I was honored several weeks ago to be asked to participate on a panel last Friday at the Yearly Kos convention entitled "Progressives and Capitalism" — a very important topic, with two principle questions up for discussion: 1)
"Can progressives be successful capitalists?" and 2) "Can capitalism help us create a more progressive world?"
The answers to those two questions? Yes, and no. Yes, progressives can indeed be successful capitalists; Working Assets is a prime example of that. (Although, to be truthful, we consider ourselves to be a social change organization living inside an excellent telecommunications company. Many of us here would NOT consider ourselves capitalists.) One of the key factors in our ability to thrive and do so muchis the fact that we are not a publicly-held corporation, and can aim for much longer-term social and environmental goals than the short-term pressures of the market might otherwise allow.
In terms of the second question, the answer to that one has to be a resounding "NO." Capitalism as an engine of change is enormously powerful, but there is little reason to think of it as progressive — it's amoral at its core. Companies like Working Assets, while important, are outliers and not the norm. Activist movements and honest governments (such as the one President Bush is trying to destroy with his crony appointments and "drown it in the bathtub" philosophy) are always going to be needed to rein in the excesses of capitalism.
In answering that second question, I left a very important actor out of the equation — organized labor. Labor unions have been the longest-serving check on the excesses of unbridled capitalism, and have achieved historic wins on things like the eight-hour work day, 40-hour work week, and worker safety, to name just a few. Without labor unions, we very likely would not have the middle class in America as it stands today — the same middle class that the Bush administration keeps trying to destroy with anti-union organizing, unneeded tax giveaways for the rich and cuts to college scholarship programs.
from on August 7, 2007, 6:43pm