Honorable Capitalism (2016)
Capitalism: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. Courtesy: Miriam-Webster
Connie Collins new documentary, Honorable Capitalism? is a fascinating and thought-provoking primer about one of the most dominant economic paradigms in the world. Through interviews with over 50 CEOs, entrepreneurs, educators, economists, and authors, Collins examines the positives and negatives of capitalism in relation to businesses, consumers, and employees.
The goal of the film is to start conversations. Early on, it is pointed out that it is a flawed assumption to assign morality to the conceit of capitalism. True, the model allows people to, essentially, follow their dreams and have the potential to achieve. However, the sole goal of pure capitalism is to always make a profit. The real quandary is what one does with that money, and accompanying power, afterward. The economist and philosopher Adam Smith felt that capitalism needs a counterbalance in order for it to function optimally. Things work best when an equilibrium is struck between self-interest and altruism.
One concept that had never occurred to me is that, as a system, capitalism produces inequality. There is only so much to go around. In order for someone to be fabulously wealthy, another must be profoundly poor. In fact, that inequality is proof that the system is functioning. The resulting disparity, however, doesn’t exist merely as theoretical conjecture. What about the people who are mired in poverty in the real world? How are they cared for and dealt with? It’s important to recognize the imperfections of capitalism.
Collins then visits the political ramifications that occur in a capitalist environment. Instead of flexing with society, corporations use their power and financial resources to lobby lawmakers to conform legislation to their interests. This is profoundly beneficial to them and unquestionably dangerous to competition and consumers.
Political ideology is often shorthand for actual thought. People find that interacting with others who have opposing political views is uncomfortable. However, this reluctance to have honest, open conversations breaks down democracy. In recent years, mainstream political choices by the public have tended to oscillate from one extreme to the other. This tends to be divisive. Throw in the fact that, now more than ever, moral viewpoints are also being assigned to political ideology and the whole process grinds to a halt. It was pointed out that this “A” or “B” attitude towards politics is immature and shortsighted.
Capitalism as a concept has blind spots. For example, it functions on the stipulation that there will always be enough jobs to go around. But what if there aren’t? What then? People, especially Americans, tend to define themselves by what they do and their accomplishments. Without that frame of reference, what are the emotional and financial ramifications to the country?
There is more.
The environment is addressed. Respect for the planet is not only “right,” but it is a key component to the continuation of this whole machine that mankind has constructed. The cost of this care, however, may be to the detriment of earnings. Will the proper sacrifices be made to do so?
The notion of honor in business practices and how it can be both morally and fiscally profitable is visited throughout the film. For example, CEOs used to put a premium on the employees, now the concentration is on the satisfaction of stockholders. How does that impact the overall business snapshot?
There is a suggestion that a hybrid of ideologies is, in fact, the proper note to strike to have not only a healthy economy but people. Is a marriage between capitalism and socialism the answer?
Clocking in at just under an hour, Honorable Capitalism? comes out swinging. It poses hard questions and addresses big ideas while providing just enough of a starting point to launch important conversations. The film doesn’t arrogantly offer any pat answers to complicated issues, yet it is audacious enough to start a fire that might.
-Zep the Bear