Monday, February 28, 2011

Philanthrocapitalism or Paternalism in New Guise?


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via maia medicine on 2/25/11

Philanthrocapitalism or Paternalism in New Guise?:

It appears that over the last 30 years wealth and political power have become more concentrated as has market power and its natural bedfellow, political power. Incomes have become more unequal with the spoils of market and political power going disproportionately to captains of finance and industry. If not corrected, some among us may begin to question the value of an economic system that has ceased to deliver universal opulence to worker, rentier and investor alike.

The answer to this from those who still value a capitalist system appears to be creation of a new class of philanthrocapitalists who, like Andrew Carnegie, after eroding consumer surplus and perhaps a soupçon of individual liberty (along with workers' wages (I didn't talk about this)) to gain higher profits, will turn around and redistribute that wealth in some way of their own choosing. That redistribution will presumably benefit us all, though we may have little say in it.

And I, a big fan of Carnegie-financed libraries and universities and foundations, am left to ask the question I have always asked even of those same libraries, universities and foundations. Would we all have been better off if Carnegie had simply paid his workers higher wages? Would we all have been better off if Carnegie had simply charged lower prices? These were the opportunity costs of those libraries, universities and foundations. Wouldn't it have been better to increase consumer surplus and consumer sovereignty (and consumer wages)? I mean, my tastes and preferences happen to coincide with Carnegie's, at least as far as libraries, hospitals, universities, and foundations go. But what if the people working for him would have preferred to buy their own books or educate their children their own way? Or even party hard and long? Why do a wealthy philanthropist's tastes and preferences trump those of the people they employ? Make no mistake here. We're talking paternalism by a group of elites, just as surely as when the guvmint does it.


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