Capitalism Can’t Innovate on Ideas

Image by Jon Tyson.

Innovation is said to be the mainstay of capitalist ideology, one of the supreme virtues of a system built to reward individual initiative. The genius of capitalism, according to Bill Gates, rests in ‘its ability to make self-interest serve the wider interest.’ Potential for big financial returns on innovation, he adds, ‘unleashes a broad set of talented people in pursuit of many different discoveries.’ While ‘driven by self-interest,’ capitalism remains ‘responsible for the incredible innovations that have improved so many lives.’

This broadly summarises free market mythology—the fantasy that altruistic outcomes can be achieved through selfish means, one whose merits we can get some sense of in considering that even green capitalism will eventually cook the planet, by virtue of its inherent dependence on endless growth. That the entirely predictable ‘whoops done cooked the planet anyway’ outcome of greenwashed growth economics does not figure to woke capitalists should not be so surprising if the ends-justifies-the-means morality Bill Gates champions habitually neglects history and causality when they don’t serve the purposes of capital accumulation, as it seems to do.

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Ben Debney is the author of The Oldest Trick in the Book: Panic-Driven Scapegoating in History and Recurring Patterns of Persecution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

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