes workers who are struggling in the modern economy and have no long-term wage security.) Participants are allowed to share information they gained from the sessions, but not to quote any speaker directly.

Is this the New World Order at work? Did Bilderberg decide the outcome of this November’s presidential election? Are they managing the wars in north Africa and west Asia? Are they deciding on salaries and prices for the world’s economy? Are they conspiring to make themselves richer at the expense of everyone else?

Conspiracy theories are fun, so long as one does not take them too seriously. When a person loses optimism about the future because of conspiracy theories, that’s a bad thing. When a person stops trying to make the world better because of conspiracy theories, that’s a bad thing. When a person loses faith in God’s ability to rule creation and care for his people, that’s a very bad thing.

Conspiracies rarely succeed in changing history for two reasons. First, people who are greedy are not going to trust other greedy people to cooperate on a massive campaign of world dominance. Each conspirator is in it for himself or herself. They will battle each other and betray each other out of self-interest. Second, people are incompetent, and groups of people only pool incompetence. The fiasco known as Watergate shows how conspiracies really (fail to) work.

Only publicly-known conspiracies have any chance of success. The cartel known as OPEC managed to inflate the cost of oil artificially for about forty years, beginning in 1973. Everyone who was paying attention knew what they were doing. Finally greed and incompetence have robbed OPEC of its power: Saudi Arabia and Iran and Iraq want to continue producing more oil, even though that keeps the price low and hurts the economies of Venezuela and Mexico. American oil companies flourished during the reign of OPEC, and their production also increased over the last several years, drawing the price of oil lower. Now they are cutting back on more expensive mining for oil and laying off workers. The American oil companies are not struggling, but Russia and Venezuela—competitors of the United States—are facing hard times because of this economic change.

Back, though, to Bilderberg. Do they control OPEC or the American oil companies? No, they do not, but you can be sure that the conference discussed the economics of oil and the effect those economics have on politics, employment, and other areas. Can they control the election in November? No, they cannot, but you can be sure that the conference discussed the policies and personalities of the two major candidates and the effects either of them will have on world politics and the economy in the coming years.

So why did these rich and powerful people meet in secret? Would you believe that it was just to talk to one another and to listen to each other? Most professional workers are expected to be involved in continuing education, and the Bilderberg Conference is an example of continuing education at the highest level of society. Yes, the rich and powerful would like to keep what they have and, if possible, increase their profit. They realize, though, that war and rumors of war are bad for business. Economic recession is bad for business. Unemployment is bad for business. They are against all these things. Being unable to control them, they want to understand them. Being unable to control the future, they want at least to increase their chances of predicting the future.

For those reasons, they invite diverse people in politics and business to attend the conference and to speak to the conference. They exclude reporters and require participants not to quote one another directly—not because they have secrets to hide from the world, but because they want to speak openly to each other. They come, not merely to be heard, but to hear each other. They understand that their lives will only improve as conditions in the world improve.

Imagine if more people in the world would gather for these purposes. Imagine American politics if more speaking and listening happened in town hall meetings and caucuses rather than in media-driven events. Imagine if the Donald supporters, the Donald haters, the Hillary supporters, and the Hillary haters could all gather in a convention hall to speak to each other—and to listen to each other—with respect for one another and a genuine desire to understand each other. Imagine conversations about creation and evolution which were not debates with speakers trying to score points, but discussions with a genuine curiosity motivating all the participants.

The Trilateral Commission—which is very similar to the Bilderberg Conference in purpose and in structure—has tried to have their cake and eat it too. They assure the public that they have no hidden agenda, no plans to control the world, and no nefarious schemes being hatched at their meetings. They have also expressed both hope and confidence that their gatherings are helping to shape a brighter future because of the education and learning that takes place there. Conspiracy theorists are eager to ignore the assurances and to twist the hope and confidence into something far more sinister than what really happens at their meetings.

Friends, no massive conspiracy is trying to rob you of your freedom and your property. When the rich and powerful gather, they are seeking a rising tide that will lift all the boats. When they go home, they are still asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?” They have no way of cooperating with one another at the expense of the rest of the world, because they are ordinary human beings, just like you and me. Trust not in the rich and powerful, in politicians and business leaders, but do not fear them either. What power they have is brief and fleeting. J.