The dangers of unregulated laissez-faire capitalism

Contrary to what Alan Jackson purported in his Jan. 4 critique, Marilyn Olds’ column was not a condemnation of entrepreneurs, capitalism, or jealous envy of wealth acquisition (“Return of the Gilded Age of Robber Barons,” page A4, Dec. 29 North Kitsap Herald).

What Olds was pointing out were the societal, political, and economic dangers of unregulated laissez-faire capitalism, an economic model no less dangerous and destructive to our democracy and the economic well-being of the middle class than Marxism.

What Mr. Jackson seems to almost intentionally misunderstand is that all classes matter, and that the extreme concentration of our national treasure in the hands of the 1 percent at the top of the economic pyramid will lead to the destruction of the middle class and the creation of a two-class society: rich wealth hoarders and impoverished workers.

Olds correctly points out we have witnessed this before — at the end of the 19th and in the early 20th centuries, when the economic middle quintiles shrank to about 20 percent of the population. We only narrowly avoided violent revolution in that era because Progressives like Theodore Roosevelt and, a few decades later, his cousin Franklin reined in the dangers of unrestricted capitalism and ensured the rights of workers and consumers.

In their important work, “The Lessons of History,” Will and Ariel Durant point out that almost all violent revolutions have been precipitated by the over-concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny class of plutocrats. Revolutions begin with the purpose of using violent means to redistribute those concentrations of wealth and almost always end with the redistribution of mass poverty. We narrowly avoided that fate as a byproduct of the Gilded Age only because progressive policies of more equitable taxation and more just redistribution of opportunity led by the mid-20th century to the creation of the strongest middle class ever seen. Concomitantly, these same policies led to the creation of an economic miracle in which American entrepreneurialism, inventiveness, and corporations dominated the world economy.

This transformational miracle was accomplished not through the implementation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and self absorption, but by the recognition that we are all in this together.

Tom DeBor