Roger Hines, the well-known columnist for the popular metro-Atlanta news source MDJ (Marietta Daily Journal) is also a career academic and former Georgia State Representative. With his expansive insights and experience we are honored that he dedicated a recent column to a review of the book Better Capitalism. With his permission his column is replicated below, and those with a subscription to MDJ can access his review here.
Can Capitalism Be Improved?
What do Jesus, Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, and Martin Luther King, Jr. have in common? More than we might think according to co-authors Aaron Hedges and Paul Knowlton. Hedges and Knowlton’s book, “Better Capitalism: Jesus, Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, and MLK JR. on Moving from Plantation to Partnership Economics,” [BC] is a thorough and interesting examination of our capitalistic system.
Upon first seeing the title of this book, I wondered if it might be a subtle attack on the economic system that has produced more food and fulfilled more dreams than any other economic system known to man. My fears were abated as I found not an attack but a reasonable challenge to certain aspects of our economics. The book is not a collectivist manifesto.
Image credit: Roger Hines
A quick review of the identity of Adam Smith and Ayn Rand might be in order. Adam Smith is the Scottish philosopher and economist who has been dubbed “the Father of Capitalism,” though Hedges and Knowlton persuasively assert that he is not the father of today’s capitalism. Ayn Rand is the successful Russia-born writer whose family’s life and livelihood were disrupted in 1917 by the Communist Revolution. After coming to America in 1923 Rand wrote prolifically, excoriating Marxism, extolling capitalism, and penning, among other works, her famous novel Atlas Shrugged. Unlike most anti-statists and conservatives, Rand was an atheist. Knowing of her atheism and her distaste for altruism, I was surprised that BC casts a favorable light on the stern and often hostile Rand. But wait until you read the chapter on Rand titled “The Mother of Capitalism” before casting judgment on the book for placing her with the other figures in the book’s title. Rand, BC states, “explicitly rejected gaining for self at the expense of others.”
The book is a very readable 278 pages, exquisitely organized. Previewing the chapter titles (Our Corporate Work Isn’t Working, Our Corporate Work, Working? and others) tempts one to read ahead to see what each chapter holds. The book’s central thesis is that “plantation economics” needs to be replaced with “partnership economics.” The term, “plantation economics,” could be faulted for being too stern but it is clearly defined and supported (it addresses exploitation) and provides a contrast to and a fuller understanding of “partnership economics.”
Contrasting plantation to partnership economics, the authors bemoan America’s last four decades shift from a “market economy” to a “market society,” asking “What isn’t for sale?” The authors quote philosopher Michael Sandel who wrote that “a market economy is a tool – a valuable and effective tool … A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor … a place where human relationships are made over in the image of the market. Do we want a market economy or a market society?”
The quote from Sandel nudged my dislike for huge school name signs that post ads for the several companies that support the school in some way: CENTRAL HIGH … UNIVERSAL PLUMBING SAYS GO TIGERS; COCA COLA LOVES OUR TEACHERS (an example only). This lends support to BC’s cry, “Corporations are created by society – society should not be created by corporations.” Politics already pervades all of society. Must economics do the same, and at the school house?
As for Adam Smith, BC heralds him as a man of ethics. Why? Because Smith wrote, “Concern for our own happiness recommends to us … concern for that of other people,” and because Smith measured all governments’ value “in proportion as they tend to promote the happiness of those who live under them.”
BC, then, is a book about economic philosophy. Its arguments are undergirded by moral, ethical principles and questions. Economics will be better, the authors argue, when we read for ourselves what the sources/texts of our ethical values state, i.e., the “theological grounding of the Declaration of Independence,” Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and the Torah, all of which have much to say about economics.
The authors could well have included in their title the name of John Bogle, founder of Vanguard Mutual Funds. In his famous book, Enough, Bogle also pleads for better, ethical capitalism and for what some have called “a moral structure around money.” Bogle is granted four pages in BC, however, and praised as well. Praised he should be. Partnership economics didn’t keep him from having more than $5 trillion under Vanguard’s management.
The authors invite readers to email their thoughts to email@example.com.
Lawyer Paul Knowlton and CEO Aaron Hedges are not professional economists, but their knowledge of economics, and experience in business are broad and deep. I have secured copies of their book for all four of my grown children.
What about you? Share your story, question, comment, idea, disagreement -- yes, we welcome disagreement for the sake of mutual benefit! -- with us at blog@PartnershipEconomics.com. We will give a thoughtful response.
Our Amazon #1 New Release Book (2021) and Kindle #1 in Law Ethics & Professional Responsibility (2022): Unleash more with Better Capitalism: Jesus, Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, & MLK Jr. on Moving from Plantation to Partnership Economics.