Recent articles (Huffington Post, New York Times, Chicago SunTimes) have brought to light the fact that much of our economic malaise is not market failure but a failure of mindset.
In American culture things are viewed in either/or terms—ours’ is a dichotomous world. Today we’ve come to value self-interest to the detriment of (our) collective interest. We value (rugged) individualism and denounce collectivism, except in times of assault from without. What’s in it for ‘me’, particularly right now, is what matters most. Right action is whatever action benefits me sooner rather than later.
Accordingly the system of orientation of the business-minded views the person as an independent self-determining being and as such we each exist on our own. Hence those in authority within our corporations haven’t any sense of responsibility to society—the collective ‘we’—their sense of responsibility begins and ends with their own skin. Ask any business-minded person and he/she will tell you that the business of business is profit—what the business can gain irrespective of the cost to others is what counts. Our economic system rests on the belief that it is just if those who don’t benefit sacrifice for those who do.
In the world according to Milton Friedman, government (with its unfriendly to business regulations) must let unfettered self-interest do its own thing. In this Friedman fantasy world government’s concern should be to society not business, as if business and society are independent. Hence there is little to no sense of stewardship. What is not understood is that it is not an either/or world; it is not the individual versus the collective (me versus we, business versus government), rather it is the individual and the collective—it is an ‘I-We’ world. Until the system of orientation of business changes, until we transcend self-interest, then the business-minded following egoistic economic principles will move us further away from realizing progress and closer and closer to our own destruction.
Perhaps those who advocate for an individualistic-what’s-in-it-for-me world ought to find an uninhabited island where they can go at each other unfettered (without safety nets) for as long as they can—and it won’t be long—until they self-destruct.
I like the Robinson Crusoe spin you put on the last paragraph.