Gunaratne clarifies his stand on capitalism in response to three American critics
Posted on February 3rd, 2012

By Shelton A. Gunaratne

 Three obviously Republican replies have appeared in response to my opinion piece “Of wealthy, by wealthy, for wealthy,” published in The (Fargo-Moorhead) Forum on Sunday, Jan. 15. [The original article appeared in the Lankaweb of Jan. 10.] I commend each of them for allowing me the opportunity to elucidate my exposition further.

The latest response (Feb. 2) comes from Rep. Wes Belter, R-Mapleton, who accuses me of expounding my “dislike for the American free enterprise system.” He gloats, “Only in America could a professor express his disdain for the system that pays his check without reprisal.” Thus, instead of countering the points I raised, he goes off tangent to attack mepersonally as an ingrate who doesn’t respect his paymaster.

He is absolutely wrong in hisdogmatic belief that only America offers the freedom to express disdain of the system that pays the critic’s bills. I refer him to the 2012 annual press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders, which put the United States at 47th in the world.

Belter presumes that America has a free enterprise system.  Wrong. I agree with Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo (The Forum, Jan. 23) that America has neverbeen a free-enterprise capitalist system, which she sees as the panacea for all our economic woes. On the contrary, I see full-fledged free-market (laissez faire) capitalism as an unworkable extreme just like the Marxist utopia of communism. I see that Grande holds the same views as those of presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

It seems to me that all threeprotagonists of capitalism in The Forum debate are trying to do so without first defining capitalism.  Currently, no consensus exists on the precise definition of capitalism or how we should use the term. Economists usually use the term to emphasize the degree that government does not have control over markets (laissez faire), and on property rights. The many variants of capitalism include mercantilism, free-market capitalism, socialmarket economy, state capitalism, corporate capitalism, and mixed economy.

I argue that free market (laissez faire) capitalism is a mere theoretical construct that no country has ever implemented just like its opposite, communism in the Marxist sense.

The economic system of a country reflects the interaction of elements of the two extremes existing as a continuum. My critics are ingenuous when they try to brand me as an anti-capitalist, which I am not. But I submit that a free-market capitalistsystem can operate only under the law of the fish (matsya nyaya), which justifies the powerful few (the sharks) devouring the powerless many (the smaller fish) in quest of ceaseless profit-accumulation.

 Buddhist philosophy says that greed (tanha) leads to sorrow (dukkha).

The current American system is a hybrid of corporate (crony) capitalism and mixed economy. A country that supports rich farmers with huge agricultural subsidies (about $20 billion per year) and allows the super-rich a lower tax rate than those in the middle class is by no means a free enterprise system. With an astounding national debt of $16 trillion, America is in sorrow.

The 10 percent of the super-rich in America owning 90 percent of the country’s wealth and nearly 50 percent of the U.S. Congress coming from the 1 percent of the country’s millionaire class are a national disgrace. Mitt Romney, the likely Republican contender for president, is a multi-millionaire who is unlikely to do anything to rid themillionaires’ grip on the U.S. Congress. Lately, Romney has ceased to use the term equality as a desirable attribute of a social system.

I am not against capitalism, but against the sordid state of affairs that corrupt (crony) capitalism has made it possible.

Thomas Hanson, in his response (The Forum, Jan. 19), argues that capitalism has produced “generous benefactors who willingly share their success by donating millions” to local colleges.” He threatens to speak with his pocketbook by not giving to the university that I “represent.” Let me clarify that my opinion piece has nothing to do with MSUM, the university from which I retired in 2007.  I used the title “professor emeritus” merely as identification. Do Hanson’s views represent those of the MSU from which he graduated in 1968? Why do Republican diehards not brag about the millions they donate to super-PACs to elect crony politicians. Why are they silent about the tax breaks allowed to the rich and the annual subsidy to the well-to-do farmers?

I acknowledge that in 2010 private donations to American colleges and university totaled $28 billion, the sameamount as in 2006. Credit should go to people like Hanson. However, he is barking up the wrong tree when he speaks about his pocketbook as a threat to desist others from criticizing whatever he means by “capitalism.”

Finally, I quote the following passage from Wikipedia:

 The relationship between democracy and capitalism is a contentious area in theory and popular political movements.

Critics of capitalism associate it with: social inequality and unfair distribution of wealth and power; a tendency toward market monopoly or oligopoly (and government by oligarchy); imperialism, counter-revolutionary wars and various forms of economic and cultural exploitation; repression of workers and trade unionists; social alienation; economic inequality; unemployment; and economic instability

 How can the Republicans claim the never-existed “free-market” capitalism to be the heart and soul of America without answering these primary criticisms?

4 Responses to “Gunaratne clarifies his stand on capitalism in response to three American critics”

  1. gamunu6 Says:

    Thank yu Sir! Mr. Shelton Gunaratne!

