For Whom

I was at a meeting recently – actually about three years ago now – at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The discussion was focused on what will happen to Cuba after Castro. All of the panelists believed that post-Castro the government there will be run by the (current) dissidents. I was surprised by the agreement amongst the expert opinions on the panel, in part because it didn’t match up with my (limited) understanding of Cuban culture. More than anything, I left thinking that:

Capitalism always thinks its right; its governments job to keep Capitalism in its place.

I love capitalism. I love capitalism, but it just doesn’t solve every problem. Capitalism is not necessarily a good model for education, science, the arts, or government. The purpose of government is the service of its people. All of them. The purpose of capitalism is the service of whoever owns stuff, or wants to own stuff. This is not everybody.

Capitalism is great, in part, because it encourages efficiency. Efficiency is necessary to provide the greatest good for the greatest number. But capitalism can’t tell us how to spend our money. Capitalism isn’t an ethos, or a system of governance. The founders established a system of governance that promises we will all have the opportunity to pursue the lives we want. They didn’t promise well get the lives we want, and they didn’t specify many of the details of the economic system we should use.

Increasing opportunity for achievement is the measure of a great society. For whom does the government toil? It toils for thee. The recent G-20 summit, and the peaceful transition now occurring in Cuba, make clear that the modern U.S. interpretation of Capitalism’s relationship to government is not universal.

Post-script: 4/13/09: It’s wonderful to see that our President gets this. HuffingtonPost just reported that Obama is (simply, quietly) easing restrictions against Cuba.

Part 2 of a small series on “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. You can see Part 1 here.