Is Capitalism Only For the Elites?

Yesterday The Economist posed the following question to its readers:

“Is capitalism rigged in favour of the elites?”

 Its own Callum Williams set the stage for the debate with:

“There is a growing sense across the rich world that capitalism does not work as it should. In many countries wages have barely grown over the past decade, while the rich seem to be running away with all the gains. Many economists, including those at this newspaper, argue that common factor explaining all of these ills is that firms have too much market power. Monopolies and oligopolies have spread. That allows big business to charge higher prices to consumers for poorer service, and also get away with paying their staff lower wages. But is capitalism really rigged in favour of the elites? To debate this topic we have invited Jason Furman (who argues in favour of the proposition) and Deirdre McCloskey (who argues against).”

Here’s the closing paragraph from Harvard Economist, Author, and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for the Obama Administration Jason Furman’s argument for yes:

“Capitalism does not exist in a vacuum. It requires laws that establish property rights, adjudicate disputes, fund public infrastructure and finance all of these inputs. If you look at how elites currently shape the operational rules of capitalism, the outcome of these rules in terms of inequality and low levels of intergenerational mobility, or observe the many specific policies that establish and perpetuate inequality. It is clear that capitalism today could fairly be described as rigged in favour of elites.”

Here’s the link to his entire statement… 

And here, arguing no, is University of Illinois at Chicago Economist, Author, and, among many other accolades, Julian L. Simon Memorial Award recipient from the Competitive Enterprise Institute Deirdre McCloskey’s close:

“Why have the poor benefited? After all, you might believe that the fat cats get the first bite. The answer in a word is entry. When Sam Walton, running a little faux-Woolworth’s in his home town, innovated the use of bar codes to control inventories, revolutionising US retailing, other retailers were not slow to notice. The economist William Nordhaus reckons that innovators get 2% of the social value of their innovations. It’s a good deal. Sam’s children became obnoxiously wealthy. But we got by competition the 98%.

Be of good cheer, then. The poor shall inherit the earth.”

Here’s the link to her entire statement…

I (very much in the minority so far) cast my vote for the latter, and couldn’t help but offer my simple two cents in the comment section:

 “We can debate and dazzle one another till the cows come home. We can listen earnestly to those who feel they’ve been left behind, or left without the opportunity to get ahead, as they compare their lots to those more “fortunate”. But in the final analysis if we set the stats and theory aside and simply look around; if we’d consider what our eyes reveal about the material condition of those who deem themselves less fortunate today compared to like-situated folks of decades past, we’d have to conclude that the fruits of capitalism are indeed shared by all, including — if not especially — folks on the lower rungs of today’s economic ladder.”


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