Imagine some point in the future. Aliens finally arrive on the planet. They’re staging a massive in-the-open friendship visit. But when they come out of their ships, they’re shaking their heads in embarrassment.
We still haven’t moved past capitalism.
You may not give a rip about judgemental aliens. Maybe anti-capitalist arguments for doing away with capitalism seem silly to you. Especially arguments for socialism as a viable replacement.
Maybe you believe capitalism is magnificent and needs no replacement. We agree, it’s pretty spectacular. So rather than argue about why it should go, let’s look at 10 ways capitalism makes humanity better off. Then let’s look at some truly viable reasons why we might be better-served as a species letting capitalism go.
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It’s impossible to deny capitalism’s magnificence.
That doesn’t mean we need to stick with it. Seriously, which phone are you reading this on?
How about the car you aspire to drive?
In both the automobile and the cell phone, when the first version came out, we marvelled. They were AWESOME! But as successive versions came out, the previous versions paled in comparison.
The point is, things get better. Always. So when we say –– humanity –– that we can do better, we’re saying the same thing every maker says: we can always do better.
Because people expect it.
Why should capitalism be an exception?
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Physical reality is peculiar. Look hard enough and you can find evidence for any belief. So you may believe capitalism is spectacular. And you’d be right. Because there’s a lot of evidence supporting that belief.
But those who think capitalism sucks will discount your evidence. They’ll point out all the evidence they see supporting their contention. And they’d be right, because they can find as much evidence supporting their belief and you find supporting yours.
But if either camp changes its belief, they would see there is ample evidence supporting the opposing one. The facts are, capitalism has been spectacular. And sucky.
But let’s forget about the sucky part.
Instead, let’s hearald the great things capitalism accomplishes. But first, let’s get on the same page about what “capitalism” is. It’s more than the basic definition.
When we refer to capitalism, we’re not referring to strict “free market” capitalism. There is no such thing.
We define capitalism as a system including (1) markets where entities trade goods and services, (2) a regulatory system (government) that keeps that trade (mostly) fair, and (3) a monetary system used as a subjective standard of value across all trades. These three are all controlled by private owners for profit.
So with that definition, bring on the big ten:
Capitalism has survived. This is some feat. Despite its many rivals, some far older and established, capitalism dominates. That in itself deserves a round of applause.
Capitalism generates fabulous wealth for a lot of people. Not so much a remarkable feat because if it didn’t do this, it would by definition be a failure. Some people are not enjoying as much wealth as others. Whether that’s a feature or a bug is arguable. Nevertheless many, many people have enjoyed higher living standards via capitalism.
Capitalism fosters unprecedented innovation and advances. Especially advances in science, medicine, and technology. Indeed, capitalism’s success at this is about to overwhelm capitalism itself. This is an extraordinary accomplishment.
Capitalism increases living standards. Hard to argue with this. Fewer are living in poverty today than ever before. And it’s the case everywhere. A great big hooray for that!!!!
Capitalism provides the best place (so far) for people to trade goods and services (mostly) safely, (mostly) efficiently and (mostly) reliably. In fact, more goods and services get traded today than ever before. And there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. The majority of those trades are fair…leaving most parties happy with the transaction. That’s astonishing.
Speaking of astonishing, capitalism provides astonishing levels of entertainment. Our minds boggle at the variety of entertainment in the world. Anything and everything is “entertainmentized”….and for good reason: entertainment is profitable. Hugely. It’s profitable because people crave entertainment. Which brings us to…7
Capitalism is pretty good at giving people what they want. It’s even better at giving people what they crave. Usually. If you want something, wait a little while. If enough agree with you, capitalism is going to give it to you. Which brings us to number 8…
Capitalism makes it obvious what people like and what they don’t like. The contrast between the two equals opportunity for the would be profit maker. As we said in 7, it’s easy to give people what they want. So the contrast capitalism creates between wanted and unwanted supports people getting what they want because it tells profit makers what to offer for a profit. Capitalism is not as good at providing things people need. But we’re not talking about the sucky part, right?
Capitalism offers unlimited ways to make money. It allows human creativity almost free reign. Even its regulating element is “slippery” enough to allow profit from massive illegal activities. How awesome is that?
Capitalism offers those who want to succeed –– a route to that success. If you want to be successful you have a good chance of success. As long as you’re willing to work hard for that success and, for some, overcome daunting odds. So that’s ten. But as a bonus…
Capitalism creates a space for human advancement. As a system, capitalism’s political component allows expression of all kinds of ideas. Be it defense, aeronautics, robotics, artistic expression, relationships or even self-development, capitalism money-making function drives an openness for almost any idea that potentially can make human life better.
Whew. That’s a lot to think about. Reading this list one has to ask: why do we want to replace this system with something we don’t know for sure can do as well, let alone better?
Well, there are a lot of reasons. Here are ten of them.
- Because we can. There is nothing about capitalism that says we can’t improve it. Some people fear that, somehow, we’ll break it while trying to improve it. That’s not a good reason to leave it be. What if Apple said, “Eh, the first iPhone was good enough”? Besides, so many things about capitalism point to the need to improve it. Again, if you believe it’s fabulous, or you don’t have an idea of how to improve it, you may not see the need. But more and more people are seeing the need. Let’s forget the need: we can improve it. Humans are creative. We are forever making up new shit. And, on the whole, most of the shit we make is better than the shit we made before the new shit. “Better than capitalism” will be no different.
