Capitalism does suck, we’re just brainwashed

| Senior Editor

In his recent letter to the editor, the author painted a glowing picture of capitalism. He made grandiose claims regarding capitalism’s benefit to the average person, claims I found difficult to believe. Capitalism has indeed generated remarkable amounts of wealth, but suggesting that the distribution of said wealth has helped everyone would simply be erroneous. In 2016, the top 10% of earners made 50% of the income in the United States. Those same 10% own 77% of the wealth. And the bottom 50%? Half of the American people? They own 1% of the wealth, with 1 in 10 having a negative net worth. In 2020, Jeff Bezos’s net worth rose by $87 billion, surpassing $200 billion as of August, while millions of Americans faced unemployment and a lack of wages. This is not the picture of a healthy economic system.

While capitalism may have helped with increases in quality of life and income, those are not its only effects. To further illustrate his praise of capitalism, the author illustrated how the average income has increased since the time of Jesus. That figure is misleading at best, as the cost of living has also substantially increased in that time. (The United States is one of the most expensive countries to live in in the world.) Additionally, presuming that the figure the author cites is for the Middle East, the lifestyle of that region was substantially different than that of a modern-day American. Living on the 2011 equivalent of $800, the amount that the author cited as the average income for someone in the time of Jesus, becomes much easier for people who are connected to food producers or are producers themselves—many people in this region at this time were pastoralists, and farther south into Arabia and west into Central Asia, nomadic groups abounded.

I admit, I do not have a way of determining the cost of living for people in the Middle East in 0 AD. That said, a CBS News report in 2018 found that the cost of living in America was increasing at a dramatic rate—inflation was at 2.9%, and wages were falling. Inflation has been a constant, and has increased especially fast since the Industrial Revolution. One dollar in 1776, the year of capitalism’s primary text, “The Wealth of Nations,” had the same purchasing power as $29.88 today.

The increase in income can also be linked with something the author neglects to point out—the increase in work hours. In non-agricultural work, European workers in 1870 worked an average of 60-70 hours per week. Peasants in the 1300s worked an average of 300 fewer hours per year than did US workers in 2015. (And the peasants worked on producing their food, unlike the majority of the modern workforce.) Granted, much of this is the product of the Industrial Revolution, a phenomenon which, contrary to the author’s claims, cannot be entirely caused by capitalism, as the British Industrial Revolution is widely considered to have begun in the 1760s, an entire decade before Adam Smith’s work.

To close, I would like to examine the point in the letter to the editor regarding “confusing capitalism with greed.” In modern capitalism, especially Reagan’s so-called ‘trickle-down economics,’ greed is a driving incentive for companies’ success. One person’s greed drives them to make more money, which will then presumably ‘trickle down’ to the people who work for them, to their communities, etc. Capitalism relies on greed to such an extent that separating the two seems impossible. Perhaps we cannot change human nature, as you say. But we certainly can stop relying on it to motivate our economic system.

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