Value Systems : Has Capitalism gone too far?

Margot’s first degree at the University of Sydney was a Bachelor of Education. She moved to Darwin where she headed up Darwin Family Centers. This organization provided child care and family support for the families across the top end of Australia. It was while studying for her MBA that she started working as a business consultant, at the youthful age of 24. Margot works with some of the world’s top companies at executive level, helping organizations in times of crisis, such as after mergers and takeovers.

She mentors numerous leading international business figures and conducts workshops and conferences. She is the author of "Approaching the Corporate Heart", ISBN 0-7318-0655-7, Simon & Schuster.  

Margot is Chairman of Zaffyre International, and can be reached at See also her websites at  and


I recently read the words of a great American leader who wrote -

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. ... corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

The leader was President Abraham Lincoln and the time
November 21, 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins).

Today of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations, only 49 are economies. (Institute for Policy Studies). The three richest men on the planet control more wealth than the poorest 48 countries and CEO’s in 1999 made more than 476 times the income of the average worker (a ratio up from 42-1 in 1980). In the
USA the top 1% of households have as much wealth as the bottom 95% of households.

There have always been those who by dint of luck, parentage, genetics or skill have managed to accumulate a little more than their fellow man. Classes seem to be a feature of all social systems. What is shocking about today’s situation is not that some are rich and some are poor, or that some have and others don’t. The issues today are the cost to everybody of the huge disparity between rich and poor and the ethos that has arisen to sustain such an unjust system.

Mother Teresa wrote “In the developed countries there is a poverty of intimacy, a poverty of spirit, of loneliness, of lack of love. There is no greater sickness in the world today that than one.” This is one sickness that money can’t cure. In fact, when money (or the pursuit of wealth and material goods) becomes more important to individuals and society than the sanctity of human life, or love or spirit, wealth can bring pain and suffering and death.

According to the World Health Organisation depression affects 340 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of disability. They warn that depression will escalate from the fourth greatest cause of death to the equal biggest cause of death in the Western world by 2020.

Already we have seen a phenomenal increase in the suicide rates among the young. In the
USA there was a 243% increase in youth suicide (14-25 year old males) from 1960 to 1985.

Since then the rate has doubled. We have also lost millions of people of all ages from tobacco related disease, alcohol related disease and illicit drug use.

One of the basic tenets of capitalism is looking after number one - doing what you want for yourself and not worrying about your fellow man. This philosophy has made some people very materially rich but cost many more their emotional, spiritual and physical health. Regardless of their wealth.

The values that sustain huge inequalities in wealth are the same values that deprive us of intimacy, community and soul. When commentators described the World Trade Centre towers as the heart of
America they got it both right, and wrong.

Steel towers built for the purpose of making money may be the symbol of American capitalism; they eventually became the grave to thousands. Americans however are so much more than wealth. They are people with hearts and souls and minds.
America is so much more than its big cities. It is a country full of natural beauty and wonder. Surely the heart of America is more likely to be in its communities, in its people where they live or in its natural wonders.

How could we have gotten it so wrong? How could money be more important than heart and spirit and soul? How could we put our faith in the market system when such a system supports a world trade in sex slaves (male/female/child) or human organs? How can we justify people dying of curable diseases and wounds because they are poor, when around the block you have people living in obscene affluence?

Lincoln foresaw that greed and inequality could be destructive. When we replace community and the value of human life with greed, we are in danger of destroying both democracy and the human soul.

© Margot Cairnes

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