Capitalism, Version 2012

By Friedman, Thomas L | International Herald Tribune, March 15, 2012 | Go to article overview

Capitalism, Version 2012


Friedman, Thomas L, International Herald Tribune


Now this is what the upcoming elections should really be about: the future of capitalism and whether it will be shaped in America or somewhere else.

David Rothkopf, the chief executive and editor-at-large of Foreign Policy magazine, has a smart new book out, entitled "Power, Inc.," about the epic rivalry between big business and government that captures, in many ways, what the 2012 U.S. election should be about -- and it's not "contraception," although the word does begin with a "C." It's the future of "capitalism" and whether it will be shaped in America or somewhere else.

Rothkopf argues that while for much of the 20th century the great struggle on the world stage was between capitalism and communism, which capitalism won, the great struggle in the 21st century will be about which version of capitalism will win, which one will prove the most effective at generating growth and become the most emulated.

"Will it be Beijing's capitalism with Chinese characteristics?" asks Rothkopf. "Will it be the democratic development capitalism of India and Brazil? Will it be entrepreneurial small-state capitalism of Singapore and Israel? Will it be European safety-net capitalism? Or will it be American capitalism?" It is an intriguing question, which raises another: What is American capitalism today, and what will enable it to thrive in the 21st century?

Rothkopf's view, which I share, is that the thing others have most admired and tried to emulate about American capitalism is precisely what we've been ignoring: America's success for over 200 years was largely due to its healthy, balanced public-private partnership -- where government provided the institutions, rules, safety nets, education, research and infrastructure to empower the private sector to innovate, invest and take the risks that promote growth and jobs.

When the private sector overwhelms the public, you get the 2008 subprime crisis. When the public overwhelms the private, you get choking regulations. You need a balance, which is why we Americans have to get past this cartoonish "argument that the choice is either all government or all the market," argues Rothkopf. The lesson of history, he adds, is that capitalism thrives best when you have this balance, and "when you lose the balance, you get in trouble."

For that reason, the ideal 2012 election would be one that offered the public competing conservative and liberal versions of the key grand bargains, the key balances, that America needs to forge to adapt its capitalism to this century.

The first is a grand bargain to fix our long-term structural deficit by phasing in $1 in tax increases, via tax reform, for every $3 to $4 in cuts to entitlements and defense over the next decade. …

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