I feel it is difficult to speak of capitalism as a whole, without falling in numerous traps and being accused of not knowing what I am talking about. So first thing I did was to go on Wikipedia, then I stopped myself. Don't get me wrong, I will read it and say what I think of it, but first capitalism must be, before anything else, what the people inside really feel it is. Not the perfect book definition that we all wish it to be, because in practice we know capitalism has evolved into something else, that many consider a real monster and threat to humanity.
This point becomes clearer when we read Karl Marx and his ideas of a perfect socialism, which in real life has been the breeding ground of corruption and governments' hidden agendas, who drove us all to utter failure. I read a bit of Karl Marx a long time ago, I like to say I didn't, and yes, I was charmed by it. In reality, what I have observed of what we have done in his name, has alarmed me so much, the only solution I could see was to discredit the man, because no one ever again should use Karl Marx as any kind of authority to justify the worst atrocities and injustices this humanity has seen. I may talk more about this one day, right now I wish to define my own definition of capitalism.
What is capitalism in your own mind? What is it in my mind? Well, it is our new religion, it is all that we believe in. We claim it is our way to freedom, the liberation of the masses, our chance to succeed beyond measure at becoming filthy rich and powerful, no matter our background, our education, our social class. Capitalism can be reduced to the American Dream.
In my total ignorance of what exactly is capitalism, I have to say, yes, capitalism is wonderful! I want that chance to freedom, I want to become filthy rich and powerful, I want to do what I want to do in this life, nothing else. At this point I realise that I need to dig further. What else do we believe it is?
Well, it is a system, an economic system upon which our existence, our corporations, our governments base everything they think and do. What it seems to be about is capital, making money, as much as one can, to the detrimental of just about everything else in life. If the one at the top prospers, we all prosper. A rich company will create jobs and should in theory pay its employees well. The private sector is where capitalism is applied, though even government agencies think in capitalist terms, and if there is a way to make a profit in anything, we should certainly go for it and make tons of money that could be re-invested somewhere else.
When I was child, my parents never had with me the big talk about capitalism and what it meant. They never told me what was expected of me in such a system. Haven't they? They certainly pushed my sister and I to the limits. We had to have a great education, we had to succeed at any cost and attend the best universities, we had to become rich and have a great status in this society, the best job one can hope for. Medical, law and engineering were the only obvious choices available to us. However, in retrospect, they were misguided. No one becomes rich being a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. Poor shadows of what capitalism truly means.
Capitalism means starting your own business and building it until it becomes a huge corporation employing thousands of people worldwide in some sort of wonderful perfect globalised world. Lawyers in Canada can eventually do that, they can start their own law firm. Engineers can do the same, creating their own engineering consulting firm. Doctors in Canada cannot really go private, in the United States however they can, as it is all mostly private. This led to horrifying results, where doctors became nothing less than advertising agencies for the almighty pharmaceutical companies, pushing half baked drugs that they all know don't work, and in many cases, make the patients worse.
Perhaps capitalism should never have been applied in certain areas of our society. There is no need to become extreme, like in the United States, or we will eventually reach a point where everything will come crumbling down to dust, as we are witnessing right now in the stock exchange market and financial sector. Too much greed will be our downfall, just as it has always been throughout the ages.
At its most basic definition, I think it is fair to say that what comes to mind to anyone when we talk about capitalism, is this law of the offer and the demand. Let's forget here about advertising and marketing, forcing us to wish for things we would never have thought we needed in the first place. We live in a society of consumerism, highly materialistic in nature, where your only goal in life is to acquire as many possessions and assets as you can, as it is how you will be judged and respected in society. How much wealth you have will define how great a man or a woman you truly are, your worthiness to exist. This is what the meaning of life has been reduced to under capitalism, a game of Monopoly, and I dare you to deny it. It is such a shame, as I do love to play Monopoly on my Nintendo DS. I am a product of my generation, well, almost.
It's okay, I am still not criticising capitalism that badly, who knows, maybe it is the way to go. After all, what other system has brought us anything better? None. Might seem a bit superficial, plastic, meaningless, and so on, and on, and on. If one wishes to be the devil's advocate in this case, my God, that one could go on forever about how misplaced this whole philosophy of life can be, and how more important stuff are actually... well, much more important. Like, I don't know, emancipation, happiness, finding a meaning to our existence and figuring what is this place, the universe we live in. Finding some peace about who we are and what we are supposed to do here, if anything.
Freedom and happiness are still key to everything, we should never forget that. I believe they tried to convince us that it was embedded in the whole capitalism system. You are free to become a civil servant doing admin for the rest of your life, or create your own business and become as rich as your imagination and cleverness or shrewdness will lead you to.
Then, I suppose, capitalism only becomes a real problem to you if you are just a civil servant with no thirst to becoming rich and controlling the planet. Otherwise, wow, what a great life you can have, a real challenge that will answer all your prayers, assuming you have totally espoused the capitalist way of thinking. You might find later on in life that this was after all a bit meaningless, but who cares. Whilst you were in the thick of it, it seemed right, it was fulfilling, it was exciting, you can be proud of yourself and your achievements, you certainly cannot be faulted for it, you will be envied.
