Ogden Publications Case Study: Is It Fair?

| 4/24/2012 4:00:55 PM

It is, perhaps, the principal philosophical quandary of the Industrial Age, “Is capitalism fair?”

Resoundingly, our experience sends back the answer: “Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.”

I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s speech in which he acknowledged that democracy could be said to be “the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Capitalism may be an unfair economic system, but it may also be the fairest that’s been tried. It can, at its best, reward ingenuity and hard work. At its worst it provides a rationale for the routine subjugation the powerful have always exercised upon the weak.

I’m not remotely prepared to argue the abstract virtues of capitalism against any other economic system. I am prepared to assert that capitalism has been a highly successful philosophy in recent centuries. If you want to get anything done in the world today, you had better know how to engage with capitalism.

A long time ago I decided that capitalism could be fair, and so it was a good enough place to exert our efforts. I don’t consider business a superior enterprise to government or charity work. Nor do I consider it inferior. When an individual or a company engages with a system like capitalism, we tap into its power. Capitalism is enormously powerful. It has tremendous potential to spread opportunity in the world by stimulating and rewarding innovation. The fact that some of its products fall short of that potential does not diminish it.

Capitalism can, for instance, be very generous to its storytellers. Capitalism rewards them even when they are disrespectful of the capitalist institutions on which they depend. NBC pays Jay Leno very, very well even when he’s spending his time ridiculing NBC. Producer Oprah Winfrey, comedian Larry David and New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman are likewise paid (well, very well or unbelievably well) for communicating messages that are sometimes critical of the capitalistic institutions they serve and sometimes derisive in their tone. They are allowed this privilege because they attract audiences, and audiences pay money – both directly through their subscriptions and indirectly through advertising revenue.

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