Monday, October 01, 2007

The Soul of Capitalism

When the founder of the second largest mutual fund company in the world (The Vanguard Group) starts telling you that there is something rotten in the land of capitalism, you start to listen.

John Bogle is not your tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, Hollywood-loving, left-wing lib.
He was named as one of the "world’s 100 most powerful and influential people" by Time magazine in 2004, and one of the investment industry’s four "Giants of the 20th Century" by Fortune magazine in 1999
He received the Institutional Investor's Lifetime Achievement Award (2004) as well as the Woodrow Wilson Award from Princeton University for "distinguished achievement in the Nation’s service" (1999)

Yet his words on today’s American capitalism are tougher than what you'd expect from any liberal. Of course, as an icon of a successful capitalist, he has some credibility in the matter and probably knows more what he’s talking about than most which is probably why his book called The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism doesn’t ring hollow.

Friday night, he was on Bill Moyers, on PBS, and what he said was pretty frightening and very realistic at the same time. He even compares inequality of wealth in America today to that of pre-revolutionary France.

BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you that people seem so indifferent to the fact that one tenth of one percent of the population owns most of the wealth in this country?

JOHN BOGLE:Well, in the long run, I believe it's unsustainable. You know, this is not going to be, you know, a country like France, say, at the time of before the French Revolution. You know, the lords of France, the kings had probably the same kind of distribution of wealth we had today come by through long generations. Their own castles. We have those castles in America now. But it says to me that, in this society, it's not sustainable. There will be an outcry.

Even Allen Greenspan says in his book he's worried, new book-- he's worried about this division in the society. He's worried about dissatisfaction. He's worried about violence in our society. You can only have so much of an advantage to those at the top of the pyramid, and so much disadvantage that's at the bottom of the pyramid, before you start to get some very difficult things going on.

It just blows my mind to hear a CEO be so critical of other CEOs:

JOHN BOGLE: (…/…)The evidence is quite compelling that today corporations are run in a very important way to maximize the returns of its managers at the expense of its stockholders.

BILL MOYERS: Its CEOs.

JOHN BOGLE:Its CEOs, well, the upper level of five or six top officers. And they get enormous amounts of pay for actually doing very little. I'm a businessman. Listen, we all-- we chief executives get an awful lot of credit that we don't deserve. Real work in companies is done by the people who are getting themselves together and doing the hard work of making companies grow--

Watch the video of Bogle's interview here.

The lesson to drawn from Bogle is also that success and ethics are not necessarily a contradiction in our the capitalist world. Getting wealthy is ok until it becomes greed.

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