Many readers over the years have asked me to put a name on what I stand for in terms of philosophy and public policy. While being reluctant to be pinned down by labels, here is my answer: I am a “human capitalist.”
Movie maker Michael Moore deserves credit for uncovering some extraordinary lost film footage from the January 11, 1944 State of the Union address of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, footage that appears in Moore’s latest film, “Capitalism, A Love Story.”
Roosevelt is shown delivering his call for a “Second Bill of Rights,” articulating the hopes and aspirations of a nation about to emerge from the Second World War as a great global superpower. What he said, and the spirit behind the remarks, is remarkably relevant today as the Obama administration battles to salvage the greed-induced global financial train wreck and to restore a focus on meeting the vital human needs of society.
The essence of FDR’s call, following his election to a fourth term, nearing the end of his life, was not limited to the domestic U.S. Just four years later, the Commission on Human Rights of the fledgling United Nations, chaired by Roosevelt’s spouse, Eleanor Roosevelt, adopted by a 48-0 vote (with the Soviet bloc abstaining) the epochal “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” based on the identical perspective.
Both FDR’s so-called “Second Bill of Rights” and the U.N.’s 30-article “Universal Declaration” have at their core the notion of “inalienable rights” of all human beings. The U.N. declaration begins, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in the spirit of brotherhood.”
It states in Article 25 of the U.N. declaration, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
These rights also extend to a free education, privacy, equal justice under the law, free choice of employment, equal pay for equal work, property, rest and leisure, freedom of opinion, expression and thought, freedom of peaceful assembly, association, religion, marriage (with no reference to gender) and travel, and freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty.
“Education,” the declaration states, “shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.”
This sentiment of a weary but hopeful world emerging from two unimaginably destructive world wars in just over three decades, led by the vision and leadership of FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt and their global colleagues, is what set the process of the last 65 years into motion.
But since the early 1950s, it has been threatened and sorely tested not only by war, but by the ugly infection of economic and social greed and manipulation, turning much of America away from the ideals in those declarations and into self-serving, object-fixated “consumers,” with lives run by Madison Avenue, clinging to what’s “theirs” through fear and prejudice.
But the underpinnings of the influence of FDR’s and the U.N.’s declarations held through all these years, informing the advancement of civil and human rights, opposition to senseless wars, wars on poverty and disease, even as these were buffeted by the advance of personal and corporate greed and avarice. It was with the election of Barack Obama last year that this undercurrent in our post-World War II history burst forth with its bright flames once again. Still, however, the battle is far from over.
Enemies of this spirit falsely call it “socialist,” and few are comfortable figuring out how to identify it. To me, it is about “human capital,” as opposed to “finance capital,” “social Darwinist” or “free market” capitalism. It promotes policies that focus on the investment of capital in the empowerment of human beings, who are, in fact, by far the most valuable commodity and potential source of new wealth and stability on the planet.