Greed is a human motivation, but not a dominant one – and the institutions that most exemplified the philosophy of greed were those that imploded in 2007-08. The goods made by workers whose motivation was purely instrumental were driven out of the marketplace by those of people who took pride in their work and of organisations which understood that complex assembly depends on teamwork. A semantic confusion leads us to use the word market to describe both the process which puts food on our table and the activity of gambling in credit default swaps. That confusion has enabled people to claim the virtues of the former for the latter.
Many of those who preach the doctrine of free enterprise loudest have succeeded by skills more akin to those of backroom politicians than of entrepreneurs. Mobile phone networks grew rapidly because a fortunate interlude of deregulatory fervour wrested a monopoly from incumbent fixed line operators. The inventors of social networking sites resemble the occupiers of St Paul’s Churchyard tents more than the occupants of boardrooms. The besuited Winkelvoss twins, lobbying and litigating for a share of Mark Zuckerberg’s business, embody the deformed view of market economics which confuses business interests with free enterprise.
Perhaps the “something nicer” which should replace capitalism is a more nuanced – and more accurate – account of capitalism itself.