My readers know all too well that I’m no fan of capitalism. Throughout the past years I’ve attacked^ several attributes of this economic system (consumerism^, the stock market^, income inequality^). This year, I’m about to step it up a notch, going into how capitalism has facilitated the slow and insidious rotting of most democratic countries. I intend to write about how a broken economic system can drag down education and create immeasurable suffering on a planetary scale, most of which is hidden from sight by the mainstream media so that the machine can keep marching.
But this doesn’t mean that I lack appreciation towards the enormous benefits that have burst from the minds of countless entrepreneurs who, thanks to a free market, succeeded in advancing our culture and civilization. After all, I write these words using capitalist products!
Capitalism is just another system that evolved from others before it. Perhaps it’s not the fairest, but it’s definitely more efficient than some that existed before. The gradual development of economic systems that has given birth to capitalism also implies that capitalism will not be the last economic system. And that’s precisely why I’m writing about its flaws. It’s not because I hate it, it’s because there are things that I believe can be improved.
Capitalism will eventually give way to another, better economic system. It’s inevitable. The question, however, is if that system will be better for humans and our ecosystem. It is entirely possible that capitalism will evolve into a system that is even more efficient at squeezing the life out of this planet and transforming it into objects, technological advances (for its own sake) and gargantuan projects.
I believe one such gargantuan project is the development of artificial “intelligence”, in quotes because it’s not really intelligent^. It lacks and will continue to lack sentience, which I consider a prime ingredient of intelligence, for at least until such a time when we have achieved major advances in quantum computing. I went through some of the dangers posed by this sort of artificial non-intelligence in the linked article, or here^, on the more concrete topic of stock markets.
Better life through technology
One of the main long-term goals of capitalistic entities is to discover tools and technologies that allow them to produce more. These discoveries eventually trickle down through all social layers and can improve quality of life. It doesn’t always happen so, but it’s not usually a problem with capitalism per-se, but with the human element (corruption, greed^).
Capitalism has brought a number of major advances in all sorts of fields: manufacturing, delivery, recycling, retail & customer experience, product diversity, the list can go on and on. I honestly believe we’d be far less advanced without the explosion of knowledge that resulted from setting human intellectual capital free to associate in whatever form.
Less is more
Because our civilization is still at a stage where the survival instinct is dominating^ our choices and policies, we can’t expect any economic system to reach a sort of moral high-ground. Communism used to look good on paper. History tells a different story about its implementation. It’s a case of “change yourself before you change others”.
In other words: we have to fix our way of thinking and how we go about daily life before we can even expect a highly efficient and in the same time ethical economic system to emerge. Capitalism is, simply put, the best that some societies are capable of. They wouldn’t tolerate it otherwise.
Capitalism embodies our instinctual thirst^ for more. The problem is that “more”, in this case, is usually not something that contributes to human happiness, but rather provides tangible results (objects, technologies). Even though life in most (truly) capitalistic countries has improved from a material standpoint, psychological health has declined. People feel disconnected and disengaged. A culture of extreme individualism is being promoted, probably because it produces better consumers.
Would less production and less consumption be anti-capitalistic? Perhaps from a purely financial standpoint. But a situation where capitalism “eases down” might actually be the smartest investment ever made: an investment in nurturing human capital. Healthier, happier humans can not only produce more, but will also invent more.
Diversity is beautiful
One of the things I’m most thankful about with capitalism is the fascinating product diversity it led to. But too much of a good thing is not a good thing at all anymore. And while I appreciate the diversity, I also recognize that in the past decades it has started to resemble the behavior of cancer. Too much diversity is a tumor that feeds on our ecosystem, running amok with almost no planetary governmental oversight. Even so, I do believe that with capitalism we’re closer to the ideal product diversity state than with, say, communism.
Economy influences our society and, not only by extent, our way of government. Politics, economy and culture are all intertwined with other pillars of human development to form what we call civilization. As a prime ingredient of civilization, economy shapes not only how we trade, but our attitudes as well.
For example, in capitalism, it’s not profitable to reject minorities of any kind (sexual, racial, religious). This, slowly but surely, trickles into society. True capitalistic societies are more tolerant towards minorities, partly as a consequence of this being the most profitable behavior.
My first 7 years of life happened before the fall of communist Romania, during one of its worst periods (which was still way better than places in less developed parts of the world). I then witnessed the gradual implementation of capitalism, during a slow, painful process during which a number of sly Romanians became rich overnight through various forms of abuse. 20 years later I moved to Sweden, a country renowned for its socialism, but which has become increasingly capitalistic during the turn of the millennium and even more so under my very eyes in the past decade. All these varied economic landscapes have shaped me in all sorts of ways.
I am thankful to the diversity that capitalism has exposed me to. I’m thankful for its contribution to the civilization that I enjoy being a part of. I couldn’t imagine myself happy in a system that would restrict my freedom of speech (even though censorship is definitely on the rise everywhere in the world, including the proud Western democratic block).
I’m even thankful for capitalism’s flaws, for without flaws, there is nothing to improve. I’m one of those humans with a pull towards perpetual improvement. My work on this website is not only about improving the society I belong to, but also about improving myself. Throughout this process, it is vital for me to emphasize that despite my criticism, I am not blind to the luxury I am granted simply by having a roof over my head and warm, clean water at the tap. Oh, and fancy gizmos to play with.