profits. Government regulators either failed to notice or simply
ignored abusive behavior in real estate, banking and finance.
Furthermore, government policies encouraging home owner-
ship, while well intended, encouraged extreme misbehavior in the
mortgage markets. The cost of all these misdeeds was enormous.
Critics did not hesitate to unfairly characterize capitalism as
the primary cause of the Great Recession. The Occupy Wall Street
movement reflected growing dissatisfaction with capitalism in the
Great Recession’s aftermath. Although this movement has largely
dissipated, skepticism about capitalism continues unabated as
seen in the surprising strength of Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016
presidential campaign and the rising popularity of congressional
candidates, such as socialist Alexandra Ocario-Cortez.
The great promise of capitalism has been demonstrated time
and again in the lives of countless individuals who have been
lifted out of poverty into a standard of living never before seen or
imagined prior to its advent. Capitalism is not a perfect economic
system, and it has been abused by unscrupulous participants
with great regularity. However, it encourages and rewards hon-
est initiative and innovation and requires minimal governmental
In order for capitalism to survive, we must reexamine and
affirm the important ethical standards and norms under which
businesses operate, we must recommit ourselves to principles that
protect private property, we must support laws that reflect those
standards and principles, and we must ensure the fair and proper
enforcement of those laws. The alternative is to sink into an eco-
nomic malaise that all too often ends in despotism and tyranny.
More importantly, the benefits of capitalism must be taught
without bias in our educational system. For far too long our
children have been indoctrinated with the false belief that the evil
capitalistic system makes the poor poorer and the rich richer. The
good news about capitalism doesn’t make for dramatic headlines,
but the evidence is everywhere around us. We need only to stop
and examine the facts.
Brian Grinder is a professor at Eastern Washington University
and a member of Financial History’s editorial board. Dr. Dan
Cooper is the president of Active Learning Technologies.
Cassidy, John. “The Price Prophet.” The New Yorker. 75, 44. 2000.
McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain
the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010.
Novak, Michael. The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Latham, Maryland:
Madison Books. 1991.
Rosling, Hans, Ola Rosling and Anna R. Rönnlund. Factfulness: Ten Rea-
sons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than
You Think. New York: Flatiron Books. 2018.
Voltaire. “Tenth Letter: On Commerce,” in John Leigh, ed.: Philosophical
Letters or, Letters Regarding the English Nation. Indianapolis, Indiana:
Hackett Publishing Co. 2007.
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