Absolutely. Adam Smith would wear a mask to protect others. He would respect and hold others’ needs on par with his own. He would expect them to do likewise.

Smith did not endorse the pursuit of unbridled self-interest. Instead, he embraced self-interest, rightly understood. He was a moral philosopher; an ethicist. Smithian capitalism works when entrepreneurs view themselves not merely as libertarians, but as communitarians; as conservators and enablers of the community’s greatest good.

The title of Adam Smith’s 1759 book—Theory of Moral Sentiments—makes this point abundantly. As our First Economist, he recommended what he called the Faculty of Sympathy. Accordingly, everyone should place themselves in someone else’s shoes. Each should be willing and capable of assessing the circumstances of “the other,” then responding to those circumstances as though they were one’s own.

We ask then: How could the political tribalism of Donald Trump’s followers be more at odds with Adam Smith’s vision? How may someone espouse moral capitalism, then stand in opposition to sound public health strategies by refusing to protect others with the wearing of a mask?

Indeed, there is no path of reconciliation between these mutually exclusive points of view. It is not ethically feasible to flaunt Covid-19 public health guidelines while simultaneously espousing the goals of Smithian capitalism.

On this point Adam Smith would pronounce libertarians and other right-wing political tribalists as out of step with the Enlightenment-era humanism he espoused; out-of-step with service and honor to contemporary American community. Adam Smith would call these people out for muddling essentials of civic duty with crass assertions that somehow mask-wearing assaults their sense of liberty as they perceive it.

Ironically, their afront to public health connects directly to America’s pseudo-capitalist problem of rigging, gaming and other dysfunctional financial schemes. To solve pseudo-capitalism or to solve Covid-19, community consensus and cooperation is required. Each calls for adoption of Smith’s faculty of sympathy. Each requires understanding how anchoring the well-being of others simultaneously contributes to one’s own well-being. Each requires libertarians to alight from their high-horse of partisan pretense and join forces across all aspects of community to secure the common good.

The future we want must be teased out of a complex world with many wants and far too few resources. So long as America allows itself to be blown apart by government-hating contempt for rational, democratic process to secure the present and the future, we won’t be able to do anything big or hard—or together, including solving Covid-19.

Regarding reform possibilities then, the Trumpian mantra of “No, No, Never” creates an insurmountable barrier. Strident opposition to mask-wearing compromises public health, and it also compromises America’s capitalist future and those who will live in it: our kids and everyone else’s kids. In this moment, all Americans should be willing to abandon pretentious ideology and don a Covid-19 mask for the greater public good.

~ Jim Sawyer

Here is the link to the article at the HuffPost – The Psychology of Why People Refuse to Wear Facemasks

A most-worthy Independence Day message

A most-worthy Independence Day message worth repeating, from David Brooks of the New York Times:

We Americans enter the July 4 weekend of 2020 humiliated as almost never before. We had one collective project this year and that was to crush Covid-19, and we failed.

On Wednesday, we had about 50,000 new positive tests, a record. Other nations are beating the disease while our infection lines shoot upward as sharply as they did in March.

This failure will lead to other failures. A third of Americans show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to the Census Bureau. Suspected drug overdose deaths surged by 42 percent in May. Small businesses, colleges and community hubs will close.

At least Americans are not in denial about the nation’s turmoil of the last three months. According to a Pew survey, 71 percent of Americans are angry about the state of the country right now and 66 percent are fearful. Only 17 percent are proud.

Read more….


~ Jim Sawyer


Tragically, the path toward capitalism’s renewal—and America’s renewal—is blocked by Trumpian intransigence. It’s not the only blockage, of course.

Adam Smith, moral philosopher and capitalism’s Eighteenth Century architect, held a singular vision, and one compatible with America’s founders: improvement of the common good, especially it’s material aspects. Smith’s prescription? To align self-interest’s pursuit with the common good’s attainment. There existed a natural law he believed that delivered prosperity if followed religiously. Smith’s prescription? Industriousness, saving and entrepreneurial flexibility.

A century following Smith however, industrialized economies were growing more complex and his straightforward prescription, much less tenable. The Great Depression signaled that capitalist doctrine needed a cleanup; a reinvention of its moral aspects. Public policy needed to be recalibrated with how the real economic world was coming to work.

