Supercapitalism Got Me Thinking

I must admit I strayed outside my typical reading boundaries when I picked up Robert B. Reich’s Supercapitalism. I am the richer for it.

Instead of casting blame for the economic maladies of the United States, Reich defines and clarifies the issues that have merged to create the gross inequality of wealth in America. He plainly displays the logical consequences that flow from our everyday decisions to increase profit, ROI, and save a dollar on T-shirts. His concern is that capitalism has triumphed as the expense of democracy.

Reich does define a problem. Whether or not one agrees with his recommended responses to the issues, the book is of extreme value for understanding the course of modern day capitalism.

A “Must-Read” Chapter

Chapter three, “Of Two Minds,” is one of the best and succinct descriptions of the contradictory battles going on in the lives of most responsible Americans. In this chapter, Reich highlights the unattainable balancing act of living our lives as good citizens and also as thrifty consumers and wise investors. Here, he enlightens the mind to an understanding of how our search for a good deal often leads to undesired fallout such as lower wages, sweat shops, child labor, environmental abuse, the spread of porn, obesity and other health problems.


Much of what Reich confronts is being wildly illustrated on every American newscast at the moment. The timing of my reading could not have been better. As I write this post, there is a huge environmental disaster taking place off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. A BP oil well is gushing oil at an uncontrollable rate. This disaster has the attention of the whole nation. Ironically, Reich, in Supercapitalism, often referenced BP’s efforts to increase profits at the expense of maintenance and safety. He references “BP’s carelessness” and “BP’s corporate culture of seeming indifference to environmental issues.” (Supercapitalism was published in 2007.)


Here are a few of my favorite ideas, thoughts and quotes from Supercapitalism:

  • As consumers and investors we want the great deals. As citizens we don’t like many of the social consequences that flow from them.
  • Human beings are remarkably adept at rationalizing comfortable arrangements.
  • Corporations under supercapitalism no longer have the discretion to be virtuous.
  • Companies donate money only to the extent it has public relations value.
  • Protecting the Amazon is surely a worthwhile goal but protecting people from obesity and diabetes is, too, (In reference to Ben & Jerry’s environmental efforts).
  • Citizen and consumer values are easily reconciled when one is rich enough to afford both.

Implications of Faith

To my knowledge, Reich does not interject any religious belief into this book. However, the implications for Christians cannot be ignored. In the chapter “Of Two Minds” he notes the struggles between the desire to be a responsible citizen and a wise consumer. With ease, “Christian” could be exchanged for “citizen.” As Christians, we have—or certainly should have—an innate desire to defend the oppressed, care for our environment and stand against social ills. Furthermore, as Christians we have the responsibility to be good stewards of our financial resources. This stewardship often requires wise spending and investing. The dilemma Reich exposes, however, is that our attempts to be good stewards could actually be counter-productive to our commitment to love our neighbor—either local or foreign. As I contemplated this dilemma, I could not help but question my own decision-making process when it comes to getting the best deal. Yet, this isn’t the greatest question to be prompted by Reich for me as a Christian.

Blaringly, I can’t help but question the common association evangelical Christianity has with the concept of capitalism. I am for capitalism. Yet, I cannot give a blank check to corporate or personal greed couched in capitalism. Though Reich does not blame greed for the problems associated with supercapitalism, I see it. Whether reflected in how we vote or in our business and personal practices, we often seek personal wealth at the expense of others. Many of my fellow evangelicals blindly adhere to the unbounded tenets on capitalism without ever considering how it may not dovetail with the clear teachings of Jesus Christ. As Christians we have fundamental values that trump the right of one person to exploit another for the sake of personal—or corporate—financial gain. Not all lawful freedoms are spiritually approved. We must beware of those who aim to convince us that capitalism is a pillar of Christianity. It is not.


Jack Bruce
is COO of an employee benefits firm in Atlanta, Georgia.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by The Destructionist on July 5, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    (Supercapitalism sounds like a very interesting read.)

    As countries around the world scramble to shore up their economies by implementing severe austerity plans (in an effort to salvage what they have left of their financial houses), the global markets will continue their slide downward into no-man’s land, as if caught up in some type of melancholy or malaise.

    Some say that we are headed into a recession or depression. I wholeheartedly disagree. What we are witnessing now is something newly created and born of corporate greed. It is a monster that we have never seen before and one in which we are ill-prepared to handle.

    For example, during the Depression, the United States was able to withstand the financial storm because it had American businesses at the ready to hire American workers back at a moment’s notice. Knowing that, it was for most, a psychological security blanket: an underlying assurance that no matter how bad times got, jobs would always be there once the economy improved. Unfortunately, that’s not the case today. Many American businesses have carted their factories and jobs off to other countries in an effort to reduce their overhead and labor costs. Without these jobs to fall back upon, as in times past, there is no real way for America to financially recover from a recession or depression.

    Some will balk at the assertion, claiming that the small ‘mom and pop’ stores will eventually see us through these hard financial times. But to them I ask, “Have you ever heard of Wal-Mart… With low, low prices, every day? How do you expect the common mom and pop stores to compete against such behemoths?” …Simply put, they can’t.
    This situation is not just happening here in America, but around the globe. Corporations are playing it fast and loose with their allegiances on every front; with no care at all to the country or the people that fostered their growth or prosperity. (If it’s cheaper for them to move jobs to some foreign country that pays its workers only .50 an hour, trust me, they’ll do it.) Business is cold and uncaring. Business does not care who suffers, just as long as there is a profit for their shareholders during every quarter. Business should be regulated to prevent such financial catastrophes from happening in the future.

    In closing, I understand that there are many other forces at work here that are contributing to the global economic crisis, but far beyond all others, corporate greed seems to be the thread that ties them together.

    Expect the Dow to continue on its downward slide.


  2. “our search for a good deal often leads to undesired fallout such as lower wages”

    Conversely, by searching for a good deal I effectively give myself a raise in wage. I get to keep more of what I earn. It cuts both ways.


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