Greeting from the Executive Director

I believe that humans are natural problem-solvers. We are driven to solve problems in ways that make the world around us better. It’s a testament to human ingenuity that we’ve accomplished all we have while living for thousands of years in societies that have placed appalling constraints on most individuals. My fascination with the myriad of ways that people have organized themselves in response to the pressures of ideology, population, and technology led me first to a PhD in Anthropology and then to an MBA.

I am passionate about the dynamic power of capitalism and its relationship to democracy, individuals, and communities. Many Americans; however, perceive that capitalism is failing to help us reach our goals as a nation and as individuals.  Such views are leading to interest in socialism, particularly among young people.

For many the dynamism of capitalism, combined with fast-moving technological innovation, is making markets that naturally work best when they are unplanned and even chaotic, seem too risky and out of control. Although the naturally unplanned and flexible nature of markets is the only way to match sellers and buyers, and many products and ideas fail, when sellers and buyers do find common ground, they create broadly shared value. Capitalists believe that sellers—innovators and entrepreneurs—should be allowed to profit from their discoveries and the creation of products and services that fulfill a need for buyers. Yet, when we look at how markets currently work, what see is a growing wealth disparity and a disappearing middle class. What is happening to a system that ultimately should be a rising tide that lifts all boats?

Can socialism solve the problem? I don’t think so. Socialist systems support the idea that no matter the origin of innovation, the production, distribution and exchange of labor, ideas, products, and services should be collectively owned and managed without markets. In a socialist system production is planned centrally and private ownership of ideas or property are diminished or do not exist, so the collective whole has the right to any wealth created by individuals. The historical experience of socialist economies shows that without a mechanism to reward innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, an economy will stagnate.

Furthermore, while no country in the world is a purely capitalist or purely socialist, all democratic countries have a capitalist economy. When capitalism and democracy flourish, people do better and there is more equality of opportunity. While life in capitalist democracies can be far from perfect, socialist countries have yet to demonstrate a viable alternative.

In America, we subscribe to one form of democratic capitalism. We encourage businesses to form and create wealth through regulated markets; we agree that some of that wealth should be redistributed or spent by government to ensure socially desirable outcomes; and we understand that it’s our responsibility to collectively decide those outcomes through representative democracy. Many factors, however, are distorting this system and leading to a growing misperception that the problem is capitalists and capitalism.

We need to deconstruct and analyze what’s going on and re-align our system for the 21st century. Technological innovations will have an unprecedented impact on business, government, and society. We should celebrate the problem-solving aspects of the technology, and rightly be worried about how we will fare personally as we integrate it into our lives. We know it will disrupt businesses, hurting investors and leaving people out of work. We know it can address global problems such as climate change and hunger, but how do we make sure it does not make our problems worse? We are also concerned that new technology can provide governments and industry with powerful tools that could challenge fundamental American ideas of free speech and privacy. How can a capitalist perspective help us navigate through these upcoming challenges?

One answer is that educational institutions and the business community must work together to make it clear to the American public that capitalism provides the only sure pathway toward securing a new century of human prosperity. We need to educate people about what a well-functioning capitalist system looks like and how it can effectively address personal, community, national and global issues.

As the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Capitalism, I have the opportunity to participate in this effort and advocate that education and business actively work to shape a future we are excited to live in.  My main focus will be supporting the creation and dissemination of information that will contribute to understanding what a healthy capitalist system looks like and how it can help solve problems that don’t have easy solutions.

Christina Elson