Simon Mainwaring’s “We First”, or at least the Prologue and Chapter 1, is an interesting look at the contemporary impact of capitalism on society. Mainwaring makes comparisons to the Great Depression of the 1930s to the Great Recession of the late-2000s: “It almost seems as if history is repeating itself.” (Mainwaring, pp. 7).
Throughout the chapter, Mainwaring poses several questions to the reader, and then presents statistics and anecdotes to imply the notion that it is up to corporate leaders and us to evolve into more ethical and socially beneficial practices that would contribute to the common good.
However, I feel as though the questions and ideas he raises are off target. Some of the questions he asks are: “Does capitalism need repair?”, “If we are to be honest and responsible citizens who accept the stewardship of our nations and this planet, how can we not recognize that this engine is in need of a serious overhaul?”, and “Can we change capitalism to repair these problems and avoid the possibility of another recession or depression?”
The reason I say that they question are off the mark is because these questions assume that the power to alter capitalism impact is in our hands, and that it is not too late to alter the course of capitalism. I would argue that it is too late and that we are powerless to the wealthiest people and companies on this planet.
We First capitalism is defined by Mainwaring as capitalism but with corporations, businesses, consumers, and citizens working for the greater good. This is an idealistic view of humanity, and unfortunately, reality is not idealistic.
I would like to pose my own questions to Mr. Mainwaring. For example, if we are to believe that the president of the United States is the most powerful person in the country, how much influence does the position hold when the president makes about $400,000 a year and the wealthy in America are making hundreds of millions a year? Very little.
Case in point: What happened during the bailout of the banks following the Great Recession when then-President Obama told the banker that he would withhold the funds until the bankers agreed to not take exorbitant bonuses? The bankers told Obama where to go, he released the funds, the bankers still got their bonuses after destroying the economy, and they now hold positions in the government or are continuing to do more of the same.
How about on even a more basic level? Could we, consumers, make a company change its practices by boycotting it? Freakonomics Radio did a long-form episode that delves into the topic and the findings were that boycotts do not work. Even in situation with overwhelming social pressure, boycotts still don’t work.
It was generally assumed that the divestment campaign, or boycott, hurt the South African economy and hastened the end of apartheid. “Not only did the South Africa divestment movement not seem to have played much of a role in ending apartheid, Welch says it didn’t even really hurt South African companies.” (Stephen J. Dubner)
In the end, I am optimistic and I hope that my assumptions about capitalism and humanity are wrong.