Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
This is morbidly fascinating.
Without us even knowing it, we’ve stumbled across one of the most critical moments we’ve ever reached with regards to our economic ideologies. For decades, the unbridled, free market bent of capitalist thought has dominated society, with the capitalist ethos themselves being the key to the “good life” in the words of John Maynard Keynes. But while it remains the key to ensuring economic prosperity for as great a number of people as possible, its critics have been slowly growing, and people are slowly becoming aware of the gradual damage it’s doing to our societal values. The old Keynesian notion of the good life really doesn’t stand up when we take into account that the Western world is now gradually becoming unhappier and unhappier. The pursuit for material goods and relativist, superficial wealth has resulted in the average person becoming far more preoccupied with their money than ever before, and hence unhappier. Really, though, who can blame them? When laissez-faire capitalism, which in itself rewards the accumulation of capital above all else, has changed all our lives in some way, we’ve no choice but to conform. And that, in itself, is the problem. That is why capitalism needs to change.
Being regular citizens, there isn’t much we can do as central bank governors and heads of government and state pursue policies that lead to the furthering of the monopoly that capitalism (in its current state) has on all of our lives. As purported by many left wing thinkers, the endless search for the most “efficient” outcome and not the one that is fair per se has led to the dramatic oversimplification and overlooking of many of the issues that plague and will continue to plague humanity in coming generations. Let’s look at Donald Trump, arguably one of the greatest beneficiaries today of the capitalist system. He’s a billionaire that claims that a loan of “a million dollars” from his father was a “small” amount, and given his wealth, for him, it probably is. Notwithstanding the fact that Trump may not have been intellectually superior to others in order to accrue the massive amounts of wealth that he has accrued, he has asserted that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” When someone’s materialistic ideals have corrupted him to the extent that he disregards reputable scientific knowledge, it’s only rational to question what exactly has gone wrong. Given Trump’s substantial popularity in America, serious questions have to be raised about what capitalism has done to today’s generation: is this type of life the one we really want to live?
It’s certainly not the one the poor can sustain for much longer. Recent data has shown that income inequality is rising at unprecedented levels, with the gap between the rich and the poor only continuing to widen, particularly in Western democracies such as that of the US and the UK, two global stalwarts of today’s capitalism. Even more worrying is the fact that up and coming powers such as India are gradually becoming more and more influenced by the Western perception of an ideologically perfect society; they are leaning more and more towards the sort of system that’s ramifications will take us decades to clear up. Lower levels of income for the poorest in society also manifest themselves in other deficiencies further down the line, such as a lack of quality education and a lack of good healthcare. This domino effect culminates with the poor not being able to reach their full productive capacity, leaving a country’s output waning and their productivity slowing, which can only be corrosive to further economic and social progress. While laissez faire capitalism can be a good beginning for any nation, it most definitely should not be treated as a means to an end; the Western world is already seeing the initial consequences of this broken system: the top 1% of Americans earn more than 20% of the country’s national income.
The final and most damning indictment of capitalism today lies in the people themselves. Newspapers such as the Telegraph have suggested that relative wealth, whereby people have large amounts of money in comparison to their relatively poorer colleagues, makes people happier than absolute wealth, whereby they have enough money to fill their stomachs and live a relatively untroubled lifestyle. On the surface, this doesn’t seem so bad: encouraging competition and therefore boosting a country’s productivity. However, it’s also important to note that for every person that is “happy” at having relative wealth, there are large numbers of people who look up to that person and feel frustrated and disillusioned at not having acquired the material and superficial wealth that their more financially successful colleague has. Indubitably, this further leads on to a decrease in productivity as more and more people stop working as hard due to the sheer futility of it all, which is exactly what has been occurring in America. Productivity has decreased for many of the past few quarters, with it again reducing, according to the Wall Street Journal, in the first quarter of 2016. Again, these figures lend more credence to the claim that the problem with the capitalist system today is not only a social one, where people are unhappier and unhealthier, but also an environmental and an overarchingly economic one.
Thanks, capitalism, but no thanks: you’ve helped us get this far and so we applaud you. However, you’ve corrupted our people, beaten our economies and damaged our environment – it’s time for you to change.
Shrey Srivastava, 15