Too Little Too Late?
The power that determines the establishment, the changes, the evolution, and the destruction of social systems is philosophy. The role of chance, accident, or tradition, in this context, is the same as their role in the life of an individual: their power stands in inverse ratio to the power of a culture’s (or an individual’s) philosophical equipment, and grows as philosophy collapses. It is, therefore, by reference to philosophy that the character of a social system has to be defined and evaluated. – Ayn Rand
At a glance, this commercial seems to be rather innocuous and forgettable. An acknowledgement of a obviously implicit part of any activity within a capitalist social system: that failure is always a possibility. What’s interesting about this commercial, however, is the fact that such a (very public) acknowledgement was thought necessary. What is it about today’s social system that makes a company like Domino’s – which is about as mainstream as a company can be – and therefore has the least amount of incentive to do or say anything controversial – to even obliquely endorse the capitalist system (ie: by pointing out that without economic freedom – including the freedom to fail – there would be no progress)? For such a commercial to be produced and aired, things must be extremely precarious – and indeed they are.
Given how much the precautionary principle dominates today’s social and economic policy, and assuming things continue on their present trend, it is not unlikely that within a decade or two certain elements of American culture will begin to seriously advocate for direct government oversight of business decisions. Arguments for such power – based on the premise that bad business decisions cost people their jobs as well as their retirement security (ie: falling stock prices) – are not too far of a stretch from the kinds of arguments currently made to defend already-existing government involvement in the economy (eg: minimum wage laws, antitrust regulations, labor standards and union power, etc). Unlike today’s government meddling, however, that degree of involvement would have consequences that even ardent “fence sitters” can not ignore. Perhaps that is why even a mainstream company such as Domino’s – one of the biggest beneficiaries of today’s pseudo-capitalist economy – would feel it necessary to preemptively attack such a notion (by using it’s access to the public’s attention to help subtly (re?)inculcate an appreciation for free markets).
America’s economic picture has reached the point that it has precisely because those who have benefited the most from it’s (relatively more) capitalist past have been able to afford to ignore it’s mutation into something less capitalist. They have long been able to forego defending capitalism on principle, and to instead write off it’s anti-capitalist trends as “chance” or “accident.” Have we reached a point where that is no longer possible? Where the threats to the very foundations of not only one’s short-term interests, but also one’s long-term success, have become so large that not even the most non-intellectual, pragmatic of Americans can no longer ignore them? This commercial’s endorsement of capitalism is timid, to be sure, but it could also be praised as cunning and deft (the benefits of capitalism obviously need to be induced – rather than just dogmatically asserted – in order for a pro-capitalist sentiment to truly take hold). The bottom line, however, is that it’s good to see a private, for-profit organization – in times of peril – at least toying with the idea of defending capitalism itself, instead of doing what it has always done: ignoring the peril, innovating around it, and hoping it will just go away. One just hopes this attempt to provide the public with a bit of “philosophical equipment” is not too little, too late.
Update: below is a commercial by beer maker Heineken which, although it deals with a more general concept freedom than capitalism does (personal freedom, instead of strictly economic freedom), is perhaps the result of the same sense of urgency that provoked Domino’s to make the ad that it did.