Capitalism Gets Cautious Blessing of Dalai Lama

(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The Dalai Lama, a self-described Marxist, said today that he's warming to capitalism after spending some quality time with some of the country's biggest free-market capitalist advocates in Washington, D.C. today.

"Now after to listen [sic] yesterday and to the presenters today, I developed more respect about capitalism," the Dalai Lama said during a panel discussion today, prompting applause from the audience at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. "Otherwise, my impression is capitalism only take the money, then exploitation."

Arthur Brooks, the president of AEI, who also sat on the panel, said that both capitalists and the Dalai Lama share in their empathy for the poor and a desire to establish systems that will help them into prosperity.

"The free enterprise system is itself a blessing, but it has to be predicated on moral living from each one of us," Brooks said. "Moral living is a practice of compassion and sense of shared humanity."

"This is such a wonderful day when a revered religious leader who is particularly beloved on the left comes to a free market think tank, so this is scrambling all the categories," said Jonathan Haidt, a panelist from New York University.

The Dalai Lama, who has praised socialism and in 2011 said he supported Marxist economic policies, hasn't converted.

"Things are heavily interdependent, therefore, for your own interest, you have to take seriously others' wellbeing," he said. "The best thing for your future is taking care about others. We are social animals."

But the Dalai Lama and the panelists all pointed to education as an essential way to move forward to alleviate poverty.

"There are folks left behind," said Daniel Loeb, a panelist from Third Point LLC, an investment advising company. "The most important thing I see out there is education. It's a myth that poor people can't learn and can't achieve at the same level of white, rich kids. We need to bring as many people as possible into this system so they can all flourish with us."

Brooks said this foundational compassion for the poor is a key component of the capitalist system.

"Our respect for capitalism was very solid coming in, but our respect for the underlying principles that can make it live up to its promise, of course, are coming from [the Dalai Lama]," he said.