Two things are undeniable about fire: it’s useful, and it’s dangerous.
Anyone who’s been burned by a match or gotten too close to a campfire knows the latter for a fact. Yet it’s true that fire is useful as well. From cooking our food to warming our homes to powering the entire industrial revolution (and many of our cities today), fire has been at the center of much of human progress. Fire is powerful.
Yet it’s still dangerous, as even children know. So we pin it in. We build our campfires in pits, we trap flames in our stoves, we build fireplaces in our houses, and we ensure that our power plants, if something should go wrong, can be safely contained. We hail the people who fight fires as heroes, and rightfully so, for they brave a dangerous element to save others trapped in the flames.
Capitalism is economic fire.
It’s undeniably useful. Capitalism is the engine that’s helped lift billions out of poverty, and helped to organize the world in a way that works. If we need to make ballpoint pens or personal computers, capitalism is the way to do it. It’s an engine for tremendous growth and prosperity.
But it’s dangerous as well, and this is the side of capitalism we often forget. Just because it doesn’t rage like a California wildfire doesn’t mean people aren’t getting burned. The lessons of the robber barons of the 19th century were well learned by generations of politicians. Capitalism, when left unchecked, runs like a conflagration through thatch roofs, and the people most harmed by it are those least able to run from the flames.
That’s why government must be vigilant, and must often stand in opposition to business interests. This doesn’t always feel right, and it certainly isn’t popular, because we don’t want our government seemingly standing in the way of greater economic attainment. Yet it must, not only as a firebreak to protect the poor, but to save capitalism from itself.
A wildfire in a suburb is of no benefit; I think we can agree on that. Unfettered capitalism is the same. It must be kept under control so that we can extract the greatest good we can from it—and yes, we have to be sure not to smother it either. We can’t let the fire go out. But neither can we let it burn too freely, and that’s the way the United States has been tilting for my entire adult life. A correction is needed. The robber barons are back, and rising inequality is them making their influence felt. We need to rebalance our economic lives, before the fire burns too hot and swallows us whole.
One final note: before anyone jumps into the comments to argue, please think about this for a while. Turn it over in your mind. Work from the assumption that you might be wrong. Acknowledging the dangers of capitalism does not require that you be “anti-business;” no one’s anti-fire. It just means respecting both its power and its danger, and looking for areas where the balance is off.As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).