Author: Vladimir Zark
Capitalism is by far the most established economic system in the world. Though it has its share of faults, one cannot call capitalism in itself ‘bad’, nor can one designate its perpetuation a ‘failure’, like one can designate some attempted communist and socialist states. One can gather, then, that the capitalistic model can prove very effective, both for improving the economy and improving the living standard of societies. But capitalism, like every system, can fall prey to corruption from within. I believe that the root of the problem, at least in the U.S., lies in absurd wealth inequality between the rich and poor, inefficient and obsessive overproduction, a lack of honest meritocracy, overwhelming monopolism, and, most importantly, distorted values that prioritize wealth, competition, and self-interest above all else.
I will address these point by point, and try to explain my argument for a more ‘ethical’ approach to capitalism with regards to the U.S. model. Notice that I’m refraining from using a political ideology to frame my point, since my goal is to be precise and objective. My goal is to understand capitalism as a ‘good’, but focus on the unethical aspects of its actual manifestation in the U.S. I seek to reform our capitalism.
The first clear sign of American capitalism’s unethicality begins with the establishment of monopolies: octopuses that get so powerful and influential that smaller businesses simply cannot compete. Free market economics thrives on competition in the natural sense, that is to say, the ‘equality of opportunity’ principle, yet in our current system, one certainly cannot break through with a new fast food or electronics franchise – not unless they make a deal with the already existing ones. The power of McDonald’s is so great that every burger restaurant conforms in some way to its influence. Perhaps there is a reason, after all, that in every major department in this country, whether it is food, electronics, energy, or otherwise, you see no more than a few major companies owning most of the share. The unethicality of this lies in the fact that no one who works an honest living can compete with these franchises, and everyone who works either for themselves or for a franchise of this kind are profiting very little. Monopolism doesn’t help the people, it stifles genuine competition, and it often encourages the mass-production and sale of low-quality products, ranging from terrible food to poorly made electronics. We must push for the growth of small businesses and refuse these low-quality products, since only then can we mount any kind of sustainable effort for a more ethical capitalism.
This also manifests in severe inequalities between the rich and poor and presents a severe concern for so-called ‘meritocracy’. As a VERY poor person myself, I can say for certain that bad decisions do lead to poverty, and am perfectly willing to admit that the poor aren’t poor simply because of a corrupt system. However, the idea that my talent alone can bring me out of poverty proves recognizably absurd to me, seeing as there are many untalented writers out there who can generate income, and even likely get out of poverty if they know the so-called ‘right people’. A poor person with no connections is almost incapable of becoming rich, even if he has talent and good prospects. How can a system such as this be ethical, then? You are required to ‘know’ people to get any advantage. And if you’re wealthy, chances are you’ve had the good fortune of finding people along the way, also wealthy and likely wealthier than you, who are willing to ‘do business’ with you and expand your wealth. The complex interweaving of connections in this country is devastating, where any person ‘groomed’ for success is most likely going to succeed – he’ll have any grades he wants, any college he wants, any car he wants, any girlfriend he wants, any status he wants, and any immunity to the law he wants, so long as his parents are wealthy and esteemed. This doesn’t simply put the question to meritocracy; it puts the question to capitalism itself. Can you, or can you not, realize an honest ‘American Dream’ any longer?
And the poor in this country are truly disconsolate, depraved-looking souls. You think of every day that those beggars, especially the honest ones, tread through the boxcars of the train like zombies – you know full well that the average beggar, depending on their appearance, smell, and appeal, will get no more than a few dollars a day, having passed through a boxcar of people whose wallets have hundreds. But why is it that our poor have to suffer like this? Even those who are victims of their own bad decisions at least deserve a place to sleep and food to eat, don’t they? Or perhaps cutting our sizeable military budget isn’t worthwhile to accommodate these people. An ethical capitalism must have a ‘soul’ behind it – the fault of our capitalism is that it treats its citizens like machines of income, not human beings. And no, I am not pro-welfare. I think welfare is the bane of efficiency since it makes people complacent with having little and not working for it.
An ethical capitalism would encourage its people to work, but not force people to constantly scrounge for the next day – how can it be that even the middle-class, even the higher-class in some areas, cannot earn enough to live comfortably? The problem is that the cost of living is inflated to such a great extent, and absorbs so much of our earnings, that we must desperately work just to pay off rent. Besides, much of the wealth that our top billionaires have is absolutely useless to them, like dead weight – what does Bill Gates need? He can donate 99% of his wealth to charity and still live a comfortable life, yet if we donate 99% of our wealth, most of us would have to panhandle. It’s not a question of socialist redistribution or anything like that: it’s a question of “why is it this way, and how can it be allowed to continue?” In my opinion, with the size of our economy, we can accommodate every homeless person with a small housing space, provide them basic food and shelter, and encourage them to work so that they don’t depend on a welfare state anymore. It will increase morale, give more credibility to our capitalism, and help us assert our status as a so-called ‘first world country’.
Another point I’ll make is in regards to the inefficient overproduction of goods. Our obsession with monopolism and expansionism has made it fashionable to produce a few million iPhones, generate profit, and trash the many thousands that aren’t sold. Many of the goods we sell in stores are made in China and are generally low-quality products that help no one and break very often. Perhaps we end up paying less for them, especially if we buy in bulk, but as far as the products themselves are concerned, no one benefits from their sale or distribution. The food that is sold in franchises as McDonald’s and Burger King gives many generations of children diabetes, increased risks of heart disease and failure, and even developmental problems if too much fat and sugar are ingested. Our mass-produced clothes, though decent, are sold at inflated and unnecessary prices, and unfortunately, our people still buy them, just as they buy the fast food and cheap products. Hopefully, you’ve noticed the problem: the consumers are responsible for shifting the motivations of our capitalism, since their buying choices influence production. If our consumers made smarter choices about what they bought, these several issues would not persist as much.
Finally, we must address the value system in our country. Because of many of the aforementioned problems, particularly the non-existence of pure meritocracy, it seems that honest working people find it contradictory to do honest work. Once they gain some degree of awareness about their position, they find that self-interest and exploitation are the only way to ensure survival. Good people get screwed, walked all over because they’re seen as gullible wallets. In my experience, as someone who knows many people on welfare, I can say for certain that everyone’s trying to get more, squeeze the system for as much as they can get. Though this seems justified in the sense of survival, it perpetuates the corruption and makes our capitalism a game of who can ‘steal’ the most. Either you’re stealing in welfare because you’re poor, or you’re stealing in the stock market because you’re rich – truly, what’s the difference? Our value system, which emphasizes ‘everyone for themselves’, has made it difficult to even make honest friendships without thinking of them as business deals. Every friend made is an ‘opportunity’. I don’t have an honest answer for how to reform our value system in a more ethical way, but I can say for sure that reforming the game so that the rules don’t require you to steal would be a positive step. Stealing is done only in desperation.
The problem is not in capitalism, but the way the system takes freedom away from our citizens. Most of my friends and acquaintances are honest people living honest lives – some of the younger ones are even idealistic and good-hearted. But once they spend enough time in our economy, they lose hope in the artist’s life, or the musician’s life, or the writer’s life, seeing as all of those paths are unsustainable and discouraged for ‘ordinary’ people. Thus, they settle for accounting, biology, and law school, seeing as those put bread on the table. But, if your heart cries out to be an artist, musician, or writer, how can an economy take that away from you? How can capitalism be against its own people? Surely, there is a need for cultural and economic reformation. America is a good country with good values, and most of its citizens are honest people with integrity. Surely, depriving them of the chance to thrive because of an unjust economy is not right.