Creative Capitalism

The most heartening intellectual development of our time is the triumph of market economics. The Ungerian in me dreads the tyranny of “no alternative” — but the triumph of market economics needn’t imply that we can’t build better, more inclusive models of economic life. And that is the agenda of Creative Capitalism, a quirky new project launched by Michael Kinsley, one of my heroes and the progenitor, for better or for worse, of opinion journalism as we know it, and Conor Clarke, a formidable intellectual in his own right, and, I’m very happy to say, my future colleague at The Atlantic.

Following on Bill Gates seemingly banal yet actually pretty important observation that the engine of capitalist creativity would need to solve the problems it generates, that we can’t rely on the largesse of enlightened billionaires or (I would emphasize) the good graces of administrative elites given the scale of these problems.

I’m reminded of Clay Shirky’s wonderful mini-essay on the cognitive surplus. We are at the end of yet another “collective bender,” a period of apathy, indifference, and indeed public stupor, and at the beginning of an era in which our massive collective intelligence is looking for outlets — some of them destructive, no doubt, but others that will create technologies and business practices and social models we can only barely imagine. How neat is that?

Consider that the British working classes created friendly societies and lending libraries that were devised, staffed, and financed by their beneficiaries — their great-grandchildren, in contrast, are assumed to be the passive recipients of instruction, and of discipline. But of course we haven’t grown dumber. Rather, less is expected of us. So of course the parts of our brain geared towards constructive collective action have atrophied.

We know this is changing. We see this in our politics, particularly in the netroots left. We see it in the rise of homeschooling cooperatives, in part-time missionary work that is putting thousands of Americans in direct contact with grinding poverty. Robert Fogel wrote some years ago of a Fourth Great Awakening, in which economic egalitarianism would be enriched and perhaps replaced by an emphasis on, for lack of a better phrase, the state of our souls. To be sure, this things are deeply interrelated.

And that’s what the search for a better capitalism is all about.

Wow, this is really gushing and odd, I realize. I’m in a reflective mood. I hope to say something more substantive, on how to think about trade and sovereignty in context, but that’ll do for now. Briefly, I’ll just add that some of my favorite thinkers have already contributed to Creative Capitalism, including the great Ed Glaeser, William Easterly, Richard Posner, and Gary Becker. The left is still sorely underrepresented, so I’m hoping Dani Rodrik and Joseph Stiglitz and others will get in the mix. I’m also hoping some of my blogger-comrades will join in too.

The project is designed, as you’ll see, to solicit lots of contributions from lots of people — programmers, stay-at-home dads, bloggers, blue comedians, etc. So do consider joining in the fun.