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How to Rethink Capitalism

The 2008 financial crisis, together with failed efforts to combat climate change and sharply rising inequality, has frayed the neoliberal consensus that has prevailed in the United States and much of the West for more than two generations. Three issues must be considered in weighing what comes next.

WASHINGTON, DC – The United States Business Roundtable, an organization of CEOs of large US companies, recently issued a statement that caused quite a stir in some circles. Rather than focusing primarily or exclusively on maximizing shareholder value, America’s corporate titans argued, companies should attach more weight to the wellbeing of their broader stakeholder community, including workers, customers, neighbors, and others.

As CEOs of large companies are hired and fired mostly on the basis of their contributions to profits, such statements merit a certain amount of cynicism. Unless and until incentives created by financial markets change, we should expect the short-term profit motive to prevail.

The Business Roundtable’s views are part of broader attempts to reimagine capitalism – the topic now of high-profile courses at Harvard Business School, Brown University, and elsewhere. In his recent book The Economists’ Hour, Binyamin Appelbaum, an influential New York Times journalist, argues that economists are to blame for tilting too much of the world excessively toward profits. And Democratic presidential candidates are putting forward ideas that range from modest reform to a more substantial overhaul of how markets work.

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