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’

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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.

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you, Joan. I don’t want numbers.

I want to say that using the metaphorical rose-colored glasses to look at history can provide emotional comfort. Using them can also distort history.

You mentioned above the story that capitalism is naturally based on selfishness and self interest. I wanted to point out that cooperation and enlightened self-interest are also based on selfishness and self interest, though the distance between them is greater.

I do not see capitalism as evil. I also seldom use the word “evil”.

I see unregulated capitalism as an economic system that belongs in the same “jungle” in which life began. The GOP also belongs there.

"To move from a win/lose society, we need to develop skills of a win/win one." Perfectly stated, Joan.


Lately I've been thinking of Hanauer's,"It is social reciprocity that builds the high levels of trust necessary for large networks of people to cooperate at scale." In a global economy of 7 1/2 billion, the kind of trust which evolved in early industrial society doesn't work at all. He sounds naive. We need transparency for trust, particularly transparency of the behavior of the holders of wealth and power.

I had been feeling depression, anger, anxiety, and fear. Now I feel disgust too. It's so obvious that the political sell-out to fossil fuel interests, which will snatch our last bit of control over climate destruction, is tightly bound to corruption. It's as if our political parties, and now all three branches of government, have pus in vast quantities just beneath the surface. Trump isn't the only giant abscess of corruption, it's become systemic. Now I'm overwhelmed with disgust. Human beings selling out the last decade, humanity's last decade to stop self-reinforcing climate destabilization. It's nauseating. How do human beings destroy the planet of their offspring for a tiny increment of material gain now? How can a second private jet, or a fifth mansion, or 16 twenty-thousand-dollar watches be worth cutting the throats of 7 1/2 billion people? The morality of a hundred thousand lives 20 years from now in exchange for me gaining another status symbol at this moment seems more depraved than serial killing.


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