My recent post on Mitt Romney’s staggering wealth, and his own perception that President Obama is trying to stir resentment among voters because of it, generated a good bit of discussion on my claim that:
For all its ills, capitalism seems to be the best way for individuals to thrive socially, economically, and perhaps even spiritually. Such a system will inevitably produce winners and losers, though the hope is that the vast majority will find themselves somewhere in the middle.
A few comments took issue with the assertion that capitalism is even a decent way for individuals to thrive, suggesting that the family could serve as a better model for developing an economy. Others wrote that the real problem was that the US actually embraces a system of socialized debt and privatized wealth, leaving the rich to richer and the poor to get poorer, as the saying goes. Finally, some suggested that individuals would be better off if the government got out of the regulation business altogether and let capitalism work its magic, rewarding the creative and talented, and, well, letting others fend for themselves.
The head of General Motors offered a defense of his thoughts on a similar subject in an interview with NPR. Daniel Akerson, chairman and CEO of GM, was defending his company’s decision to accept a massive government bailout that may have saved the company and allowed it to return to its spot as the world’s number one automaker, as recently highlighted by President Obama in his State of the Union address. The bailout means that US taxpayers now own about one-quarter of the company, causing some critics on the right to use the moniker “Government Motors.”
To his critics, Akerson says that the US rightly embraces a form of “hybrid capitalism,” and implicitly suggests that unfettered capitalism would be cruel and lack basic considerations for the weak and marginalized. From the interview:
"Sometimes people stylize the image of how the economy works because we have never been a truly 100 percent, unadulterated capitalist system," Akerson says. "Otherwise, your mother, as she aged in time ... and could not produce, you don't kick 'em to the curb."
Akerson says he believes the U.S. has a form of hybrid capitalism.
"There are times when government has a role, in my opinion, and there are times it should let the market ultimately determine winners and losers," he says.
Akerson cites the real estate crisis of the late 1980s, when the government stepped in to stabilize the market and eventually withdrew. In the case of GM, he explains, to have let it go through a complete bankruptcy would have been disastrous.
"To have uncertainty surrounding a company of this size and this magnitude for a long period of time I think would have been just devastating, and probably have condemned it to the heap," he says.