Improve the capitalism we cherish

By , Jane Russell writes from Port Washington, New York.

Am I subversive to wonder whether "The American Way" or Jeffersonian democracy is synonymous with, rooted in, and dependent upon the free-wheeling capitalism that we cherish at home and promote abroad? From the ad hoc bicycle repairman operating by the roadside during the New York City transit strike to our great financial institutions navigating the world's economic tides, such capitalism has served us well in advancing our technology and expanding our gross national product.

But isn't it possible that American capitalism could include more universal participation in its direction, responsibility, and rewards? Be a sort of "economic democracy" without losing its character? And haven't we advanced to a stage that demands of a person more motivation than laissezfaire self-interest?

It does seem that our capitalism has to include a more enlightened vision within it to respond to the deeper needs of each individual, our society, and the world. And to have respect for and take advantage of the sense of responsibility and intelligence of its participants -- at all levels.

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Perhaps the stirrings of the '60s and '70s were symptoms of a restive desire for a more sublime life purpose, reminding us that under the present system the gross national products have not been universally enjoyed.

We could profit from the kind of team spirit that embraces within capitalism's interest not just the management of an organization and the well-being of its members but also the ecology and the economy of the arena, in which it is working and which are influenced by its operations. when enlightened management, workers, and civic leaders cooperate for the general good, there'll be forethought on converting auto plants to updated transportation needs, so whole communities don't suffer depression, and we'll rule out Love Canals and jerry-built flood-plain housing developments. And designers will be encouraged to devise necessities that are longer-lasting, more easily maintained and repaired, and that are within our means. In such a climate of integrity, advertising won't promote so much as inform, to fill actual instead of fancied needs.

Our sign of success will be a thriving community of individuals living up to their potential. We will count our growth by the improvement in the common character and well-being instead of in financial figures totaled on a page.

Around the world, past and present, are examples of communities, workers, and management cooperating and evolving economically in a democratic way. We can learn lessons from them, whatever their politics or life style. Some are in undeveloped areas with cohesiveness based on customs polished through centuries of adapting to necessity. Some are in highly mechanized technologies, where social and economic experimentation has flourished. Others are in our own farmland and industrial areas, worked out by courageous innovation.

But we need more than federally funded studies aimed at technical journals and high-level experts. There should be TV documentaries that spark an educated popular interest, backed up by in-depth newspaper and paperback publications in layman's language -- enough documentation of various working arrangements to inspire appropriate adaptation to the broad spectrum of conditions that exist.

Our Founding Fathers had a great vision based on suiting their scholarly understanding of other civilizations to the needs of an historic period. That vision of Jeffersonian democracy should keep pace with the necessities of our modern American Way.

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