Opinion: Michael McCain is wrong about capitalism

There are too few billionaires in Canada — or anywhere else, for that matter — to fund an expansive welfare state

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Reading the recent article by Michael H. McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, (January 14: “We Need a New Charter for Capitalism, and Here’s What It Should Include”), reminded us of something as the late Financial Times columnist Samuel Brittan once wrote. In his 1973 book Capitalism and the Permissive Society, Brittan observed that “businessmen can generally be called upon to defend the indefensible aspects of their activities while yielding to their collectivist adversaries on the essentials”.

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With all due respect to Mr. McCain, his article is an excellent illustration of this. His proposed “New Charter of Capitalism” would, among other things:

  • rejecting the primacy of shareholders in favor of other “stakeholders”, including “natural life” (trees, we suppose);
  • the “short-term disadvantage”—in favor of the well-known long-term vision of politicians and the far-sighted wisdom of bureaucrats?;
  • “welcome government regulation” against what he calls a “race to the bottom,” which we assume his company is not participating in, even though it is not yet sufficiently regulated;
  • redefining individual rights “against” persecution and so on in favor of rights “to” almost everything, including “a secure basic income”, “secure health care” (which is already free in Canada, but not safe?) and “safe”. food” (but not safe clothing); and
  • raise taxes on the rich while “rejecting the idea that it is a mere transfer of wealth” (in current Newspeak).

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While many people are guaranteed secure rights to goods and services, those who must pay for them are clearly no longer secure in their own property. And not all the payers are billionaires like Mr. McCain: there are too few billionaires in Canada—or anywhere else, for that matter—to fund an expansive welfare state.

Mr McCain, who seems to favor anything that is “sustainable and fair”, worries that his generation is not leaving a sufficiently socialist society for future generations. Does he consult them regularly? Shouldn’t he rather worry about the economic ignorance, moral vacuum and political jungle mentality that his generation (if one can speak in such collectivist terms) has left behind? For those unfamiliar with the term: In the political jungle, politically powerful groups fight for grants or other privileges and to exploit others with discriminatory taxes or by imposing their personal preferences or values.

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These criticisms are not an attack on Mr. McCain personally. He’s just surfing on a politically correct, if not woke, tidal wave that seems to have gripped nearly all of the top corporate executives. We can certainly understand why they would feel lost in the current ideological theater. What happened, they must ask, to the world in which corporations simply produced the goods or services demanded by individual consumers, in all their diverse preferences? Where did business leaders not have to shout derogatory, if not hateful, opinions at 50%, 25%, or even just 1% of their customers?

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The winds of panic seem to be blowing over today’s boardrooms. It is as if executives and leaders had just read for the first time the famous introduction to the Communist Manifesto of 1848 by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels: “A specter is haunting Europe, the specter of communism”. However, as today’s readers have the benefit of knowing, the work of Marx’s followers did not turn out well. In terms of freedom and material goods, the capitalism that Mr. McCain would now upset has defeated socialism. Yet somehow today’s leaders and business owners seem ready to abandon the most successful social system in history for fear of environmentalists, social justice warriors and woke activists, eager stakeholders, who now encircle them. And, tragically, though presumably shrewd in their own business dealings, they seem to believe that making ideological and financial concessions will quell extortion.

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It almost goes without saying that the issues underlying Mr. McCain’s manifesto are serious and complex. Indeed, they have occupied some of the finest minds and greatest thinkers in the history of our species. Philosophers have been thinking about it for two millennia, economists and political scientists for several centuries.

But instead of engaging in such silent studies or the humble, rewarding task of providing individual consumers with what they want, 21st century corporate leaders seem more interested in pursuing the mirage of social engineering. of a new company – something many others have tried in the past. last century, usually with disastrous results. Note that the word “revolution” (or its derivatives) appears four times in Mr. McCain’s article.

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The beauty of a capitalist system, by which we mean free market, not corporate/government cronyism, is that it separates economic “power” from political power. If shareholders and the board agree, a corporate executive can bow to whatever “stakeholders” they want and even run the company in their place. Likewise, like Amazon’s MacKenzie Scott, a wealthy person can spend some or even all of their personal fortune to remedy any social problem they perceive.

In a free society, however, no one will be forced to patronize his or Mr. McCain’s business, obey the dictates he concocts with the government, bail him out, or agree with his thoughts on the nature of capitalism.

Pierre Lemieux is a senior researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute, of which Michel Kelly-Gagnon is president and chief executive officer.

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