There are plenty of anti-capitalism opinions reflected in print, the media and on the Internet. When I read such material, I feel the need to reply in the form of an article in this blog, but I can rarely find the time.
Recently, however, I came across another such article in the blog of a friend of mine (the English text is a Google translation from the Spanish original), which has motivated me to write back.
The above-linked article presents capitalism as the source of corruption, slavery, drug trafficking, real state speculation, and several more calamities and misfortunes. It also describes capitalism as a system consisting of robbery, oppression of people, exploitation of workers, all for the benefit of just a few people (the capitalists). It even defines it as a system created by humans to cause hatred of some humans against others.
On the contrary, capitalism is not the source of evil because evil does exist independent of capitalism and independent of any other social or economic system. I will argue here that both capitalism and evil are nothing but reflections of the human being, and neither is the consequence of the other.
Capitalism is defined as:
- an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.
The essence of the human being does not differ one bit from the other living creatures: Humans need to feed to survive, and they need a space to live in. From prehistoric times human beings needed to obtain food for themselves, and their “family” (I’ll use this term to refer to those other human beings he or she had to feed). The very action of “obtaining” the food represented an amount of effort and work employed by an individual. The investment of time and effort in obtaining that food already grants that individual ownership over that food.
The concept of ownership is linked to the existence of other human beings, who may be very willing to simply take the food that their neighbour obtained after employing time and effort. In other words, it is necessary to create the concept of private property (ownership) to provide the hunter humans some guarantee that they are not wasting their time and effort in chasing animals down to get food. In the absence of other humans around, private property is meaningless. However, as soon as other humans are around, protection is needed from stealing. Private property becomes a necessary concept that must be acknowledged by a community of human beings in recognition of the effort, time or resources that one individual has employed to obtain something else. Everything has a value for an individual, and it has a value for others, who would find it far easier to steal what other humans obtained or produced rather than employing effort of their own. This is a key difference between humans and most other animals: humans can see the value of the work done by others, and can plan to take advantage of the effort of others, while other animals cannot. Other animals taking food from humans are moved by the availability of that food, or its being easier to grab than other food available in the environment. Moreover, humans recognize value in items other than food: tools, materials, and other goods can also be sought after by other humans (who did not produce them). Therefore, the concept of “property” is need by humans only in relation with other humans, not in relation with other living beings.
Because the human being is a social being, living in communities with other humans, “ownership” is an absolutely necessary concept to take into account to study or define human relationships.
Another natural trait of humans is their tendency towards simplifying tasks. If someone employed their time in producing rice crops and others in fishing, wouldn’t it be easier for both to exchange some of each other’s production rather than both becoming farmer and fisherman?. Barter emerged as a natural way of obtaining a variety of types of food, hard to obtain otherwise due to lack of time, resources or skill. Land, production tools and other items would be equally exchanged in the same manner. One problem of bartering was the perceived value of goods. With time, this system evolved to eliminate differences in value perception of different goods, and a common token of exchange would be adopted, to represent equal value to all users of the token system: one token might represent two packs of rice, or one fish. These tokens are nothing but money: a single coin that has a value agreed by all its users. Trading of rice for fish came to an end, and trade of coins for fish, or coins for rice became the norm. Thus the birth of money, as a natural evolution of bartering.
Money is a mere token of value, common to all people who produce and consume different types of goods. Money is a reflection of human nature, since it represents trade of goods among humans.
Whether we are considering rice-for-fish trading or monetary transactions, it is all an economic system. From the Greek roots of the word, “economy” means village (or household) management. That is: management of the community, of one’s house in terms of the resources needed to keep the village or household running. Such resources are the food needed to feed people, the tools need to produce or catch food, the materials to build shelters, etc..
I.e., an “economy” is also a concept inherent to human nature. By mixing the use of money (common token system instead of barter), the economic system based on money only makes the management of one’s household more convenient, as it greatly reduces complexity to obtain needed or wanted goods. Nature’s tendency towards simplification can also be seen in this evolution and creation of economy based on the common token system.
Therefore, from the very human nature emanate two basic facts that have since ruled human societies:
- On the one hand, the recognition of an individual’s work and its products is a must. Hence, private property and ownership.
- On the other hand, the economic system emerges as the natural way to cooperate in the production and exchange of goods among humans.
Capitalism derives from these two basic facts: Private property of goods and means of production of goods, and an economic system that permits the management of wealth for individuals and organizations. In a typical capitalist system nowadays the means of production and exchange of wealth are in private hands, in the exact same way as with humans in the stone age.
Current capitalist structures, far more complex than the structures required to cover the human’s initial basic feeding needs, are nothing but the natural evolution of a system made of human beings, due to the nature of those very human beings. The system experienced an increase in complexity by several orders of magnitude over thousands of years, due to several factors including population increases, improvements of tools and techniques, production increases, trade, communication with other peoples, etc…
So far I have established that capitalism derives from human nature. This fact is neither good nor bad in itself. It is a fact, and I believe that the fact that capitalism is in effect in most of the world goes to show that nature cannot be fought. Non-capitalist systems are anti-natural because they clash in one way or another with the nature of the individual elements that make up the system, the human beings. Sooner or later, any system that attempts to impose customs which conflict with its elements’ nature, will collapse.
The evil that some like to ascribe to capitalism effuses from humans, not from capitalist systems or structures.
Another trait of human nature is its capacity for goodness, greed, kindness, envy, self-improvement or advantage-taking. These forces drive human actions, and human societies are shaped by the supply of each of these forces which can be found in the group. These forces are always present, regardless or the system or organization that relates humans among each other.
Let us take for example communism, which imposes an artificial rule stating that all people must have equal wealth, with the goal of ensuring that all people can see their needs satisfied: food, shelter, education, etc… In such a system no one is allowed to do work or produce as much as they please, but rather must conform with the established “quota” of work and goods allocated for all people. This is unnatural because on the one hand restricts and negates people’s desires for improvement (self or group), while on the other hand forces upon people the load of supporting the living of crooks taking advantage of society. Other anti-natural systems have ceased to exist as well, like feudalism, for it also restricted people’s freedoms.
Capitalism vs. others
These economic systems have truly used slavery (feudalism), have blatantly experienced corruption and robbery (communism), and above all have oppressed people, restricting their ability to pursue their own well-being, while failing spectacularly in defending the well-being of the general public.
Capitalism, on the other hand, is the natural expression of human interactions. It does suffer from the bad qualities of humans, like any other system, but its lack of anti-natural laws makes it the system with the least flaws and the best suited to play well with its components: humans.