By Alan Murray and David Meyer
January 14, 2019

Good morning.

Two excellent columns over the weekend, both by conservative-leaning columnists, that deserve your attention.

The first is by David Brooks in The New York Times, citing Tucker Carlson’s “now famous rant on Fox News…that American elites are using ruthless market forces to enrich themselves and immiserate everyone else.” (You can watch Carlson’s fascinating New Year monologue here. But fair warning: it’s 15 minutes long, an eternity in TV news time.)

The other is by Gerald Baker in The Wall Street Journal, focusing on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who he says may be “one of the most important political figures of our age” — despite her “inexperience, knowledge gaps and alarmingly ahistorical belief in impossible ideologies.”(For another version of this theme, read Edward Luce in yesterday’s FT.)

What the columns underscore is the still-building forces on both sides of the political aisle challenging the existing economic order. There’s a sense that, as Baker puts it, “old nostrums of free-market, growth-maximizing economic efficiencies” no longer appeal to a broad swath of Americans. “Capitalism itself is in a strange place. On the one hand, it’s impossible to dispute that the market-oriented liberalization of the world economy over the last 50 years has produced perhaps the most explosive growth in prosperity in human history. But in the West we are profoundly ill at ease, not just with the widening inequalities it produces but with capitalism’s limitations in answering deeper human needs.”

Brooks rejects Carlson’s simplistic diagnosis (it’s the greedy bankers’ fault) and provides a more subtle — and more accurate — alternative. American corporations over the last half-century made a shift from serving multiple stakeholders — customers, employees, the towns in which they are located — to giving primacy to the shareholder. In the process, “we switched to a purely economic lens” and “turned off the moral lens… A deadly combination of right-wing free-market fundamentalism and left-wing moral relativism led to a withering away of moral norms and shared codes of decent conduct.”

The good news is that a growing number of business leaders recognize, and agree, with what Brooks and Baker are saying. Capitalism is at a turning point, and those running the show face an urgent need to demonstrate they can do a better job serving society.

The bad news is that the political system may be fraying faster than far-sighted business leaders can repair it.

More news below.

Alan Murray


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