A Few Good Things About Capitalism

Despite all its bad, Capitalism has done more positive than any other system

Written by Leo N.

When I went to university, I met a lot of close-minded people. I don’t mean it in that conservative Bible-thumping way, but the idea is the same. These people believed in something so strongly that there could only be one side to anything: theirs. The most prominent group, aside from the standard-issue anti-abortionists, the self-proclaimed alternatives and the rabid animal activists, were the Marxists.

I don’t know why people leave high school, join a post secondary institution and suddenly care about the left-leaning political advancements of Venezuela, but some students did. In university, these people found each other and would gravitate together like metal to a magnet.

More than having a different perspective, what got to me the most was their hypocrisy: Marxists would always have a fit about the evils of Capitalism, regardless of the topic in class. They’d be sure to point out how it was a "very bad thing" (TM) and bashing it regularly was quite popular. How popular? So popular, it was okay to do so in front of your anti-capitalist brethren, while sipping a mocha macchiato latte in the corner Starbucks down the street. Some wore statements about their personae, which distinguished them from the plethora of consumer whores they clearly were not—generally a t-shirt that quoted Che’s never-before-heard "hasta la victoria siempre". At least the animal activists, annoying as their rhetoric was, volunteered at animal shelters, providing comfort to needy creatures.

Instead, the Marxists would try to make you believe that Capitalism is, by its very nature, oppression personified, has nothing good to offer and should be replaced with a Communist system. When asked for their alternative, their vision sounded like a practical but impossible utopia. Fine, Capitalism has its flaws: pollution, extreme consumerism, destruction of values, exploitation of people and resources, incurable diseases and Marketing Departments. Before Capitalism, in Rome, people from Marketing Departments were fed to lions as a form of entertainment for the local population. These days, unfortunately, it's illegal. Yet, Capitalism has out-lived or out-shined any Communist regime out there.

In fact, despite all its bad, the "evil" Capitalistic system has done more than any other system: it has brought humanity out of the dark ages; it has allowed freedom; it has created a level of comfort never experienced before; it has created a safer, healthier, better educated society; it has outlived all the other systems that tried to replace it; it has proved to be a truly democratic system we are all participating and voting members in; and, ultimately, when Capitalism does evil, it is society’s collective fault.

Capitalism’s greatest achievement was to get us out of the Dark Ages.

The birth of Capitalism varies pending sources examined, but it is generally accepted that at the end of Feudalism due to the English Civil War of the 17th Century, and with the creation of Watt’s steam engine, the Industrial Revolution began to take place. It took some time for this to happen, but eventually this revolution exponentially changed the economy from one based mostly on agriculture and kissing your Feudal Lord’s ass, to one of manufacturing, invention and commerce. Expensive items originally produced by hand by artisans could suddenly be mass produced at a cheaper cost and be sold to a widening market of people. The industrialization created even more complex manufacturing processes, which, in turn, produced jobs. As time went on, these jobs required skilled workers, which, incidentally, made education more and more accessible to the masses. This is why you go to school: the system needs you so that it can function.

Marxism argues that Capitalism has created class struggle. But the Industrial Revolution actually decentralized power by removing the obligatory serf-Lord class system and replaced it with a more fluid one where every serf can become a Lord. With Capitalism, its members can potentially move up to the top—or even back down. The so called class struggle is simply the process that everyone puts forth in an attempt at getting (and staying) there.

Capitalism has created a level of comfort never experienced before. We are no longer a society of hunters and gatherers, spending the vast majority of our day looking for something good to eat or wasting our whole existence working the land and hoping it’ll rain sufficiently to feed us. Today, if we’re hungry, most of us can drive our car to the local supermarket, buy prepared food and eat it while watching television before going to our warm, soft and cosy bed, safe from predators. Capitalism has made the production, manufacturing and distribution of wealth easy and, with the advent of globalisation, potentially available to everyone, everywhere.

Capitalism has created a safer, healthier and better educated society.

Fig. 1: Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist considered the founder of humanistic psychology, theorized that humans have a series of needs that range from basic physiological needs (food, shelter, sleep, sex) to those of self-actualization (morality, creativity, lack of prejudice). He called this a hierarchy of needs (Fig. 1), and it is often depicted as a pyramid composed of five levels. The lower four layers of the pyramid are what Maslow called "deficiency needs": physiological, safety and security, love and belonging, and esteem. Maslow argued that as various needs are met, humans will seek to satisfy the next level until they are able to focus on their personal growth, the top layer of the pyramid.

