Ubuntu or Capitalism?

Happy Thursday!

It’s almost Friday, and here in Cebu, my morning has been especially fruitful.

I was going to write about Chinese edtech stocks or Liverpool losing in UNESCO World Heritage status, but those will have to wait.

Ring’s Throne Room at 6 am

Every day, I wake up early and immediately, if groggily, stagger my way to the throne room.  There, I check my emails, Facebook feed, and the woke trash feed on LinkedIn.

Ring-around-the-heinie is a small price to pay for this solitude.

Rarely does anything I read on the bowl make a dent.

But today, my friend Jhan posted something on Facebook that set my neurons racing.

In serving each other, we become free.

I am because we are.

Ubuntu.

Let Me Set the Scene

I first met Jhan in 2007 in London when we both worked for a financial training company.  He was a salesman, and I was a trainer.

His job was to find clients and sell them our courses.  My job was to deliver those courses

But Jhan had bigger ideas.  He knew he could become a trainer himself.

Over the next few years, Jhan worked tirelessly to pass all three levels of the CFA.  By his longevity and gushing reviews, it’s evident that he’s become one of the best CFA trainers in the world.

Jhan is a fiercely proud South African.  Though he possesses the coveted British passport, he still – and will always – cheer for his beloved Springbok rugby team.

(I, on the other hand, can’t name a single American rugby player.  It’s far easier for Americans who live in London to adopt the England rugby team, as most Yanks don’t follow rugby while growing up in The States.)

Of course, Jhan is closely following events from his home country, as I do in mine, but South Africa’s situation deteriorates.

As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw Jhan’s post:

In serving each other, we become free.

I am because we are.

Ubuntu.

My reply to his post was “Ubuntu or Capitalism?”

Ubuntu or Capitalism

I’ve been to Africa a few times, and I guess that most of them would bristle at my question.

After all, Ubuntu literally translates to “I am because we are” or “humanity towards others.”

It’s a philosophy.  And a lovely thought.

After all, what does capitalism mean?

In his magisterial tome Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, page 17, George Reisman writes:

Economics has powerful implications for ethics.  It demonstrates exhaustively that in a division-of-labor, capitalist society, one man’s gain is not another man’s loss, that, indeed, it is actually other men’s gain – especially in the case of building great fortunes.  In sum, economics demonstrates that the rational self-interests of all men are harmonious.  In doing so, economics raises a leading voice against the traditional ethics of altruism and self-sacrifice.  It presents society – a division-of-labor, capitalist society – not as an entity over and above the individual, to which he must sacrifice his interests, but as an indispensable means within which the individual can fulfill the ultimate ends of this own personal life and happiness.

Reisman continues:

A knowledge of economics is indispensable for anyone who seeks to understand his own place in the modern world and that of others.  It is a powerful antidote to unfounded feelings of being the victim or perpetrator of “exploitation” and to all feelings of “alienation” based on the belief that the economic world is immoral, purposeless, or chaotic.  Such unfounded feelings rest on an ignorance of economics.

The funny thing about Reisman is that he isn’t saying, “Suck it up, buttercup!”

He’s selling you on the fact you can have your cake and eat it, too.  That by serving your fellow man, you’re serving yourself.

Of course, this is where the counterargument screams, “But look at all the poor people.  Capitalism is evil!”  As if it were self-evident.

Where are the poorest countries on Earth?

All in Africa.

Lest you think I’m cherrypicking, here’s the refreshing bit from the Focus Economics report by Oliver Reynolds:

The five poorest countries are all from Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that continues to be held back by problems such as institutional weakness, corruption, poor infrastructure, and a lack of human capital. That said, Sub-Saharan Africa is also incredibly diverse: While it is home to the world’s poorest countries, it also boasts some of the most dynamic economies on earth. For instance, we forecast Rwanda to be among the top five fastest-growing economies over our forecast horizon. Other countries, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, and Uganda are also forecast to grow strongly in the coming years.

Ok, so it’s not all bad.

But capitalism not only allows us to work for happiness but also to share for happiness.

Let me prove it to you.  For a bit of fun, google Ubuntu.

Googling Ubuntu

When you do, you don’t get the philosophy.  You get the open-source operating system.

Is open-source even possible without capitalism?

No.  Sorry, I know I’ll get those who’ll say something silly like, “I don’t care about the money!  I care about the work.”

To which I’d reply, “Great, but what are you going to eat with?”

Charity is only possible with capitalism.  And open-source is the most modern form of charity.

Yes, those Dawkinsian atheists are the most Christian givers of them all!

Delicious, isn’t it?

In his book Drive, author Daniel Pink wrote that autonomy, mastery, and purpose motivate us.  Watch this YouTube video when you’re done reading this piece.  It’ll blow you away.

Pink notes that highly skilled, technically sophisticated people who already have jobs do more work at night and on the weekends for free… and then give away the fruits of their labor for free!

Why?

Because they can do what they want (autonomy), get better at it (mastery), and have a good reason for doing it (purpose).  It’s the best economic cocktail you can come up with, profit or non-profit.

If that isn’t charity, I don’t know what is.

One final note for those who think that capitalism and charity aren’t arm-in-arm, I give you the OECD numbers for Voluntary Social Expenditure (charity) in 2017, the last year they’ve got complete data.

Those friendly folk in Canada lead the way.  Then the Dutch.  Followed by those capitalists in the US.

The rest of those socially conscious Continental Europeans are far behind.  If an OECD country isn’t on my chart, its charitable expenditure is below 2% of GDP.

“But high taxes make up for it!” you say?  Then why are the Brits, with their idiotically high taxes, so generous?

Margaret Thatcher once said, “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions – he had money as well.”

She was right.

So,

In serving each other, we become free.

I am because we are.

Is it Ubuntu or Capitalism?

As my good friend, unabashed capitalist, and economics professor Juan replied to my query, “Why not both?”

Why not, indeed?

Have a great day ahead!

All the best,

Sean

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