The Corner

Economy & Business

Making the World a Better Place

I do not think that Kara Swisher of the New York Times is stupid, and that is what makes it remarkable that she can write this sort of thing:

. . . the dulcet attractions of tech have lost their charm for many and that the business — which has been this country’s most innovative and promising and often its most inspirational — is just that: a business, like any other, out for itself and itself alone, and most definitely not changing the world for the better.

That was the cry of tech from its start — especially of the internet types like the Amazon head, Jeff Bezos. Bankers never said they were going to make the world a better place. Nor did makers of toilet paper or potato chips.

(No, I do not think “dulcet” is quite the right word there.)

But of course the makers of toilet paper do make the world a better place, by making it a place in which Kara Swisher of the New York Times does not have to manufacture her own toilet paper. Always ask the necessary question: “Compared to what?”

Her column is headlined: “Amazon isn’t interested in making the world a better place.” Of course Amazon makes the world a better place — that is its business model, and the business model of most successful businesses. That is why people give Amazon their money.

Swisher’s column reminded me of a speech I saw Louis Farrakhan give many years ago, in which he spoke of the need for African Americans to become economically independent of the white devil. “It will be a brown day in America if white people ever decide to stop making toilet paper for us!” he thundered. But his observation in fact proved the opposite of the point he was trying to make: Henry Ford, like Louis Farrakhan and some of the minister’s friends newly installed in the U.S. House of Representatives, was a pretty nasty anti-Semite, but that never stopped him from building a car for a Jew, and never stopped Jewish people from benefiting from his innovations. Presumably, there are proportionally about as many racists in the management of American corporations as there are in the general public, but whatever backward views they may hold rarely stand in the way of business. “Not from the benevolence of the butcher or the baker,” etc.

When conservatives talk about “capitalism,” we tend to emphasize its competitive nature. But market competition is only a means to the greater end of human cooperation, which, thanks to the inexplicably hated forces of globalization and the purportedly greed-headed innovations of companies such as Amazon, is now being undertaken on a worldwide scale nearly unimaginable only a generation ago. The miracle of capitalism in the early 21st century is not primarily technological but social, as nifty as the gadgetry is. It is a miracle that no one seems to appreciate, or even to like very much, with the possible exception of the billion or so people who get to eat more regularly as a result of it.

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