    I whole heartedly support the views of the learned Doctor who is a Professor at Moorhead University, USA. I have read with interest your articles about TRAVELS in USA & in Canada.

    As a Sri lankan Canadian I am impressed with his explanation how Buddhsim plays an integral part of the most countries including many in the USA.

    GREED, SELF RIGHTNESS! Bullying & always thinkin of yourself but NOT about others are halmark traditions of Capitalism. Professoe as many others can FREELY express his VIEWS NOT ONLY in the USA, But Canada , UK & many other Capitalist countries.

    This FREEDOM of Speecch is NOT unique to USA., even to lesser extent in my home country Sri Lanak, it exists. Governing a small country with divergent views are extremely difficult & the TYPES of freedoms expressed & practiced in the West are NOT necesarily adaptable in a develping country like Sri lanka.

    I feel Prof: Gunanratne should be commended to state the facts as he sees it & relationship between Buddhism & Capitalism is worth noting.

    Thanks again for your valuable insight…..Just expressing my views from Canada. ~ Gamunu Alahakkone, Retd Engr-Canada

  2. Ben_silva Says:

    The driving force behind capitalism is greed or desires. Capitalism has been the world’s most successful economic system because greed is one of the most powerful human motivators. If we suppress greed we suppress a motivating force, that create a driving force for human activity. Buddhism does not promote greed and Buddhists lose out on a motivating force to achieve things. . People who follow the Buddhist Philosophy may be brain washed to believe that greed creates ‘Dukke’ and is reluctant to put any effort to achieve any thing, inb case it creayes ’Dukke’. Greed or desires have produced development, innovation of new products and services and lifted millions out of poverty, . as in China. As Shelton pointed out according to the Buddhist Philosophy greed produces ‘Dukke’. However as shown above, greed has generated economic forces and has helped in producing development and advancement. Any one without greed or desires may not achieve much and may not be fit enough to survive in a highly competitive, nasty, dangerous greedy world. As the countries in the silk route and as Nalanda Buddhists show, those that followed the Buddhist Philosophy got wiped out. Further evidence of Tibet and Bhutan show that those follow the Buddhist Philosophy remain poor and vulnerable. Japan and Thailand, that some say are Buddhist countries can hardly be called Buddhist as, Japan is driven by desires. Further the Japs killed millions of Chinese during their invasion of China, to expand their empire. Thailand is the sex Capital in the world and can hardly be following the Buddhist Philosophy.
    It appears that Buddhists who suppress desires is at a disadvantage, when competing against others who have no such inhibitions. The likely outcome of Buddhists suppressing desires is that they will end up as the poorest of the poor.
    As a result, I felt that those that promote Buddhism, such as Shelton, are far more dangerous enemies of the Sinhala people than Tamil terrorist themselves, as followers of religious myths will end up as second class citizens.
    However, I am in favour of regulated Capitalism rather than unregulated Capitalism.
    Shelton has correctly identified the negative aspects of unregulated capitalism.
    Those that promote religion may be affected by the mind virus called religion and their thinking abilities may be clouded.
    Shelton is absolutely correct to highlight the negative aspects of Capitalism. Some of the serious negative aspects of Capitalism is the damage to the enviroenment and the social inequality it produces. I acknowlege the valuable contribution he made in the ‘Travel’ series.

  3. mjaya Says:

    **I felt that those that promote Buddhism, such as Shelton, are far more dangerous enemies of the Sinhala people than Tamil terrorist themselves**
    In that case (as I have mentioned before) great kings like Dutugemunu, Walgambahu and Parakramabahu the Great (all of them promoted Buddhism a lot!) would have exterminated the Sinhalese people long long ago…..

    How can you explain secular Albania being a poor country???

    Also Steve Jobs was a Buddhist, so was Upali Wijewardena and Ananda Krishnan (a Buddhist from Jaffna) is one of the richest people in Malaysia.

    It people like you (Ben Silva) who pretend to be patriots who are the worst enemy. But thanks to your own mouth (keyboard) we know who you are and that you only want to create the vacuum to allow Christianity into Sri Lanka.

  4. aravinda Says:

    USA allows “Freedom of self-censored expression”. In USA, the editors, journalists and other ad-hoc contributors know their limits and stick to it. Otherwise they are dead meat. Remember embedded journalists feeding us hog wash?

    A month ago, an American Jewish newspaper editor threatened to kill Obama. He said Mossad agents should kill Obama, if the President fails to destroy Iran. It was a “Freudian slip”. Did you notice the immediate cover-up by the Media-Mafia. The whole news item was buried. But the cat is now out of bag. The Media-Mafia is pushing the cat, back in to the bag. This is how American media work.

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