Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What is Capitalism all about?

Capitalism is an ideology that a lot of people speak about constantly, whether in support or in opposition. Yet I feel that the definition generally given to it is rather lacking; an amorphous one that happens to include "the free market" and private ownership and other terms that don't in fact have to be connected to that system.

Personally, I think we can clarify the whole situation by going back to the root word: Capital. Now, Capital does not only include money but all means of production: tools and machines are capital, land can be capital, animals and their labor can be capital (we exclude humans from this bit usually). In whatever form it comes, Capitalism can be simply seen as an ideology based on the maximization of Capital. This is why "the free market" gets included: the theoretical free market is the most efficient way to distribute resources. By increasing efficiency and cutting waste, we can maximize the use and creation of Capital, and thus the "free market" becomes part of the Capitalist system. Private property is central to the system as a means of creating incentives for individuals to work towards the maximization of Capital, which is why that idea is part of the overall ideology.

Trying to maximize the wealth and productive capability of the economy: making as much stuff as possible and constant economic growth are what an never ending drive to maximize Capital calls for. In a Capitalist system, economic growth as a virtue is a given and anything that might limit that is seen as a negative. It is easy for some to call this nothing more than greed and question whether there is any moral support for this system in the first place. There certainly is a moral heart to the system, and that is banishing scarcity. The truth is that poverty is neither edifying nor inherently moral. Being poor is terrible, and the deprivation can do terrible things to people's soul. There is nothing immoral about trying to create enough for everyone to be materially comfortable, and that is what Capitalism aims to accomplish. The aim of Capitalism then is to free all men from poverty. There is a catch though.

Unfortunately, the mix of values and system necessary for the maximization of Capital create problems inherent in the system itself, as Karl Marx saw. A system of private ownership concentrates productive power in the hands of a few, and leaves many with only one recourse for obtaining the societal credit to get their share of the new bounty, which is wage work. Yet as we said the whole point of Capitalism is to maximize Capital. If a Capitalist can replace human labor with Capital profitably, they will. That is the logic of the system. This frees people from the need to work, but in the Capitalist system work is the only thing most members can do to have access to their basic needs. The Capitalist system is working hard to free all humans of the need to work, but once this is achieved only the owners of Capital will have the legal right to the bounty.

This insight of Marx has been ignored due to the failure of the Leninist and Maoist experiments, but I think many of his concepts will in the end prove correct. It is not a bad thing to attempt to rid man of scarcity and poverty, as Capitalism aims to do, but in doing so the basic rules of social interaction between us big hairless social apes break down/ This problem is one that our children and their children will likely have to deal with sooner rather than later, and I question whether we are really ready to make the necessary leap when the time comes.

No comments:

Post a Comment