In order to get a better idea about how great capitalism is, we need to turn to our models and heroes of capitalism. I reckon, that should be anyone who has made over a billion dollars and who took the time later on in life to write his or her autobiography, or at least who have given us enough to understand how they truly felt about it. Then, we also need to assess if they have not simply continued to play the game and are not just telling us how great and successful they have been. I mean, a real turn around to assess exactly and honestly how they feel about it all.
I can think of two great examples, perhaps the greatest ever, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. It does not matter who they are and how they made it. If you do not know who they are, forget it. All you need to know is that they made billions of dollars and build up the most successful corporations this world has ever seen. And later on in life, they both seemed to have suffered from some sort of existential crisis, and realised that perhaps life and our values were not all that they should have been.
So now they have decided to turn the table around and help the world with their fortune, by squandering their money away to every loser on the planet who has never heard of capitalism or cannot even dream to ever find out. The people who most probably suffered greatly at the hand of capitalism, since no system ever could sustain itself without exploitation of others and some sort of slavery in the form of cheap labour. Capitalism is not the exception here, I'm afraid.
So, what do we learn from Gates and Buffett? That capitalism is great indeed, but that it is not all there should be, and it should not become a religion. That a good balance about everything in life might actually bring more freedom and happiness. Greed is eternal, as the Ferengi Commerce Authority would say, but there comes a point when it simply becomes meaningless and cannot serve to justify one's entire existence or course of action, and certainly should not be the main principle upon witch the whole of humanity should be based. Greed is not eternal after all in the Divine Treasury after death. We should welcome entering the Vault of Eternal Destitution at any time, as a sign that we figured it all out, what life is actually really about, which cannot be a Blessed Exchequer. At least, I refuse to believe it.
There are other models that we need to study. The ones born and brainwashed into the capitalist system, driven to madness with this desire to succeed at any cost, and who simply cannot make it. Ruined existences, by an impossible desire responsible for a large percentage of the depression and suicides in our society. It is a fact that, though we have produced time and time again generations of people driven to succeed in such a system, it is clear that only a very small percentage can actually succeed.
Is the hope of succeeding and freeing oneself, enough to sustain such a system? Or is it time to wonder if our values are completely misplaced and that, how we define success and ourselves in society, has to change? Excellent question, you can ponder over that one to your heart's content, especially if you are a failure and worth absolutely nothing, which statistically speaking, I'm sure you are.
Capitalism is certainly better than the previous feudal system. Ironically, we could say that capitalism was sort of invented and made popular in England, where the feudal system never actually died out. I am still a servant to my Queen, working for Her Majesty's Courts Service. And as such, it is illegal for me to talk about politics, and to a certain extent, I would think, to talk about capitalism or anything related to any political agenda. Let my dear Queen sue me, I would love to see that show, because I don't care, I will still speak my mind, and so should you. Who has a backbone around here? You, the people, or the governments? And who can we trust? In God we trust? In Money we trust? Or in People we trust? Yeah, I am asking you, and please do answer truthfully, for once.
Capitalism has a better track record than socialism, and is clearly the winner over any kind of form of communism we have observed in this world. I am however Canadian, and Canada is not pure capitalism like its neighbour. Canada is a mix between capitalism and socialism. I think we reached the right balance, and still managed to become a force of nature in the world, a country which is more readily admired than the United States. There are many reasons for that, not all of them admirable, because we depend and count too much on our neighbour. As a result we can afford to forego an out of control military industry and other things. We never felt the need to develop our own nuclear armament for example, we never needed to, not yet anyway.
Some American States have become a bit more socialist in time. California is the example that comes to mind. I think it is a great example, and that they show very well to the rest of America that there is no need to be extreme in anything, especially not capitalism, because it could ultimately eventually become our downfall. And that, coming from the State that probably benefitted most from capitalism in the history of America. Perhaps they can only afford today to be a bit more socialist because pure capitalism made them so rich in the first place. Who knows, it does not matter anyway. What matters is that socialism means a bit of compassion and empathy for the rest of us. It says: if you are in trouble, no matter who you are and what you have accomplished in this great system of ours, we will help you, we will not let you die without food, a roof and medical assistance. Here is a greater message of hope than the American Dream could ever provide to most of us.
In conclusion, I won't read the entry of capitalism on Wikipedia. I don't feel the need to bore myself to death. I think I said all that I felt the need to say on the topic. Capitalism and socialism are what we think they are, what we make them to be. Yes, I am charmed by Karl Marx and his ideal world. I am also charmed by capitalism. There are also many ideas coming from the anarchist front which I believe are worth integrating as well. However, history tells us that economic systems taken individually, do not work and lead to abuse and unhappiness. Driving a system to any sort of extreme is our only problem, as I believe we already have all the solutions on the table. Extremes have always been our downfall. A perfect mix of capitalism, socialism and anarchism is the answer, eliminating any kind of extreme in between. That might bring the sort of freedom and happiness I'm sure we are all looking for, the real meaning of this existence, no matter in which system we live in and the religion we believe in. In people we trust, and nothing else.
This article is an excerpt of the book Destructivism, The Path to Self-Destruction, written by Roland Michel Tremblay. It is available online for free on his website, it also contains all his previous political articles: