Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
The Future of Capitalism: The Munk Debates contains not just the transcript of the 2019 debate hosted by Toronto's Munk Centre, but also before and after interviews by moderator Rudyard Griffiths with the participants. The topic was phrased as follows: “Be it resolved: The capitalist system is broken. It’s time to try something different . . .” On the “yes” side were Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of The Nation magazine, and Yanis Varoufakis, a member of the Greek parliament and former Finance Minister of Greece. On the “no” side were David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, and Arthur Brooks (no relation), a professor at Harvard.
The debate topic implied that there might be an alternative system available to replace capitalism. But neither of the yes participants put forward any such thing. Rather, they both advocated vibrant markets as necessary for human advancement, as did the two Brookses. The ensuing discussion therefore centred on the various challenges facing capitalism from the outside, among them autocracy, plutocracy, and climate change. The discussion covered a broad swath of topics, and the most effective of the four debaters were Katrina vanden Heuvel and David Brooks, who are closer to the political centre. Varoufakis was the farthest left and came across at times as too reliant on technology to save the future. Arthur Brooks appeared to be a traditional conservative, a bit stuck in old-school thinking, as evidenced by his admiration for Milton Friedman. But neither he nor Varoufakis was rigid or dogmatic.
Arthur Brooks did concede at one point that capitalism doesn’t fix itself, and it might have been interesting to have more specifics from each speaker on what specific measures they thought were most urgent or effective, especially their views on the role of government in ensuring that capitalism worked properly.
While the debate itself is a lot of fun to read, the interviews with each of the participants both before and after are also very revealing, as the interviews allow each participant to lay out their personal priorities.
Short and entertaining, this book is a wonderful primer on the challenges our world’s economic system is facing.
The Future of Capitalism is published by House of Anansi Press.