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Economic Development is . . . (increasing the flow) of capital through the community and reducing its leakage.

The Element of Confusion

When my son, Cody, was young, we belonged to an informal Christian church. On Communion day, ushers would pass around what my son would call the “bread and juice.”

One Sunday, we attended church out of town that was a bit more formal. What our church called bread and juice, this one referred to as elements, a word Cody didn’t quite understand. As Communion began, the pastor said, “If the deacons will come forward, the elements will pass among us.” Cody was suddenly excited, and I didn’t know why. Then he leaned toward me, whispering something that caused me to burst out laughing. With everyone turning around to look at us, I took him by the hand and we made a hasty exit.

All the way to the car, he protested. “Dad, we’re going to miss the circus, we’re going to miss the circus! The pastor said the elephants were going to pass among us!”

That story of Cody’s misunderstanding the meaning of elements reminded me of another confusion that seems to be happening today. According to an April 2016 Harvard poll, over half of 18- to 29-year-olds in America say they do not support capitalism. 51 percent of Americans in this age group reject it, while only 42 percent support it. And even more shocking, 33 percent say they support socialism.

I am ALWAYS suspicious of polls, so after digging into the fine print (far below the headlines) the Harvard survey noted, the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” were never defined to the people polled. Why would Ivy League school poll opinions of undefined terms?

Why would these young people oppose capitalism? The only logical reason might be because they misunderstand what capitalism is. So I looked to Webster who defines capitalism as “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods determined by competition in a free market.” I interpret this capitalism as simply a free market system not controlled by government.

I believe young people are not opposing a free market per se, but do oppose: unfair competition, state-protected monopolies, price-fixing, crony capitalism, exploitation of workers or all the other perceived sins of “big business” they hear about nearly every day. I realize these are all valid things to be upset with, but they let’s be clear they are NOT ethical capitalism, they are side issues created by the corrupt. Side issues that have blurred the clear understanding of what capitalism is.

In a truly free market, people who are wealthy have become so through effectively serving their fellow man. Cyrus McCormick and his reaping machine, Thomas Watson Sr., the founder of IBM, and Lloyd Conover, who created the antibiotic tetracycline while employed by Pfizer are just three examples. And while these people and their companies became extremely wealthy, society benefitted far more than they did in terms of the value of healthier lives and the millions and possibly billions of lives saved.

I believe if Harvard did a poll asking these young people which services they are most satisfied with and which they are most dissatisfied with, for-profit organizations (supermarkets Whole Foods, computer companies Apple and retail stores Amazon) would dominate the satisfied list, while non-profit organizations (post office, offices of motor vehicle registration, and schools) would dominate the dissatisfied list. In a free market economy, the pursuit of profits and serving people are one and the same. I won’t argue that capitalism in the US is perfect, it is not, but it’s the closest we’ll come here on Earth.

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