Is capitalism killing our planet and our concern for the common good?

The title of a recent article in the British newspaper The Guardian began, “Capitalism is killing our planet”. Like economist and environmentalist EF Schumacher decades ago, he criticized our insistence on economic growth and capitalism for exaggerating it to the detriment of our environment. In his address to the US Congress in 2015, Pope Francis said that “the pursuit of the common good” should be “the primary objective of all policy”. Two years earlier, he had criticized capitalism for being a “system, which tends to devour anything that stands in the way of increasing profits, which is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless against the interests of ‘a deified market, which becomes the only rule. . ”

Regardless of the various excuses for capitalism, the heart of it is the pursuit of profit in a market economy. As conservative economist Milton Friedman once wrote: “Corporate social responsibility is to increase profits. Sociologist Daniel Bell said that “capitalism. . . [had] no moral or transcendental ethics. This stubborn determination to make a profit and the absence of any higher ethics once led capitalists to hire young children and disgracefully pay them. In Das Capital Karl Marx, citing reports from factory inspectors, provided many examples of such abuse, for example: 4 p.m. [of work] one day . . . I often knelt down to feed him as he stood near the machine, as he could neither leave it nor stop.

In recent years, I have often been struck by how capitalist societies in their pursuit of profits harm the common good.

A contemporary of Marx, the novelist Charles Dickens, has sometimes noted the environmental impact of the pursuit of profit above all else. In his Hard times, for for example, he portrays the ugliness that capitalism of his day often revealed – his fictional Coketown “had a black canal in it, and a river flowing purple with a foul dye, and vast piles of buildings full of windows where there are had a rattle and a shake all day, and where the steam engine piston rotated up and down in a monotonous fashion.

In reaction to these 19th century abuses, revolutionary and reformist movements appeared. One of them was progressivism, which a historian defined as an attempt “to limit the socially destructive effects of a morally free capitalism, to extract from it. [capitalist] markets the tasks they had obviously missed, to counterbalance the atomizing social effects of the markets with a counter-calculation of the public good [well-being]. “

Since World War I, which ended the “progressive era”, various activists and politicians have continued to attempt “to limit the socially destructive effects of morally free capitalism”. But in the United States and other capitalist countries, they have often been countered and blocked by opposing forces such as Trumpism who fought for minimal restrictions on capitalism. This see-saw battle has left the United States somewhere between the freer capitalism of Marx’s day and the democratic socialism found in many European countries. (A US State Department publication in 2001 stated that although “the United States is often described as a ‘capitalist’ economy,” it “is perhaps best described as a ‘mixed’ economy, with government playing an important role with private enterprise. ”)

In recent years, I have often been struck by how capitalist societies in their pursuit of profits harm the common good. Almost three years ago, I wrote about Purdue Pharma’s marketing of the opioid OxyContin and how this company “puts profits first. Before any ethical consideration. Before people’s interests. Even though it killed them. For many decades, the same could be said of the big tobacco companies. More recently, in 2018 and 2019, the crash of two Boeing 737 Max aircraft revealed a case where profits were prioritized over safety, as did Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) 2019 agreement to pay billions of dollars for the devastating California wildfires it started. This year, it’s Facebook that an internal whistleblower, Frances Haugen, accused of putting “astronomical profits before people”.

Perhaps the best recent example of the profit-first and the common good attitude displayed by big business comes from President Carolyn B. Maloney’s Oct. 28 opening statement at a hearing. to Congress on “Fueling the Climate Crisis: Exposing Big Oil’s Disinformation Campaign to Prevent Climate Action.”

His statement deserves to be quoted at length because it reveals that “Big Oil” continues to impede the far-reaching changes needed if we are to face the climate change crisis with all the vigor and determination needed.

For the first time, senior fossil fuel leaders are together testifying before Congress, under oath, about the industry’s role in climate change and their efforts to cover it up.

For too long, Big Oil has shirked responsibility for its central role in bringing our planet to the brink of climate catastrophe. . . .

Big Oil has known the truth about climate change for decades.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Exxon’s own scientists privately told senior executives that burning fossil fuels was changing the global climate.

Exxon and other major oil companies have had the opportunity to speak the truth and lead the way in finding alternative energy sources.

But instead, Big Oil has doubled down on fossil fuels. Together with the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce and other front groups and public relations firms, the industry has waged a coordinated campaign to deceive the public, hide the danger of its own product, and derail global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. . . .

The American people have lost over thirty years when we could have curbed climate change. Today we face more severe hurricanes, dangerous forest fires and destructive floods.

As the effects of climate change have become undeniable, Big Oil has changed its rhetoric.

Now they say they believe in climate change. . . .

But as Maloney objects, “even today lobbyists for the American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups are fighting tooth and nail against the key climate provisions of the Build Back Better Act.” And Big Oil continues to hamper our much more radical green energy transition. sources that we must develop.

walter moss
Walter moss

In short, putting profits above all else – the main goal of capitalism – can kill our planet. It is not profits, but the common good that must be the main objective of our policy. The progressives of the early twentieth century insisted on this. Today, in the face of Trumpism, Big Oil and acolytes like the American Petroleum Institute and the American Chamber of Commerce, we must also insist on this. Without any exaggeration, we can say that the fate of our children and grandchildren depends on our success.

Walter G. Moss

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