Ep 21: Pragmatic Purple Capitalism

Laissez-faire capitalism dominates the right as Marxist socialism dominates the left.  Nothing much exists, in between.  Ideologues claim there are two choices—that is, two choices only.  No Pragmatic Purple; just Red or Blue.  

Where—along this bifurcated Red-Blue continuum—then, does one place Donald Trump?  

Doctrinally, Trump is “Red,” but early on, didn’t he endorse higher tax rates on so-called carried interest, rankling private equity maven Mitt Romney and hedge fund billionaires?  

Well, yes; does that make him economically Blue?  Well, no.  

Actually, Donald Trump is a flip-flopper; first Red, then Blue, then back to an even brighter shade of Red.  With Trump, there is no Pragmatic Purple.

Trump’s August selection of economic advisors confirms his commitment to blindingly Red Republican orthodoxy; you know, more egregious tax cuts for the rich and less regulation for go-go financiers.  

One wonders why lesser educated working folks are headed enthusiastically in Trump’s very Red direction; that is, headed toward voting against their self-interest.  That’s a rhetorical question, of course; in this election, political anger—for many—swamps economic rationality.

One wonders, also, why America has come to be stuck with only two choices.  Neither Red nor Blue—in isolation—seems particularly helpful—or hopeful—at getting our country out of the contemporary economic quagmire.  

If across the aisle consensus-building is the wave of our economic future, as I clam, then why is there not a doctrinal alternative mixing economic Red with economic Blue, birthing Pragmatic Purple?

The foundation of our scrawny two-choice system dates not only to America’s constitution, but also to Adam Smith, with his publication of the Wealth of Nations in 1776.  Then, almost a century later, Karl Marx published Das Capital.  The die was cast, it seems; Blue or Red, Red or Blue, one or the other.    

But that was two centuries ago.  Don’t doctrinaire economists take account of changing times, then adjust to changing circumstances with Pragmatic Purple policies?

Well, actually, no!   

But, why?  

Canada, for instance, uses a parliamentary system—different from ours—that fosters coalition-building across their equivalent of Red and Blue.  Since we lack a parliamentary government, because—in part—we vote directly for our president, America’s challenge is to create Pragmatic Purple by inventing Purple economic doctrine.  

On the crimson right, advocates of laissez-faire see an idealized economic world they believe equilibrates instantly—with no need for government—ever—to regulate, subsidize, tax, or prop up demand during crises.  On the royal blue left, advocates of socialism—Bernie Sanders included—prefer a more proactive government role—for planning and execution—than the contemporary American majority embraces.

Whatever.  If we are to cut through our bifurcated system to create Pragmatic Purple, where might we start?

Well, we could start by setting positive and negative incentives, connected to specific outcomes Americans wish to gain (or avoid).  Capital—the means to gaining outcomes—is not absolute but relative, then, for its special status becomes evident only according to how the asset is used.  

For instance, a plow horse in the field is capital, but the same animal—assigned as a hobby horse—is merely a nonproductively used asset, instead.  Likewise, finance may be useful to gaining prudent economic outcomes, but alone, it becomes hobby horse-oriented.  That is, nonproductive or even counter-productive.           

The future of American capitalism, I argue, is the future of consensus decision-making about what is productive capital—and what is not—in public spaces across our great land.  Consensus decision-making really begins, however, with crafting of a stewardship vision of the world we seek for our children—and our children’s children.

In a nutshell, generational stewardship is what Pragmatic Purple is about.       

Please check out Capitalism in Crisis on the Web.

From Boulder, Colorado, this is Jim Sawyer for Capitalism in Crisis.