The Financial Seminary
Is Capitalism Still Moral According To Judeo-Christianity? (Part Two)
"I believe in God, family and McDonalds. And in the office, that order is reversed...If any of my competitors were drowning, I'd stick a hose in their mouth and turn on the water. It is ridiculous to call this an industry. It is not. This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I'll kill 'em, and I'm going to kill 'em before they kill me. You're talking about the American way--the survival of the fittest"
Founder of McDonalds
I grew up on a working farm outside Lexington, Kentucky. Not only did I enjoy my mother's fried chicken, mashed potatoes and biscuits while growing up, I needed them. Despite her culinary skills, I had no excess weight when I left for college. There, I very much appreciated the fact one could get two cheeseburgers, fries, a small Coke and three cents change for a buck at McDonalds. I continue to believe that with a billion people hungry in this old world, there are greater concerns than we are creating chubby cherubs with Happy Meals.
Still, I've spent most of the past thirty years at my desk, writing and counseling investors. And a few months ago, I weighed almost eighty pounds more than I did upon graduation. Worse, I was taking two blood pressure medicines and still had high blood pressure. My regular doctor told me during my last annual physical that I had become diabetic. That shocked me. My mother, who is now in her eighties, has been virtually disabled by diabetes the past decade. And her family has a history of heart disease and mom had quadruple bypass surgery years ago. So like most humans who'd tried everything else and failed, it was time to do the right thing and lose some weight.
It was about the same time that a dear Christian friend who happens to be my dental hygienist, told my wife about a doctor supervised diet that had helped her husband lose sixty pounds in about six weeks. She swore it had saved her husband's life. The real beauty was that he had never felt hungry during the process. Naturally, hearing financial claims of that nature each day, I was skeptical. But our friends had learned of the doctor, who had run the medical establishment at an Ivy League school, and diet from a pastor I know. He had also lost about the same amount of weight in the same time. When we had lunch, over salads at Panera rather than burgers at McDonalds of course, he shared that he too had never felt hungry and now felt better than he had in years. I made an appointment with the miracle doctor. And six weeks later, I was forty pounds lighter than I had been at the peak. More importantly, I was off one blood pressure medicine and my pressure was back to normal. I was also off the diabetes medicine as had dropped by half. There was another major benefit but that's a private matter between my wife and myself!
So what does that have to do with a newsletter about economic morality? Everything. At root, today's budget debate in congress is largely over health care and its costs. And the Milken Institute recently estimated in The Wall Street that 70% of today's health care expenses are due to preventable disorders, like diabetes and heart disease. So we could avoid a lot of the political and economic stress in today's America if we would only learn to avoid rich and fatty foods, as did in Babylon.
There are other huge economic ramifications however. The essence of the diet was to avoid processed foods and only eat that which grows naturally. None of my beloved potato chips, sandwiches made on white bread with mayonnaise, etc. When I was finally able to accompany my wife to the grocery store without eating my arm off, I realized that essentially meant I had to avoid about 90% of the stuff there, not to mention McDonald's fries and my even more beloved Whoppers at Burger King. (I'm still allowing myself a cigar a week so I won't feel too virtuous.) So what would happen to today's economy, and particularly to jobs, if everyone suddenly adopted the diet recommended in the Bible that I've discovered is so good for mankind?
I first began thinking about those contradictions of capitalism as Marx termed them, several years ago. Sir John Templeton, who eschewed consumer credit, suggested we buy the stock on MBNA, the largest credit card issuer in the world at the time. Perhaps it was only fitting that it was the very worst stock recommendation he ever gave to me. Yet John also loved to tell the story about how he and his wife saved fifty percent of their incomes by furnishing their first home with second-hand furniture. Obviously, that would be quite bad for the furniture business, in which my wife worked at the time as a manager of three Ethan Allen stores. John also drove an old Lincoln when recommending the stock of Hyundai, or Kia, I forget which, as they were selling lots of new cars to consumers around the world.
In other words, I realized years ago that to be a successful capitalist, you largely have to avoid doing what other successful capitalists suggest you do through their marketing and advertising. Morally, that seems similar to those ministries who rail about the evils of credit cards but quickly accept them for their books and tapes. Economically, having half our population working in the fast food industry and the other half at Weight Watchers is like the government hiring some people to dig holes and others to fill them back in. Everyone works but little of value is accomplished. And while that worked just fine when only five to ten percent of the world's population subscribed to capitalism, the strains from most of the world's people now wanting to do the same are growing rather evident.
That's why I've long agreed with Peter Drucker and his prophetic mid-nineties book Post-capitalist Society, that capitalism must become more "socially responsible," to use Peter's chose words. Perhaps our major corporations will one day grow less focused on being "efficient" or getting the most out of fewer and fewer people. Not only would that put more people to work, it might lessen the stresses on current employees. Maybe our stores could again close on Sundays and give people a time to re-create their minds, bodies and spirits by enjoying creation and each other. Maybe we'd live longer but healthier lives by consuming life-enhancing supplements and medications rather than simply avoiding the pains of illnesses. Yet perhaps it won't be so terrible for investors after all, as indicated by a new white paper from Merrill Lynch entitled .
Gary Moore is a Sarasota-based investment counselor who has authored many publications and articles on the morality of political-economy and personal finance. He is a representative of, and securities offered through, National Planning Corp (NPC), member FINRA/SIPC, but opinions expressed here are his alone. The Financial Seminary and NPC are separate and unrelated. His comments are included in the More Good $ense newsletter in an effort to expand stewardship leaders’ understanding of broader economic issues.