Since when is Capitalism a Good Thing?

February 27th, 2009


Despite the fact that capitalism represents the dominant ideology, I’m always caught by surprise whenever I hear someone talking about capitalism as if it’s good.  I can’t explain it.  I look around myself and can’t help but scowl inwardly whenever I allow myself to see the results of this tragic establishment.  And yet, people everywhere see the same things and think “isn’t it wonderful?”

It’s a brilliant fallacy that says that we in the developed world have benefited because of capitalism.  In addition to taking as a given that the world’s structure as it exists now is inevitable and unstoppable, it assumes that our standard of living would invariably be worse without the blessing of a greed-driven society.  How does that follow?  In North America, our resources were effectively boundless (many still are), our seasons are agreeable to farming, and there’s nothing but space in which to spread.

Could not our standard of living (if not our destructive lifestyle) be maintained without exploiting the poverty of the developing world?  Must we ship our garbage (toxic and eternal) to China or Nigeria?  Do we need to send our dying ships (equally toxic) to India or Bangladesh to be broken down for scrap, killing and injuring many workers in the process?  Is any of this necessary?  And if it is, how can anyone possibly stand behind a lifestyle that is sustained by it?

How can someone wear a piece of clothing made by a woman who may as well have been chained to her sewing machine, possibly facing sexual harrassment or assault, forbidden from even chatting with her coworkers – and say that our system is a good thing?  Especially when said clothing represents the bulk of what we can buy?  How can anyone justify an establishment that would see that same worker labouring for weeks – just to be able to afford one of the hundreds of garments she made during that same time?

It’s absurd.

What’s more, this fantastic ideology has left us with a scorched planet – the true costs of its shiny products hidden (“mystified,” to speak theor-ese) by the endlessly replenishing supply on our supermarket shelves.  But for a few specialty brands, we have no idea where our products come from, how they got to us, or who made them.  We don’t know whether the cotton in our clothes came from a farm with soil rapidly depleted of nutrients for the sake of maintaining the cash crop.  We don’t know whether the coltan in our cellphones came from the Congo, fueling its civil war.  We don’t know how much greenhouse gas was generated as our products were built and shipped to us (though we are starting to know the catastrophic effects those greenhouse gases are having on our climate).

Can anyone explain to me how this is a good thing?  How a destroyed world and a suffering population is worth a new TV or a cool jacket?  After the Second Great Depression began last year, how is there anyone left who thinks this system is worth saving?

2 Responses to “Since when is Capitalism a Good Thing?”

  1. Christopher says:

    I am inarticulate with rage. And simultaneously not surprised at all. Ugh. Thank you for posting those, Nadia. (I had to approve the comment myself, on account of there are two links and so the filter thought it might be spam.)

    I really need to get on it and make those stickers that say “Your Cellphone Fuels War in the Congo” that I’ve been planning.

    The most I’d heard in relation to those were some things about Coltan, and the bits about Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi – much of which I gleaned from The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith. It’s a huge book, but since he covers 50 years worth of almost the entire continent, he can’t go into great detail in any single area.

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