Capitalism has taken care of the physiological (supermarkets, fast food, medications, mass-produced housing), safety (police, house-alarms, modern hospital equipment), love and belonging (LavaLive, eHarmony, sports, hobbies) and esteem (law, education, bonuses, titles and expensive toys). Unlike with our ancestors — who worked Feudal land twelve hours a day and simply passed out, tired, at the end of the day — Capitalism gives us the ability, time and energy to work toward our personal passions, goals and self-actualization. Self-actualization is very important, actually: it’s what helped us determine that spirits and witches don’t exist and has, instead, helped society (albeit slowly and with a long road ahead) to become less sexist, racist and homophobic. Capitalism doesn’t care about your gender, race or sexual orientation. It cares that you can do the job it hired you for and that you have money to spend on the products and services it has to offer.

Capitalism permits freedom.

In the early industrial era, when production passed demand, there came the need to reach waiting markets elsewhere. This promoted the development of roads, railways and other forms of transportation, in order to bring goods to other parts of the world. In turn, this made reaching other places easier, which improved the mail system. Eventually, such improved communication necessitated the creation of the telegraph, the telephone and, today, the Internet. Modern anti-capitalism activists use the Internet to communicate with their fellow members, turning what had started as a project by the military-industrial conglomerate into a tool used by the masses. It’s not that the Internet is a realm of anarchy. Simply put, Capitalism enables freedom of expression because money can be made by providing you with an Internet connection.

Without Capitalism, you’d be working the land for someone else for free, rather than finding time for your self-actualization as a Marxist.

Capitalism has outlived all other systems that tried to replace it.

Marxism criticizes Capitalism’s belief that privatization of state-provided services is far more efficient. They also criticize Capitalism’s support of free trade and the abolition of subsidies. Yet, looking at history, Communism’s biggest user, the USSR, turned out to be its biggest loser. It collapsed under its own tyranny, greed and economic dysfunction — China, seeing this, simply allowed the market in to keep their political power, and Cuba has become a tourist resort in order to survive.

Marxism works well on paper, but in real life it requires everyone to think the same way and be satisfied with having the same things. But reality is that people don’t all think the same way and they want different things. In Russia, during the Communist regime, everyone had the same car or television, regardless of whether you were a neuro-surgeon or a brick-layer. By letting the state control corporations, there was no competition, so there was no product variation and no need for improvement. So what if it cost more to produce that television than the price it’s selling at? The state would provide subsidies to maintain the factory in business.

The democratic power of the wallet.

On the other end, Capitalism provides a more democratic system, where each company creates a service or a product and, much like a political party, they want your vote. You cast your vote not with a ballot but with your wallet. Looking at the "political arena" of cellular phones, the iPhone and the Blackberry have won the most votes, making them the de-facto standard people want and expect. Other companies will try to emulate (and possibly exceed) in order to win those customers and their "votes" of capital. Android is doing just that and may even succeed.

For example, when people began to understand that eating fatty foods was killing them, many switched to healthier alternatives, leaving fast food joints to either adapt or go bankrupt. This is why you can now go to McDonald’s and either buy an artery-clogging Big Mac meal (meeting your day’s caloric needs), or their latest attempt at winning health-conscious eaters into their restaurants. When the people cast their vote with their wallet, the market listens. In the Capitalist system you have more power than you think.

The democratic power of the wallet is quite important, because when enough people want something, the market responds. This is why Capitalism is okay with people thinking differently, because there is a niche in the market for everyone’s needs... even a Marxist’s! Hey, they had to buy a copy of The Communist Manifesto that was printed within Capitalism, from some privately owned bookstore. (Or at least a t-shirt.)

When Capitalism does evil, it is our collective fault.

Which brings me to my last point: when Capitalism does evil, it is our collective fault. For example, we all heard ad nausea about Nike exploiting workers in impoverished countries, paying them pennies to produce shoes worth a few bucks, but which cost us ten times their worth. Ask anyone about this and they will tell you that it is deplorable; yet, almost everyone has a pair of Nike shoes. We collectively blame Nike, which has done nothing more than make their shoes a cool brand to wear and made us think that they will make us popular with our peers, thanks to their great Marketing Department. Yet, by buying their products, we don’t blame ourselves for promoting the Feudal-like exploitation of people who produce the shoes.

If the world was a fairy-tale, there would be nothing wrong with Marxism; fundamentally, it is a good idea. It, too, ultimately aims for the same goals: to provide for the needs of the people it represents. It fails, however, to be self-sufficient like Capitalism, which only drags the failures down, not the whole system.