By Max Morris-Edwards
Capitalism is the general economic and political system that is used worldwide. Between countries, the level of “free-market” varies; it is becoming much less common for a nation to have a centrally planned economy. Most economists will shun communism, although capitalism is certainly not flawless either.
Capitalism is seen as survival of the fittest and therefore it is natural to leave people behind. Without government intervention wealth would be hoarded among a select few. Fortunately, governments put in redistributive measures to reduce inequality and create a fairer society. These measures include progressive taxation and government provision of healthcare and education.
The level of redistribution varies between different countries and the correct level of redistribution is subjective. My personal view is that distribution is uneven since capital accumulation is easier when you already possess capital. A report from Oxfam International found that in 2017, 82% of all wealth created globally went to the top 1%.
These figures highlight the growing disparity and the issue of people being ‘left behind’. This is my biggest issue with capitalism and it should be solved entirely or at least improved. Materialism and commodity satisfactions have contributed to this. People hugely over-value material items, rather than real experiences and relationships in life.
In an article for The Guardian, George Monbiot hits the nail on the head when he says, “if you have four Rolexes while another has five, you are a Rolex short of contentment”. This perfectly illustrates our need for more, even if we already have enough. Realistically, no one needs to spend thousands on a watch.
The cost to society is rarely considered during the transaction
Monbiot goes on to reference studies published on ‘Motivation’ and ‘Emotion’. The studies found that people who are more materialistic are usually less happy than people who are not. It was also found that individuals who became more materialistic over time become less happy over time. Tying happiness to ‘things’ serves short-term satisfaction, not long-term joy.
Here in the UK, nearly everyone you meet will have an iPhone. 20 years ago it would have been very rare to own a mobile phone, but now it is commonplace to fork out hundreds each year to keep up-to-date. The cost to society is rarely considered during the transaction.
Like most multinational companies that sell consumer products, they charge a high price for low-priced labor. They force inhumane work on people for profit maximization. It may be worth thinking about the people who risk their lives and sanity in the name of materialism next time you take a selfie on your iPhone.
Foxconn, the third biggest employer in the world, manufacture parts for iPhones. Due to abhorrent working conditions, several Foxconn employees have attempted suicide at work. In 2010, there were 18 reported suicide attempts and 14 confirmed deaths. Capitalism has quite literally killed people in pursuit of profit.
The excessive consumerism born from such capitalist satisfactions also has extreme adverse effects on the environment. The levels of carbon emissions, deforestation and ocean pollution are destroying our planet and we continue to add to this. Private enterprise avoids regulation and therefore they aren’t accountable for environmental damage. All the while, people continue to drive gas-guzzling vehicles that increase C02 emissions. Is it worth it?
Even those who are environmentally conscious are shown to have a larger carbon footprint. This is because it is generally the case that those who are environmentally conscious are wealthier. Your carbon footprint is linked to income, but that shouldn’t undermine environmentally conscious mindsets. I believe living as environmentally aware as possible will always do some help.
The real problem is big companies. A study by Oxfam shows that the richest 1% in the world produce around 175 times more carbon emissions than the bottom 10%. This is another feature of capitalist greed perpetuated by materialist need. We need to change our spending habits in order to direct a challenge to the private companies plunging our environment into the depths of despair.
Changing consumer habits seems too arduous a task to defeat the forces of capitalism. Many are set in their ways and there is no foreseeable alternative. Veganism is an example of changing habit, yet even this is flawed due to world trade networks and distribution ports. Power and energy are used to process all these transactions.
What is needed is the reformation of society into a post-capitalist society. This way, commodity-based satisfactions can be environmentally aware, putting ecological concerns at the center of production. If accumulation does not meet environmental standards, it should be taken apart completely. What would you give up for the good of the environment? After all, material obsessions do not equate to happiness, we can all find environmental alternatives.
Image credit: Tracy O