Capitalism rules. Socialism and communism are subdued but will probably resurface soon in another avatar. But I am increasingly beginning to believe that we have still not hit upon the right -ism in social economics, like we have done in politics. There is no doubting that Democracy, for all its flaws, is the near-perfect end-state possible in political modeling. But capitalism (which is often talked about in the same breath as democracy)? Far from it.
In theory, capitalism seems perfect. For that matter, in theory, communism also seems perfect! So does, benevelont despotism. The trouble starts when the troubles start, in practice.
What is Equality? Is it equal distribution of wealth or equal availability of opportunities?
Communism is about the former, which is why it failed. Capitalism should be about the later – but it only, partially is. Equal distribution of wealth is an idealistic idea which will never materialize. For that, first, you need a selfless central autocratic committee to do the distribution and that is impossible over a period of time. Secondly and more importantly, considering everything else to be equal, men are still not born equal. Men are born with varied talents and intelligence, develop varied levels of competences, interests and leadership qualities. So, in an inherently unequal society, sustained equality of wealth will be impossible to achieve and in many ways, unfair.
Capitalism, on paper, provides equal opportunuties to people. In practice, it is more complex. It works, quite well, in sunrise sectors, like the internet. It rarely does, in established areas, like automobile or oil industries. The inherent inequalities are blown beyond proportions by capitalism over a period of time. My Dad and Dhirubhai Ambani had equal opportunities. Dhirubhai made the better use of it. I dont grudge his achievements. But Mukesh Ambani and I are not on equal footing. Bill Gates started from scratch to build Microsoft, in a sunrise industry. Well done, Bill. But the gates and windows of that industry are locked so tightly now, that it is almost impregnable, till it becomes irrelevant…even the collective might of, potentially, the best available talent in the world (through Open Source Linux) has not not been able to make the slightest dent on Windows. The irrelevance of the model will still happen in future and oust Microsoft, but that requires a paradigm shift, which doesn’t speak well of equal opportunities in the capitalist society.
This, then, is the trouble with Capitalism. There is no level playing field for equally endowed minnows and giants. A parallel for current capitalism is the earlier Chess World Championship. One needs to be immensely talented to become the Champion, which is fair. But, once a Champion, then it becomes immensely difficult to dislodge the champion from the pedestal because the dice is loaded heavily against the challengers. A Karpov or Kasparov could spend the entire year preparing for the championship match, while the challengers slug it out among themselves for the right to challenge. If Karpov and Kasparov were to have gone through the grind every year like others, could they have had such long reigns? It is unlikely. Contrast that with a Wimbledon, where a Federer, even if he is a five-time champion, still has to start from Round 1. Neither is he denied, in a communist way, the opportunity to claim his sixth crown, nor is he, in a capitalistic manner, loaded with a biased opportunity to win.
The chess board in the capitalistic world also needs to be levelled. The new -ism, still pregnant in my mind, and in many others’ minds too, will need to address this. In a globalised, free, flat world, how would we, or rather the system, ensure equal opportunisties to all; a level playing ground for my children, Mukesh Ambani’s children and a kid in the dry farm lands of Zimbabwe; and a chance for the most talented amongst these kids to win, without drubbing the others.