Larry, Curly and Moe discuss Capitalism – By W. Bokhari
The film shoot was over but it had been especially tiring today. According to the script, the three stars had to pretend to beat each other up with various kitchen utensils for an hour. But we all know that even that is not as straight forward as it seems. For example, Larry was supposed to run after Moe with a rolling pin around a table while Moe stood on the table with a large pudding bowl full of cake mix. Then Curly was supposed to pick up a frying pan in his defense and have a duel with Larry. Both of them were supposed to miss each other and hit the innocent bystander, Moe, most of the time. Moe was expected to become dizzy as he spun round and round on the table trying to follow the two around, and finally succumb amidst generous amounts of rolling pin and frying pan blows, dumping all of the cake mix upon himself and all over the floor. Larry and Curly were then supposed to slip in the mix, upsetting dishes and pans, overturning pots filled with food and generally changing the whole kitchen into a gigantic mess. The owner of the restaurant, who had hired the three gentlemen on the opening night of his establishment was supposed to enter the kitchen at precisely this point and produce a scream so primal that the cooks would instantly disappear through the windows. Well, all of this did happen, eventually.
So it is after the film shoot that we catch up with the stars, as they rest on a grassy knoll outside the studio. Now, unknown to many, our heroes are prodigiously multi-talented. Lawrence Horatio Wellington, also known as Larry, has extensive investments in the high-technology sector. He has been riding the wave of the bullish markets for years, silently amassing a fortune for himself. Joseph Nelson Curlington, known internationally as Curly, is a closet intellectual. An ardent student of capitalism, marxism, communism, globalism, and various other isms, he is sometimes seen engrossed in heated debates with various well respected scholars. Despite his generous income from his acting career, he lives a modest lifestyle, not because of miserliness, but because of all the money he ends up spending on books. And finally there is Moe. Well, Moe is known as just that, Moe. He has been trying different things throughout his life, grocery shops, peddling, advertisements, janitorial services, fast foods, speculation. Acting is the latest addition to this long list. He does not understand markets, but he feels them. He does not know the meaning of words like derivatives or hedging or
asynchrous transfer protocols. Neither does he understand what Mr. Keynes speculated about economy, or what Mr. Marx thought, or what Mr. Greenspan spend his time worrying about. He is more concerned with the effect of something called a market on what he can or cannot have for dinner.
But things are seldom perfect, as we all well know. Larry is feeling down these days, his favorite companies are not doing as well, and
financially speaking, he feels he is half the man he used to be. That of course can be upsetting. Curly on the other hand, is feeling
triumphant. During those long sessions with other closet intellectuals and those hours spent into the late hours of the night trying to
understand what the hell were all the big whigs of economics talking about, he had come to a startling conclusion that he was not a
capitalist at heart. Now with the fortress of capitalism collapsing all around him and bringing down its most ardent sentries along with
it, he could not help feeling a little, shall we say it, smug. Moe on the other hand, was lost deep in thought, not exactly worried about
the state of Japanese banks or the virtual economy of Russia, but about more mundane things. Like, counting the rest of the days left in the month, and the amount of cash remaining to carry him through. While he is deeply engrossed in thought, Larry lets out a
sigh and airs what is on his mind.
Larry: I hope the market settles down. This financial roller coaster is beginning to affect me. Why don’t the people in Russia and Asia
get their act together, and stop causing so much turmoil to the market? I have lost quite a bit of money over the last few months.
Curly: Well Larry, the problem is not entirely with the people of Russia and Asia. The problem is with the system that they are dealing
with. Capitalism is on its downfall, and the present financial crisis of the world just shows that it is an imperfect system that is bound
to fail eventually.
Larry: What do you mean it is an imperfect system? How can there be any system other than a free market? The present financial problem is because of different factors. There is the inherent financial mismanagement of various governments, and then there is the expected rise and fall of the market. The first is really affecting the second in this case, and we are seeing its repercussions here. Plus the countries that are failing are not exactly capitalistic in their practices.
Curly: But Larry, I think there is something deeply wrong about capitalism. I mean, how can a system, that is based upon greed and
exploitation can result in anything other than a disaster. Look at the system, it is unbalanced. As wealth gets concentrated in the hands of the few, their ability to produce even more wealth increases, and they become wealthier. It is an endless cycle until the whole system
collapses. There is nothing at all that limits this process. It is a flawed system that is bound to collapse. And that is what we are
beginning to see now, the effects of capitalism on a global scale, where the distance between the rich and the poor has increased to such a level that everything is coming apart at its seams.
