Saturday, November 20, 2004

Capitalism and Discrimination

During the Frontline show Is Wal-Mart good for America, there was an interesting part when a US TV manufacturer described how Wal-Mart had choosen to support the Chinese companies rather than his company in a price-dumping legal case. Ignoring the merits of the case (the Chinese were found guilty of price-dumping) I want to look at a comment he made:
Why would American companies fight American companies and American jobs unless it was for their own profit?

Sounds like a harsh indictment of Wal-Mart and capitalism in general of being greedy and looking to make money rather than anything else.

But what if we rewrite it slightly:
Why wouldn't American companies fight against non-American companies and non-American jobs unless it was for their own profit?

Still sounds pretty good. But what if we take the same underlying logic and change the the American tribe to some other tribes:

Why wouldn't white companies fight against minority companies and minority jobs unless it was for their own profit?
Why wouldn't Christian companies fight against Jewish companies and Muslim jobs unless it was for their own profit?
Why wouldn't companies run by men fight against companies run by women and jobs for women unless it was for their own profit?
Why wouldn't 1st world companies fight against 3rd world companies and 3rd world jobs unless it was for their own profit?

Now the profit motive looks pretty good. Capitalism is being used to fight racism and sexism and other forms of discrimination. If capitalists are only concerned with making money, it means they aren't concerned about your gender, your sexual orientation, where you were born, or the color of your skin. The only color capitalists are concerned with is green. It doesn't care where you live, or what religion you belong to. It is simply based on maximizing profit and the rate of return.

The irony is that Capitalists are depicted as a greedy old boys club that protects their own. But if you believe that, then you are saying that they take their friendship and tribal identity more importantly then making money. So you can either be greedy, or support your cronies but not both. In order to truly be greedy you must also be non-discriminatory.

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