MICHAEL MORRIS: Capitalism offers the best chance of resisting abuse and meddling - BusinessLIVE

Feb 27, 2023
One of the most striking contrasts I have seen in a long time was framed in a photograph accompanying an intriguing news story on Seattle becoming the first US city to ban discrimination based on caste.
MICHAEL MORRIS: Capitalism offers the best chance of resisting abuse and meddling - BusinessLIVE

Michael Morris 
One of the most striking contrasts I have seen in a long time was framed in a photograph accompanying an intriguing news story on Seattle becoming the first US city to ban discrimination based on caste.

As the BBC said in its report on the city council vote: “Councilwoman Kshama Sawant, who wrote the legislation, said the fight against caste bias ‘is deeply connected to the fight against all forms of oppression’. Advocates of the ban say it is needed to prevent caste bias from becoming more prevalent in the US. The caste system in India [it has been banned since 1948] dates back over 3,000 years and divides Hindu society into rigid hierarchical groups.”

The report notes that, according to the Migration Policy Institute think-tank, “the US is the second-most popular destination for Indians living abroad”. The photograph above the story showed umpteen placard-waving activists pressing their case at the back of the Seattle city council chamber. The second most prominent placard sums up the gist without fuss: “End caste oppression in the workplace.”

However, the placard that dominates the photograph carries a ringing call that contains contesting rather than complementary ideas: “Fight oppression, Fight capitalism”. Which is not to say I am any less wary of capitalism than of collectivism — at least in the sense of knowing that concentrations of power are just as prone to error and abuse in each, and warrant every bit as much vigilance. 

I can usually count on my nearest and dearest glazing over the minute they detect the prelude to what may seem an all-too-familiar — though, in my own defence, never wholly unwarranted — complaint about fat shareholders luxuriating in their mansions up the road on the back of cheerless factories churning out cheap and nasty blah blah blah (it could be a plug, a shoe, a kettle) that you couldn’t fix, if it broke, even if you tried, but only toss into the rubbish (uh, recycling) bin, and buy a new one.

For life

I know this makes me seem old fashioned (or just old), and slightly loopy, but I grew up learning how to fix things, and make them last, from parents who had been compelled to during the Depression and war years (and, in Britain anyway, some years after that).

I also know, once I come to my senses, that having a car for life (that you can pretty much keep going with a couple of spanners and pliers) is not necessarily the greatest contribution to personal wellbeing, or even to the common weal.

What I have found to be the most vivid thing about capitalism is not that it always delivers what is best (it doesn’t), but that when it falters the correction (or, in fact, the multiple corrections) begin occurring spontaneously.

Its innovational genius is less the product of the concentrated effort of a planner or thinker or designer than of the talents and impulses and values of the millions who are its agents, and who hourly make strong claims not just to efficiency but also to fairness and regard.

In this way capitalism does appear to offer individuals the best (and ever-evolving) opportunities to resist abuse and meddling, whether by corporates or by governments.

The good socialists of Seattle appear to have overlooked this. (And, not insignificantly, the Hindu American Federation observed that there was, in fact, little evidence of any widespread discrimination in the US based on caste.)

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2023-02-27-michael-morris-capitalism-offers-the-best-chance-of-resisting-abuse-and-meddling/

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