Because we must. There’s a tribe in America whose members tire of the word “inclusive”. Yet, the earth is by definition inclusive…of all the people on it. There is an unlimited amount of opportunity on the planet. Enough for everyone. But capitalism sucks at providing equal access to that opportunity. That’s something we must change. And there is no reason not to. Unless you fear people taking your opportunity. If you are afraid, that’s only because you’ve lost sight of opportunity’s unlimited nature. It’s everywhere. Who said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?” Let’s listen to that guy, America.
Because while capitalism offers human advancement, it squelches human advancement at the same time. Money, profit and success are not universal incentives. Nor should they be. Think they should be? Please, leave a comment about why you think that. We can have a system that gives every human being, no matter their motivation, the incentive and the resources to express their creative talents. You don’t know if that person sitting all day playing computer games isn’t the next Hemingway, Spielberg, Gates, or Branson. Now you may say “if he were, he wouldn’t be playing video games. He’d get off his ass and do some things.” And, in your belief you’d be right. But you are not that person. So you can’t know. We can’t know. Until we give that person the opportunity. We’ve seen amazing creativity and innovation in the world as a result of capitalism. Imagine the ENORMOUS creative/innovation explosion if everyone has access to opportunity and resources. Equal access. Today’s capitalism can’t and won’t ever do that. It’s not structured with that outcome in mind.
Because capitalism is amoral. Capitalism will pay you whether you do things that make people better off, or if you screw people. You may disagree with this, but we don’t see how. The evidence is overwhelming. There are all kinds of things we do producing widely agreed upon immoral results. In every case, this is because doing those things make people a lot of money. Imagine if we directed that doing to activities making the world better. Provided those activities could make people as wealthy as those immoral ones, all those people doing great things could make the world much better pretty quickly. That’s the future we owe ourselves.
Because capitalism promotes scarcity and scarcity fosters competition. If you’re thinking “not everyone can live in wealth, the planet can’t support it.” then you are a victim of the scarcity-mentality capitalism promotes. If you’re thinking “but competition is good for us” then you, again, are a victim of capitalism. Believe it or not, the word of the day on Earth is cooperation. Not competition. Two words, actually: Cooperation and plenty. There is plenty of room on the planet for everyone to have what they want. Period. There is plenty of room for every expression of humanity. Period. There is plenty of room on the planet for people to live in the way they desire. The fact is, not everyone wants to live on a 100 acre ranch, on the coast, or in Monaco. Nor does everyone want what you want. So you aren’t in competition with anyone. But capitalism makes you feel that way, because it enforces scarcity mentality*.
Because it’s traditional. Even conservatives want change and progress. Tradition has its place. But not when it is restrictive, discriminatory (not just with regard to racial and gender minorities) and just plain brutish. It especially should not apply to the system which runs the world. You can be traditional in your values. You can be traditional in your beliefs. But a system that adheres to tradition is problematic. That’s because it resists progress. Progress is the human condition. Usually, but not always, behind someone’s arguing for tradition is the fear of change. But change is the human condition too. We can not base the future on tradition. That will end us all.
Because it’s old. Capitalism is new compared to monarchies but it’s still freaking old. Meanwhile our global society and culture is embracing a future that is in stark contrast with the old ways of doing things. We’re about to see the end of most jobs for cris’ sakes. We need a system that can accommodate that. The system that is capitalism is not that. Capitalism runs on monetary profit. In the future where AI infuses everything –– even humans –– a focus on monetary profit is bound to create massive wealth inequality. We are already seeing this.
Because humanity is brave (this one is for those living in the US). We are Americans. Despite our flaws, we have boldly gone far from our beginnings. Yes, we’ve screwed ourselves and others on many occasions, but our intents have always been good. Yes, we are, even today, hypocritical in our bravery. We refuse to confront and solve many social, value and political issues. None the less, America isn’t a bunch of cowards. We have the mettle to let capitalism retire. When Steve Jobs left Apple, apple thrived. The same will happen when capitalism goes: humanity will thrive.
Because it’s the next frontier. Exploration is a “can’t help it” characteristic of humanity. Many frontiers await us. Many of those are even now, testing capitalism. There’s more of that coming. So let’s “boldly go” with something better than capitalism. Something offering equal access, while still providing the unequal outcomes every sane human would agree is appropriate. Lastly…
Because we are America (this one is for those living in the US too). America enjoys an aura of leadership unlike any other country so far. Even with our current president, most nations respect what we stand for. Are we going to allow some other nation of people to shape the future for us? We don’t think Americans will stand for that. So doesn’t it make sense that Americans plant the flag on this new frontier, like we did on the moon?
It’s no doubt that capitalism has served us. Let’s laud its magnificent accomplishments. But let’s not think that this thing, unlike every other thing, can endure unchanged. Is capitalism really the only thing on the planet that can survive without changing for the better?
We don’t think so.
Humanity looks pretty silly using the latest technologies –– in every aspect of its experience –– except in how it runs its civilizations. Should some alien force visit in the future, intent on friendship, let’s be ready for them. Hopefully they won’t be judgmental dicks. Still, let’s not embarrass ourselves. Let’s show them how far we’ve come.