Bono: Capitalism Works

bonoSpeaking at Georgetown University earlier this year, renowned rocker Bono, who has also become well-known for his push for aid to Africa, explained that the only way for the continent to rise from poverty is to embrace capitalism. “So some of Africa is rising and some of Africa is stuck. It’s a question of if the rising bit will pull the rest of Africa up or whether the other Africa will weigh the continent down. Which will it be? The stakes here aren’t just about them. Imagine, for a second, this last global recession, but without the economic growth of China and India, without the hundreds of millions of newly minted middle class folks who now buy American and European goods. Imagine that. Think about the last five years.” He added, “Rock star preaches capitalism. Wow. Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it. But commerce is real. That’s what you’re about here. It’s real. Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce, entrepreneur capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid. Of course we know that.”

Bono is right. But that isn’t the point. The point is Bono’s throwaway line: “Rock star preaches capitalism. Wow.”

The fact is that capitalism isn’t supposed to be cool. Thanks to the counterculture of the 1960s, the prevailing wisdom remains that socialism is what the cool kids say; capitalism is what their parents do to fund their socialist kids’ hobbies. Rock stars are supposed to be redistributionists. They’re supposed to rage against the machine. John Lennon’s Imagine is supposed to be the anthem: “Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people / Sharing all the world…”

Rock music often exists to counter something. In Russia, the band Pussy Riot existed to counter Vladimir Putin. In Britain during the 1980s, bands existed to counter Margaret Thatcher and the Queen. For decades in the United States, the belief has been that the supposed entrepreneurial greed of Western civilization is the thing to be against, at least when you’re from the West.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially given the fact that the United States is no longer a capitalist country, having forsaken capitalism in the name of Keynesian corporatism. It is not the rich 1% who are the obstacles to wealth in America; it is the failure to embrace entrepreneurialism. That was always true, but the case for capitalism was an affirmative one, not about negating the status quo. But now that the status quo has changed, it’s time for the counterculture to change too.

This is what explains, at least in part, the popularity of Ron Paul among young people. Paul exists in opposition to the popular order. He is against spending, against government involvement, against foreign involvement, against regulation, against the Fed. Sometimes, as with his isolationism, he is not just wrong but anti-Semitic. But his draw was always among young people who worship those who oppose. The raised fist is the sign of the young, not the open hand. And that fist must be raised against something.

This is why the Republican Party must not fall victim to the temptation to play defense. It is not time to act as though the default status in America is conservative. It no longer is. The government is too big, the regulation too burdensome. To be a conservative is to be a rebel. When rock stars begin to speak about capitalism as though it’s cool, we’ll know we’re on our way back. Until then, no matter how many Bonos endorse capitalism, they’ll be doing it in a backhanded way – and in doing so, they’ll be emboldening a new generation of liberals to fight the supposedly conservative machine.

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  • truebearing

    Bono finally figured out he is a capitalist? When will all of the other addlepated rock stars, or Hollywood hypocrites? Do they think writing songs or making movies about redistribution gives them something akin to carbon credits? Do the idiots think that trashing wealth gives them a moral license to be rich?
    We have some serious arrested development in the icons of popular culture.

    • luckycat76

      Can we at least give some props to Bono? He has always struck me as an individual more concerned with poverty than with an ideology, perhaps due to his Christianity.
      Jesus spoke of the angels rejoicing over one sinner who repented; we should at least celebrate what appears to be a rock star whose vision has become more clear.

      • truebearing

        I like Bono. He’s done a lot of good. It just struck me as somewhat odd that he didn’t make this observation sooner. You’re right, though. Bono is one of the good guys. I should have made it clearer that the criticism was really intended for the majority of these naive musicians and actors who fuel the decadent, narcissistic culture that is ruining the country.

  • WW4

    Kudos to Bono. I’d like to think that we’ve grown up a little bit since the 1960s counterculture. As a parent, I’m seeing more people (liberals included) steering their kids toward “hard skills” and schools taking a proactive interest in fostering entrepreneurship and community service. As much as I’m shocked by “helicopter parenting,” I’m pleasantly surprised at how organized and together a lot of kids are these days.

  • guest

    Glad to hear that Bono is able to see the need for capitalism. However, he IS against something. He is against the very truth he purports to proclaim. His brand of delusional Christianity is the core of emergent Babylonianism, (another Jesus). May he find the real Jesus, quickly, before he leads astray more vulnerable young people. The lack of discernment in both the article and the comments is not short of terrifying. Mr. Shapiro, I almost always find your writing helpful and enjoyable, but isn’t it time you find out who your real friends are? You’d be amazed at what that does for discernment.

  • Chris Shugart

    Bono is that rare one-out-of-a-hundred entertainers that you can have an intelligent conversation with even if you disagree.

  • m4253y

    Ben, you a great opportunity with Bozo’s statement to add his tax avoidance strategies to ensure that his homeland of Ireland does not see a single penny of taxes from he and his mates.

    now that’s capitalism (or hypocritical at best…capitalism without taxation? yeh, sure)

    blow it out your pie hole bozo!

  • Ludlow

    Did Bono just ignore the PR Guidelines for Empty-Headed Pop Stars?

    There’s still the multicultural naivety issue though. Maybe he will change his mind about that in the future too. Maybe he can get there before he turns 95.

  • dusty

    Without capitalism, Bono (and most entertainers) would be singing/dancing around a campfire for pennies, and for scraps of food.

    It is capitalism that enables a market for entertainment and invents (or otherwise provides) methods of creating and distributing entertainment content. Strange that most of those who benefit from capitalism pretend that it is evil.

    • dusty

      Without capitalism, Bono could (at best) aspire to be a kept-entertainer subsisting on the whims of a rich patron – sort of like Mozart in the court of King “too many notes” Joseph II

  • Nabuquduriuzhur

    I don’t think much of hypocrites like Bono. He claims global warming, but uses immense resources on the level of small villages for his concerts and traveling to and from them. If he really believed in that claptrap, he wouldn’t do what he does.

  • Jesus Christ

    Forgive him father for he knows not what he does.