• Mark Monfort

Revisionist Capitalism

Hi everyone,

I know I said I probably wouldn't blog here for a while as I was focusing on LinkedIn writing but sometimes 'rules' are meant to be broken (okay, it wasn't a rule persay).

Anyway, I'm writing as I checked out a new documentarty on Netflix called 'The Pursuit'. Its billed as a look into the problem of whether capitalism is the problem or the solution to society's ills. The documentarian (is that a word?) is Arthur Brookes who's well known for his work in the social sciences, opinion pieces in the Washington Post and his work as president of the conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute.

Capitalism has taken knocks throughout history and none more so than today where the rise of those against it is blasted all over social media. We had the rise of Occupy Wall St, the

Arthur shows a different view and reminds me a lot of Malcolm Gladwell in Gladwell's Revisionist History series. In those podcasts, we learn to question the perceived wisdom about a person, event or idea. Topics ranged from sports (like basketball's Wilt Chamberlain refusing to shoot free throws under hand, even though it would have led to higher scoring output than he already had) to tragedies (the 2009-11 Toyota vehicle recalls after a number of supposed brake related deaths). What is meant to be 'common knowledge' about the event is turned on its head when looking at it from a different angle or lens.

This is what Arthur Brooks does in 'The Pursuit'. For example, he interviews with the Dalai Lama and through his studies he talked about Buddhism's 4 secrets to a happy life. These are Enlightenment, Spirituality, Wordly Satisfaction and Wealth. The first 2 are intuitive but the latter are not something he expected (nor did I, to be honest). The worldy satisfaction comes from serving others as a way of enjoying our lives. The wealth factor is neither about materialism or that money is a good thing. Rather, Brooks saw that wealth does not need to be equated to American or Western standards of wealth. Through following his entrepreneur friend in Dharavi (India) he saw that his friend was wealthy because he was able to build something, earn a living and serve other people. These are things that don't necessarily require an abundance of materials and money. The Dalai Lama added to this point during their talk by saying that 'you should make yourself something useful among the seven billion human beings... if you remain isolated from society... then its a waste of life'.

Another set of examples from the documentary showed the differences between closed and open societies. The Danish social structure at the surface level is shown to be one in which there is little inequality amongst people. Education and health treatments are free and everyone has a happy start to the day (thanks to singing in libraries). Yet there is an underlying factor that potentially pulls the rug out from underneath this utopia. That is the limitations this system puts on its members. The Danish system works if you're prepared to be Danish and if you want to do more and are even entrepreneurial, this system does not do you any favours. The high tax system is part of this issue and is quoted as being near 75% for some people and looking online (Trading Economics chart below) we can see that in 2018 it was 55.8%. Another problem that comes from the social structure in Denmark is the homogenous model that has led to what others would perceive as racism against cultures that are not like the Danes. Muslims especially appear to be targeted.

In both of these examples (and for many in the documentary), Arthur shows that you have to take a lot of claims with a grain of salt and you need to dig into things further than just what the headline level of understanding is. The most impactful one about capitalism he mentions comes later in the documentary when he mentions the famous scripture of St Paul about money being the root of all evil and how this verse is often misquoted. The real scripture quotes 'for the love of money is the root of all evil'. It's not the existence of material things but rather the love of money and attachment to stuff that can be the downfall of mankind. The material things are actually what helped turn India, a poorer nation up until 1991, into a global powerhouse with GDP on equal footing to the UK as of 2017.

This style of thinking resonates with me because I've often looked for ways to see the silver lining in events. For example, my company lost its joint venture with an investment bank in London which forced my visa to expire last year. That could have been a completely tragic event via one point of view but looking at it another way, it was a blessing in disguise (see LINK).

There are many examples of events in ancient history, recent history and even modern times where what's presented at the headline news level is not exactly the truth when you boil it down. Additionally, it's much easier to align ourselves with a theme, e.g. 'that capitalism is inherently bad' and to stick with that without question.

The only advice I'm going to leave you here with today is to watch 'The Pursuit' on Netflix and see what you can take away from it. You might agree with me, you might not. Either is fine really but hopefully, whatever happens, you learn something new and try to ask more questions about your own 'common knowledge'.

You just surprise yourself.

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