The word is thrown about by all and assumption about what it is, is made. It is important to understand capitalism because everything we do is contained by it. It is known by many as an economic system, the replacement of feudalism, which died out in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.

Capitalism is more than an economic system. It is the social structure in which we live and everything, from our favoured liberal democracy through to our contemporary codes of morality, is dictated by it; whether we realise it or not.

Capitalism appeals to the rational mind. Its emphasis on individuality and liberalism justifies any inequalities which might appear. And this is where the danger lies. For capitalism assumes we all start the race at the same place and we do not. Some start a long way back and their way is littered with obstacles, while others have a free run and are rewarded by huge capital sums. This is justified by the presence of competition. The harder one works the more one will be rewarded. Not true.

Many people embrace capitalism, particularly in the West. This is because, relatively speaking, we are the winners in the system. The UK is one of the richest countries in the world. Our child mortality figures are low, our longevity is high. Most of us eat well and most do not suffer from malnutrition.

What we fail to see is that even the winners in a capitalist system are losers. All of us get caught up in a way of life that equates happiness with commodities. Of course there are essential commodities, like food and water, which aid our survival but beyond that there are many that do not.
It goes further. For those who perceive happiness not as a temporary state but as a summation of living a good life it has to be asked whether living a good life is even possible under capitalism? The answer to that must relate to the worth of intention.

Defenders of capitalism argue that all inequalities and inequities will be overcome by technological progress. There is precious little evidence this is the case. Capitalism seems certain to survive because changing to any kind of viable alternative requires such a massive change and uprooting that no movement, idea or agitation, short of global catastrophe, is comprehensive enough to thoroughly rinse the world of capitalism.

Most live their lives embracing this system which associates human contentment with accumulative commodity. For those who choose not to there is no genuine isolation from a system which is so pervasive that even basic living contributes in some small way to its survival.
Yet some identify the fundamental unfairness of capitalism and their voices are to be heard and optimism is to be found because ultimately capitalism contradicts the positive essence of human nature.

16 thoughts on “Capitalism

  1. Id certainly be interested in hearing what you think would be a better alternative system. Where your post is interesting in its ideas it gives no alternative way of doing things. I dont think Capitalism is perfect by any means, but i certainly cant think of a better system. Not only does capitalism seem to work, it also provides liberty. Liberty also isn’t perfect, your free to succeed and your free to fail. To remove capitalism would certainly be akin to removing freedom and liberty also. At least in my opinion. Id be interested in hearing your opinion on that.

  2. Strong words.
    Such a quick reply is indicative of an emotional response, not a thought out one.
    You are quite correct. History has shown no viable alternative. That does not mean there isn’t one. This piece wasn’t about alternatives. It was about what we already have.
    I think you also need to rethink just what is it you perceive liberty and freedom to be.

    Merry Christmas.

  3. Reblogged this on The Asifoscope and commented:
    I am afraid the “global catastrophe” the Mirror Man is talking about is exactly what capitalism is ultimately leading to within a couple of decades, but I like this article…

  4. I agree with you Jon. I don’t consider being a wage slave to capitalism and a total dependence on money as freedom or liberty. The problem with capitalism is that anything that can be sold, will be sold. Things like women, children, toxic assets, water, air?, sunlight? (they will find a way, I fear). Exploitation of women and children is no liberty. Economic growth depends on exploitation of producers, and credit and interest, which in turn traps millions into an unending cycle of debt. It leads to exploitation of the earth and everything in it for profit, and wars on a grand scale to maintain access to and trade in those resources. I think the alternative will happen eventually but requires an increase in consciousness. Capitalism is a step along the way in our social evolution. We have gradually learnt to cooperate on a larger and larger scale and capitalism and the nation state have been tools in that development, but eventually cooperation must spread to all human beings and the entire ecology, otherwise, we will not survive very long (in evolutionary terms, we are still babies). Unfortunately, if the development in consciousness does not happen quickly enough, it will probably take a huge catastrophe to unite people that deeply. I am talking about grass roots organisation, not a dictatorship of the proletariat, (that has already been tried and failed miserably and at a great loss), whereby all tasks and resources are shared, compassion is more important than possession, and people revel in their common humanity, rather than fighting over what their god looks like or who owns which island. Call me idealistic – yes, I am unashamedly so, but we must start with the vision to make change happen. The beauty of ‘the blog’ is that everyone’s imagination is free to be explored and run into everyone else’s. Through this great medium, though many different views are expressed, we are creating a common vision!

    1. I very much agree that capitalism is a step in evolutionary development and also agree that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ only leads to failure and loss.
      Thanks for the comment.

  5. So thorough yet concise! Excellent evaluation of a system intrinsically and hopelessly flawed.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly on this.

    From some of my own work;
    “The only purpose of profit is to ensure the dominance of those who take it, over those from whom it is taken.
    The principle purpose of so-called capitalism, with its attendant usurious monetary system, is to deprive billions of people, the world over, of the resources they most need for their very survival in order that a very select few may have exactly what they want.”

    And, for your enjoyment (hopefully), take a look at this;
    I think you’ll like it.

