A self-made multimillionaire, Lynn Forester de Rothschild now spends her time calling for higher taxes on the wealthy, stricter regulation of big business and a wholesale reordering of the capitalist system that has delivered her such privilege.

Sociable and well connected, Ms. Rotschild has tapped her expansive network for a multi pronged assault on the status quo.

In 2014, she founded the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, an effort to get business leaders more engaged in environmental and social issues.

And she has parlayed that into a related group, the Council for Inclusive Capitalism, that is working with Pope Grancis, and a new fund focused on socially responsible investing.

.- Back when you were starting out in your career, were you concerned about some of the negative impacts of capitalism in the same way you are today?

It was really different. I don't think we realized how bad it was. Graduating from law school in 1980, I believed I was living the American dream. I was a skinny girl from nowhere who knew no one, who had aspirations for an interesting life that would make a difference.

And I believed that was available to me if I worked hard and played by the rules. The mantra at that time was not said disparagingly, was ''Greed is good.'' There was an Ayn Rand view that if you pursue your interests, all of society is lifted.

So I really did believe that all I needed to do was to pursue my career in a legal, ethical, exciting way, and I didn't have to worry about society.

.- When did it click for you that something wasn't working?

We didn't expect the kind of disparity that developed over those 20 years when we started in 1980. And I don't think people practicing shareholder primacy were evil. There was just too much greed. But by 2008 it was impossible to ignore.

The concentration of wealth in America at that time was already way back to levels we had during the Gilded Age. In the 1960s, the ratio of C.E.O. pay to average worker pay was 25 to one. Today it is 320 to one.

That has very conveniently created enormous personal wealth, which became the objective, as opposed to :

What wealth have you left behind in society? How have you made the world better for your children? for your community? ''Greed is good'' was never a concept for Adam Smith.

.- What do you see as the most problematic symptoms of our economic system today?

Inequality of opportunity. We have to be honest that in each of our two recent crises - the great financial crises and the Covid crisis - the government came to the aid of the wealthiest.

Some have called it ''socialism for the rich and capitalism for everyone else.''

There's something to that.

The elites turn to the government when the financial system is blown up or we have a health crisis.  Government got us out of both these problems, and it got us out with too much of the benefit going to the richest. So how do we equalize that?

I personally am fine with higher taxes, if higher taxes lead to better distribution of opportunity, particularly for people of color and people in the lower part of the socioeconomic environment.

I also believe that it is time that we listen more to our employees. It's time that we create a more level playing field with respect to worker voice and worker involvement. This is hard stuff, because it can impact profit.

.- Which do you think is more broken, American politics or capitalism?

I think their problems feed on each other. They're creating a death spiral together and it's got to be stopped.

Politics and Capitalism need to return to a basic sense of decency.

And that is actually why I reached out to the Holy Father, because I think that a lot of what it will take to change behaviour is a moral and ethical reawakening.

It's not just one policy, it's not just taxes, it's not just reforming labor laws - all of which are important , and we need competent ethical people to do it.

But at the core of it, it has to come from common decency.

God did not invent the corporation. Society allows the corporation to exist, gives shareholders limited liability, and expects something in return. But we don't just expect cheap widgets.

The subject will continue into Part 2. World Students Society thanks author David Gelles.


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