It is an exchange from a segment with John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, one of the world’s largest mutual fund companies, and the father of the “index fund,” i.e., no stranger to business sensibilities. The segment was about capitalism in a crisis of leadership and structure. The last paragraph is directly to my point. The entire interview is archived at the link above.
BILL MOYERS: Your book is called THE SOUL OF CAPITALISM. Tell me what you mean by the soul of capitalism.
JOHN BOGLE: Well, I try in the book a little definition from Thomas Aquinas about the core of being — he’s talking about the human soul, of course — but, the core of being,the elements that give you meaning, the values that you have — the whole kind of wrap up of what makes a human being a human being.
And that happens in a much more, you know, a much less profound way in a corporation. There is in a good corporation and in capitalism a core of being of providing goods and services, at raising the standard living. And it’s done a very good job at that. I don’t want to demean that. You know, we went from the beginning of time, to around 1800, — the way people lived barely changed at all. And since 1800, the Industrial Revolution, and capitalism around that time has taken us to standards of living that are just — that would have been unimaginable to anybody of that day. We have all the perquisites and ease and freedom and safety of modern life. And so I salute capitalism for doing that. It’s just we’ve taken it too far. Today’s capitalists are different from yesterday’s capitalists-
BILL MOYERS: How so? What’s the big difference?
JOHN BOGLE: Well, I think much more they’re operating on their own. Instead of for the interest of whose money has been entrusted to them. It’s an element — it’s what we call a bottom-line society, again. But I think it’s the wrong bottom line. I want to come back to the difference between the financial system and the productive system. The productive system adds to the value of our economy. And, by and large, the financial system subtracts. And, yet, it’s growing and growing and growing. And this short term thing where short term orientation in which trading pieces of paper is regarded as a social value. It is not a social value. Some of it has to happen, don’t mistake me…
… I’m perfectly willing to give a high value, for example, to art and poetry and literature. They add value to society. It may not be easy to measure it in a society that measures too much of what’s not important — and not enough of what is important. As the sign in Einstein’s office said, “There are some things that count that can’t be counted. And some things that can be counted that don’t count.”