  6. If capitalism is fundamentally about free and voluntary trade then we don’t have capitalism.

    All government interference in trade and the economy is (by definition) backed by coercion and violence. It is precisely their willingness to initiate force against others that defines governments and differentiates them from all other agencies (except for terrorists, mafia etc).

    In a society based on voluntary transactions it must be assumed that both sides of every transaction benefit ….. otherwise they would not CHOOSE to transact. Therefore capitalism in this sense is merely the absence of violence and coercion in transactions.

    And who can argue against that?

    1. I think your awareness of what defines both ‘free’ and ‘voluntary’ needs much reconsideration. Capitalism is most certainly not about these and the suggestion that there is somewhere an ‘innocent’ capitalism is misleading.
      Capitalism is not about the absence of coercion and violence from transaction, it just happens to be very good at concealing such exploitations.

      1. Well I know it’s a much used and abused word but my dictionary defines ‘capitalism’ as:

        ‘an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state’.

        In any modern society the state is the ONLY agency which has the LEGAL right to *initiate force* to achieve its aims. Therefore any aspect of society which does not involve state interference must be, by definition, free from legalised coercion, intimidation and violence.

        For example a business can certainly set up trade barriers to block competition. It can hire armed thugs to guard every port and highway and point a gun at any trade coming in from competitors. But this would be regarded by the public as grossly immoral behaviour. And it would be legally defined as terrorism, assault, violent coercion (or some variation on this theme).

        It would also of course be prohibitively expensive! The huge costs of hiring an army of thugs to block competition could only be passed on to the consumer, which would then make the company’s product or service so unbelievably expensive it would immediately go out of business anyway.

        The ONLY way a business can practically and legally (and profitably) initiate force against the public is via a ‘government’ because governments are the only group who successfully claim (and violently defend) their LEGAL right to use coercion, threats and, when necessary, extreme violence to achieve their aims.

        And so in a statist society, if a business wants to block competitors it does not hire its own thugs (too expensive and they’d end up in jail)….. instead it simply lobbies and bribes the government and gets them to provide the thugs for them – all paid for by the taxpayer and NOT the business itself (save for any initial bribes to government of course).

        And so I would say capitalism IS about the absence of coercion and violence from transactions. It has to be.

        (Legalised) coercion and violence simply cannot occur without the ‘gun of the state’. It just can’t.

    1. OK, I’ve thrown my dictionary into the fire 🙂

      Now educate me on how a business is able to legally, practically and profitably use coercion and violence in its transactions without turning to a government to do all its dirty work for it.

      1. You are right Abandon TV, if your assume capitalism is a legitimate way of being. And if you have faith in the rule of law then state intervention that uses violence and coercion is of course illegal and illegitimate.
        It is not for me to educate you, for your mind holds the ability to seek and find its own questions and conclusions.
        I can only ask you to consider whether capitalism, or any other ism, is the best way forward. And before adopting the argument that while it isn’t perfect it is what we have, then are you sure it is the best expression of what human kind can be: and if it isn’t then why not?

  7. “…It is not for me to educate you, for your mind holds the ability to seek and find its own questions and conclusions…”

    For sure…. but we can (and must) agree on consistent definitions and moral positions. If gravity, the boiling point of water or the speed of light are not universally verified, defined and agreed upon consistently by all scientists then science becomes dysfunctional and useless. The same is also true of when it comes to social behaviour and morality.

    Capitalism is not the thing in question. The thing in question is the initiation of force (as distinct from any force we might use in self defence). If someone initiates force against another we call it assault, extortion, theft, murder, coercion, intimidation and so on. These things are all against the law.

    Therefore no business or private individual can initiate force against another person or group without violating basic universally accepted moral rules AND the laws which are supposed to reflect and uphold those universal moral rules…….unless of course they have successfully bribed (or persuaded by other means) a government to violate those basic universally accepted moral rules on their behalf.

    Persuading a government to facilitate your violations of basic moral rules gets around the legal issue, but it does not bypass the morality issue.

    You cannot have universal morality and then have exceptions to that universal morality – just as you can’t have universal laws of physics and then have exceptions to those laws.

    As individuals in society we can choose to either oppose or support certain businesses being allowed by governments (ie by law) to behave in immoral ways.

    If we oppose this we are advocating for universal morality to apply universally (to everyone in society).

    If we support this we are advocating for universal morality to apply to everybody EXCEPT those able to successfully bribe and lobby governments into granting them special exemptions from universal moral rules, and the laws which reflects them.

    By definition, all those who advocate for the current system (which I maintain cannot be called capitalism) MUST believe it is both acceptable and preferable for governments to facilitate, enforce and impose the immoral behaviour of corporations onto the rest of society.

    Here’s a crude analogy which illustrates this point very clearly…

    One can certainly advocate, support or even practice the behaviour known as ‘rape’. One can also ‘vote’ or bribe or lobby a ‘government’ until the people in that ‘government’ agree to all publicly declare that rape is no longer an unlawful activity…..

    …..but even if rape is made lawful, no one can claim that rape is *morally acceptable*. At least not without redefining the initiation of force (murder, rape, theft, assault, coercion etc) as being a morally acceptable way to behave in society. Which of course would put us all back into the dark ages.

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