One example: saving is not virtuous, universally. In depression, more saving causes less consumption and consequently less output and employment, and ultimately less business investment. This is counter-intuitive within Adam Smith’s original intellectual roadmap.

The fallacy of saving illustrates the “First Glitch” of capitalism, but a second glitch—coming to light in recent decades—exists also. The Second Glitch is pseudo-capitalism.

Simplistically, it is personified in the casino-type business strategies of entrepreneurs including Donald Trump and others, and differentiated from those that are common good-oriented. For instance, some will recognize the businesses of Elon Musk as illustrations of moral capitalism. In place of tendencies toward wealth-hoarding and other financial schemes for rigging and gaming, moral capitalism instead eschews fraud, both illegal and legal. It channels investment to create the type of future we seek for our kids and for other people’s kids as well.

Surely it would pursue Adam Smith’s commitment to a universal and ever-rising standard of living. However it would also entail something Smith never needed to consider: the quality of life. Attributes including clean air, clean water and solid public health outcomes now rise front and center, invariably.

Pseudo-capitalists continue to sneak below the public policy radar of legitimate capitalism that historically awards tax and regulatory breaks only to businesses operating within domains considered moral. Too often they are able to secure public benefits merely by pursuing self-serving schemes including those laced with rigging and gaming characteristics.

The challenge to contemporary American capitalism then—and the challenge to America’s renewal—is to differentiate legitimate capitalism from pseudo-capitalism. The latter should become subject to public disincentives including tax and regulatory constraints.

The huge challenge standing in the way of moral capitalism’s blossoming is this. We need a renewed public vision, democratically determined. In Adam Smith’s day, the common good was self-evident. Not so now, however.

The future we want for our kids and grandkids must be teased out of a complex world with many wants and far too few resources available to fulfill them. How do we begin to make such decisions democratically? How do we choose amid such complexity?

The answer, tragically is this. So long as America is being blown apart by government-hating contempt for rational, democratic process to secure the future, we won’t be able to do anything big or hard—or together. Regarding reform possibilities then, the Trumpian mantra of “No, No, Never” creates an insurmountable barrier.

~ Jim Sawyer


Without a dramatic change of course, America is well down the road to blowing apart, according to NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He describes a time-worn path that no longer works when we need it most; one that could lead away from the brink of mayhem by extending economic and social mobility through supporting diversity and expanding access and inclusivity. Getting there requires political compromise and lots of it, however. In America, that’s become a very scarce commodity.

Indeed, political compromise is fast being replaced with intransigence. Donald Trump’s politics are Exhibit One. Says Friedman: We can’t do anything big or hard—or together—anymore. Case in point: America’s hobbled capacity to mount a really viable response to Covid-19. Beyond Trump’s obvious intent to take down what he calls the Deep State (read: rule of law), what is the Republican endgame?

Why is our country running off the rails? Democratic Party politics play some role, but Friedman identifies a much deeper wellspring of dysfunction. Look to the Tea Party Wing of Republicanism, ongoing since Barak Obama’s administration, he admonishes as he draws upon insights from Frank Fukuyama. Under Donald Trump, last decade’s dark momentum has segued into a form of right-wing nationalism in which consequential decisions have become really deadlocked, Fukuyama observes.

So, how does this impact American capitalism? No! No! Never! is poised to become a potentially insurmountable barrier to reform as essential repairs escalate to extraordinary levels, defying back burner-status.

If America could “rise above” to mount necessary change, what are essential repairs capitalism requires? That’s up next.

~ Jim Sawyer


Albert Einstein eulogized Isaac Newton as brilliant even though his contribution was circumscribed by the time in which he lived. Newton’s imagination was unable to propel him beyond the limits of our solar system or beneath the level of the molecule. Similarly, Adam Smith was unable to foresee implications of a looming real-world crash manifested as the Great Depression. The economic culprit standing in the way of return to normalcy became disequilibrium hoarding of saving by households as they figuratively stuffed gold coins under the mattress.

Then, progressive economists modified the classical orderliness paradigm to allow for disequilibrium hoarding. Ideologically motivated right-leaning economists however, stood opposed and still are.

~ Jim Sawyer