Larry: Wait a minute, Curly. What are you talking about? The economic troubles of today are not the first that we have seen. There was the Depression in the 30’s and there have been other cycles of financial ups and downs. But to replace capitalism, that is absurd. What do you propose switching to? Communism that is long dead? Or some other alternative that we have not found yet? Capitalism works, look at the lifestyle we enjoy. The Western world is richer than everyone else because of capitalism. Capitalism is a fair system, everyone gets paid his honest wages for his honest labor. What do you want, a bureaucrat breathing down your neck for every little thing, setting laws and policies on what you can make and how?
Curly: Capitalism is not working. There is a chance of a global recession, and a recession is something that capitalism cannot avoid. Finance capital grows without bounds, however the consumption power of individuals is limited. It is inevitable that there should be
a recession. Plus, all the mega-corporations would like the public to always consume in increasing amounts. They play on the greed of people, they coax and cajole them to be ever more greedy. How can a system that is based on greed, result in anything else? Sure capitalism has given us a lot, but at what price? We weigh everything in its dollar value and we are relentlessly pursuing material gains at the cost of everything, our lives, our families, our planet. Greed in one person is bad enough, but what happens when a whole population of people becomes greedy. What is to save us and our environment from our greed?
Larry: Before you start blaming capitalism for all evils, consider the fact that capitalism is only a system that maximizes the transfer of
resources to people who are most able to use them. It is a system that recognizes the conditions of the world, and adapts itself according to it. True, in the real world not everyone is equally wealthy, but you should also consider that not everyone is also equally adept at generating wealth. The people who are wealthy are so for a reason usually. Capitalism does not favor the wealthy necessarily, it favors those who can create wealth. The current problem is not necessarily a problem of capitalism. There is corruption on part of the leaders of countries now teetering on collapse, and then there is speculation and over-estimates of the true values of stocks. The market is just reacting to these, shedding the values of overvalued stocks and taking into account the uncertainty surrounding the solvency of other nations. Who is to blame is not capitalism, but lack of it in areas where all the resources are siphoned off by few. And the behavior of the speculators who bet on high risk items and jeopardize the financial future of many. Capitalism may not be a perfect system, but it is the best system we have available to us.
Curly: Whether I agree or not with your assessment of the efficiency of capitalism in delivering resources to where they are
needed, or about whether the present turmoil is because of capitalism per se or some other things, I think that you do not see the moral problem with capitalism. Capitalism kills humanity and breeds greed. The richest few percent of the world have the vast majority of the wealth concentrated in their hands. You tell me, is that how a fair system would distribute wealth? The people who produce wealth are never rich. They are the average people who work 9 to 5 jobs in factories and on farms. However, the wealth produced by them is entirely in the hands of a few. One cannot say with a clear conscience that capitalism is a moral system, because it is not. It is in the nature of capitalism to create a disparity. Perhaps we should ask ourselves the question what other alternatives are available to us? Or come up with them? Or even ask the question why socialist economies failed. The majority of the people in the world are not people like Bill Gates or Ted Turner. It is people like you and me. We should stop talking for the billionaires and start talking more for ourselves.
Larry: Let’s leave the moral issue aside for a minute. We are talking about a financial system. Would you rather have a free
market where no rules or regulations hindered your returns, or a market so fraught with rules and regulations that you get completely
tied down in paperwork. Remember the Soviet Union? If you don’t want that then there is only one alternative. And about
morality. Capitalism was invented by people like you and me. If it is based on greed, it is because greed works. All of us want to be
better than others, even if we have to step over others in doing so. Its a zero-sum game, for every winner, there is a loser. Capitalism just rewards the winners, and I do not think that is wrong.
The argument is clearly becoming more and more interesting (and charged). Unfortunately, yours truly has some really important
business to attend to so he cannot stay on to see the end. While we take our leave, and start walking away, some questions are beginning to buzz around in my mind. Who will win? Who is right and who is wrong? Or can we even say?
But wait a minute. We almost forget someone. Guess who? Moe! While Lawrence Horatio Wellington and Joseph Nelson Curlington were busy ripping apart each other, Moe sort of faded in the background. That is the routine unfortunately. Moe, the silent figure in the background, the one who does not have an opinion, or who does not care. As we speak, we see him lying silently on the same patch of grass, a blade of grass between his teeth, thoroughly engrossed in thought. It looks like he is not paying any attention to what his friends are discussing. He is somewhere far away. What could he be thinking?