Consider excerpts from venture capitalist Nick Hanauer's 2018 Harvard and MIT Humanist of the Year award speech.

If … we accept a prosocial behavioral model that correctly describes human beings as uniquely cooperative and intuitively moral creatures,...

I believe that prosperity is best understood as the accumulation of solutions to human problems.

Capitalism is the greatest problem-solving social technology ever invented. But knowing that capitalism works is different than knowing why it works. And contrary to economic orthodoxy, it is reciprocity, not selfishness that guides it—indeed—as if by an invisible hand. It is social reciprocity that builds the high levels of trust necessary for large networks of people to cooperate at scale. And it is only through these networks of highly-cooperative specialists that the complexity that defines our modern economy can emerge.

... Properly viewed through this prosocial economic lens, we see clearly that it is our humanity, not the absence of it, that is the source of our prosperity.

Throughout the world, the most broadly prosperous capitalist economies are also the most highly regulated and highly taxed. To be clear: Government investment and intervention is not a necessary evil. It is just plain necessary.

The neoliberal claim that the sole purpose of the corporation is to enrich shareholders is the most egregious grift in contemporary life. Corporations are granted limited liability in exchange for improving the common good.

Being rapacious doesn’t make you a capitalist. It makes you an asshole and a sociopath. In an economy dependent on complex trust networks to facilitate the cooperative tasks from which prosperity emerges, and when prosperity itself is understood—not as money but as solutions to human problems—true capitalists understand that every economic act is an explicitly moral choice—and they act accordingly. [yellow emphasis and bold mine]

How to Destroy Neoliberalism: Kill ‘Homo Economicus’

image source

Hanauer's a 1%er. He's given me a refreshing new perspective on capitalism.

To Recap:

  • Every economic act is an explicitly moral choice.
  • Being rapacious doesn’t make you a capitalist. It makes you an asshole and a sociopath.
  • Capitalism is a problem-solving social technology.

Views: 111

Replies to This Discussion

Ruth, I think it more likely that assholery and sociopathy are causes and rapaciousness is an effect.

Splendid! Now, how does Hanauer treat his employees and the people from whom he receives the raw materials to make whatever it is he makes? That will take a little digging. Thanks for the lead, Ruth!

Yes, thanks!

A point I noted in the article is that the stories we tell ourselves as societies (such as that "capitalism is naturally based on selfishness and self-interest") give us permission to act that way (such as justifying cruel voracity with "it's not personal; it's only business"), reinforcing a vicious or virtuous cycle.

Exactly! Our president, acting like a racist, sexist, opportunist, manipulator, charlatan, and thief, permit others to use him as a role model. 

Is it even possible to undo the terrible things he does? I wonder. 

It is my ardent hope he loses all his money; his financiers stop giving him loans and begin to demand repayment of back loans and interest. I hope he becomes homeless and has to beg for food. My fervent wish is that he becomes ravaged with disease and cannot ask, buy, or steal the means for treatment. I wish the law works to hold his sons accountable for crimes they commit and his daughters lose their money-power as well as their beauty. 

A pox on the house of tRump. 

Joan, what happened? That post doesn’t read like it’s yours.

Good point, Grinning Cat.

As you dig, Joan, give some thought to how:

1) the ways organisms starting with pond scum (aka blue-green algae and cyanobacteria) took advantage of other organisms, and

2) the ways the disadvantaged organisms tried to prevent it.

I ask that because, IMO, the early earth was a entirely competitive place and cooperation grew from that competition.

Cooperation grows from enlightened self-interest. As long as we hold competition as a high value, we will continue to behave as beasts in the jungle. To come out of the red of tooth and claw culture, we need to learn and understand the value of living in a cooperative and collaborative way. I meet my needs and not at the expense of another. To move from a win/lose society, we need to develop skills of a win/win one.


Joan, cooperation probably did grow from enlightened self-interest. From what did enlightened self-interest grow?

When a baby arrives, it cares only that its tummy is full, it is not wet or cold, is free of pain, and has the opportunity to sleep and rest on a timely basis. As it grows, it sees faces and objects, begins to recognize there are others and some of those others need care as well. As it grows older, it begins to contribute to the care of others. If lucky, the child grows in a relatively happy, safe, and peaceful environment. It learns how to communicate, negotiate, compromise, and to take others' needs into account when striving to get its needs met. 

Some children grow in a competitive family, striving to get its needs met and having to learn at a young age that it has to fight to even get the basics. 

The difference between a cooperative person and a competitive begins in the cradle, learning what it needs to do to get the basics. 

I wonder whatever happened to that selfish, self-centered, egomaniacal "jealous, petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

Jeez! Where have I heard that description before?

Joan, are you saying enlightened self-interest grew from a baby’s perhaps naked self-interest?

Self-interest matures, just as a baby matures, through stages. It doesn't matter if the baby is born in Nunavut, Canada, the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, at latitude 82°30'05" north, 817 kilometres (508 mi) from the North Pole, or in a hunting and gathering economy of the Pleistocene epoch, of about 11,000 years ago. Babies are born hungry, needing to be protected, and learn how to live in their societies. All babies need care and protection. Some get it and some get nothing. 

Yes, I think enlightened self-interest grows from and matures through a baby’s naked self-interest?

I do not claim the environment provides the only factor in determining a bully or a compassionate one. I do claim environment plays an important role in behavior. I don't have numbers to prove what I state.




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