December 12, 2009 Why Capitalism Doesn’t Entirely Suck
As a sociology and economics double major I am constantly surrounded by academic peers from two seemingly different planets. I used to be like many of the sociology kids (and adults for that matter) that seem to hold this view that anything pertaining to money, business, capitalism, and god forbid….the free market….is inherently evil. Bad. The Devil’s Work. Systems impossibly incapable of producing anything outside of oppression, poverty, inequality, pain, etc. etc.
There are several assumptions built into the way capitalism is often discussed among liberal arts free-wheeling liberals that I think are untrue and actually stand in the way of affecting change in a number of persistent problems that disenfranchised populations face.
1-Capitalism encourages greed
On the contrary, capitalism acknowledges self-interest which is a crucial force that shapes how we make decisions. The assertion that people cannot be guided by self-interest and express compassion is frankly ridiculous. Stop to think about why you make any of the decisions that you do, what is the lowest common denominator to many of your ambitions? They make you feel better about your place in the world. Whether that’s being a “good” mom, buying new Jimmy Choos, giving food to the homeless on weekends, being the first in your family to graduate from college, getting out of a limiting household, neighborhood, or country…whatever you committ to doing eventually comes back to self-interest. So much so that people who don’t seem to act in their self-interest are seen as either idiots (rhianna going back to her abusive boyfriend) or saints (Jesus, the man who allegedly died for our sins). Any system that ignores what motivates our decisions is fundamentally flawed.
2-Capitalism encourages inequality
Before addressing this issue, I must ask what vision of equality are we adhering to? If equality is a world where everyone is earning $100k a year regardless of their effort, their skills, or what they contribute to society at large then I would GLADLY applaud capitalism for being a system that doesn’t encourage this. I do not believe that everybody can or should be rewarded the same exact way for different human contributions. Should the student who prepares adequately for exams, hands assignments in on time, and attends class consistently be rewarded with the same grade as the student who has made no effort to learn much less master the material being taught?I don’t believe so, and it’s one of the aspects of capitalism I appreciate most. The free market economy is based on this idea that if left to its own devices, people’s skills, effort level, expertise, and contribution will be rewarded the way society values them. Is there a more democratic or fair ideal? Capitalism encourages society or the masses having the control to decide 2 important things: what their individual role is in the world and how those jobs should be rewarded and valued. It’s not equal but to me, it sure is fair.
3-Profit is bad
This is a point of contention that I really risk losing friends over. When I think about how profit is often treated, I think back to The One Ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Anbody who came across this artifact was overcome with a malevolent lustful obsession with the ring and profit is almost always framed in the same way. It is a force that becomes so much bigger than the person that it muddies their consciences and generates this impetus for greed, power, and anything generally despised by the public. Let’s reevaluate that. If someone takes on the financial risk of starting a company to produce something that improves the lives of the masses, then why shouldn’t that person be rewarded for the time, money, and sacrifices that they made to create something that’s helping you out? While they may very well be rewarded emotionally or spiritually because they are engaging in an activity that they are passionate about but I’ve never ever been wooed by the life of the starving artist. Money is what mediates our access to the goods and services that make up our lives. It’s really a reward that ties into my first two points: it enables people the freedom to use it any way they see fit and to aid them in serving their own self-interest. It’s like getting a Visa gift card for Christmas instead of a $100 card to your grandmother’s favorite clothing store. Are you a bad person for appreciating or working towards the card that gives you more options? Money may not be able to buy you freedom but it sure does open up a plethora of options that can mitigate many of the obstructions make freedom difficult to attain.
Now after this thorough defense of capitalism I must say that I have my fair share of critiques of “The Invisible Hand” and would be foolish to not acknowledge how people have manipulated capitalism to exploit others and attain power at many’s expense. However, I encourage people to open up their perspectives on the role capitalism can and does play in our lives rather than dismissing it as a system that is inherently bad for all of us.