One of the nicest things about writing a series like the iEconomy is that it provides an opportunity to reflect on the mission of journalism. I was fortunate to attend the RFK Journalism Awards this week and get exposed to really fantastic investigative work occurring at a variety of news organizations. (This segment, from the sadly passed Rock Center, is a great example of what television reporting can accomplish.)
The RFK Center asked me to answer a few questions before the ceremony. One of the reasons I became a journalist is because of a belief that capitalism, as much as it is a set of tools, is also a system of values. And while those values are often rightfully lauded, they also impose a structure of winners and losers upon the world. Today, there is nothing competing with capitalism – and so those victories and failures often seem inevitable and just. But they often aren’t.
One of the greatest inspirations of Robert F. Kennedy’s legacy is his commitment to answering the most important questions and to elevating those debates and struggles beyond the mediocrity of easy compromise. He seemed generous and furious and aware of his own – and other’s – pettiness, and committed to truth. I like to imagine that he, like all of us, loved capitalism – its logic and messy efficiency, its energy and anxious spirit of gain. But what’s more admirable is his recognition that as much as capitalism offers gifts, it also extracts costs, and his commitment to reminding us of the alternatives that lay just beneath the surface of the choices we make, often cavalierly, every day.
Capitalism is what you get when people are free to negotiate their own circumstances. Anything else requires a small set of people with guns imposing their will upon everybody else. The case for this is the wisdom and effectiveness of that small group, but there’s always the counter-argument of “if you’re so wise and effective, why don’t people freely submit to your ideas?”