This is a companion article to Is Socialism Evil? Are Socialists Evil? Most economists argue two things: A) Capitalism is not evil, it is amoral, and B) capitalism has produced all the wealth we enjoy. Both are false.
Evil here means anti-life. It means a soul-destroying system that elevates a few bad people and crushes the hopes and dreams and lives of most everyone else. Evil hurts and kills people, and even wrecks the very means of life.
Here is a common view:
Capitalism is not immoral but amoral. It does what its users demand of it. It has given us a choice of food, travel and technology that kings could only dream of. It will invent whatever instruments governments and consumers want, and if not given limits, its inventiveness knows few bounds.Tim Montgomerie
This is obviously false but almost everyone takes it as a matter of capitalist faith: Without capitalism, we’d be much, much poorer, say the capitalists.
There are multiple wrong statements in that short paragraph. First, capitalism is not ‘inventive,’ People are, and capitalism may or may not enable that, but the system itself cannot invent anything.
Ain’t Capitalism Grand?
It is a common belief that capitalism has created all the wealth and technology we see, and that without capitalism, we would be poorer and there would be far fewer material items like iPads. This is partly true. Capitalism has certainly caused a great amount of stuff to be produced, the vast majority of it garbage after a short time.
However, let’s not confuse produced under capitalism with produced by capitalism. Other economic systems are also capable of producing tremendous amounts of temporarily useful garbage, too. They are also perfectly capable of developing high tech. The Communist Soviet Union put a man in space before any capitalist country, and their space station is still the only one anyone ever created.
The Mixed Economy
Pretty much all economies today are mixed, meaning they have elements of capitalism and socialism. They protect private property and have laws enabling free markets, yet the government also intervenes as needed when corporations and the rich run to excess. What we argue over is how much capitalism versus socialism there should be.
The rich and their corporations are always pushing for more capitalism, less government. They make this case in terms of efficiency: government regulations are costing money and slowing things down, they claim. So regulations are removed and corporations then are free to externalize many costs such as pollution and even labour costs. Giant corporations like Walmart pay staff so little that they depend on social assistance.
This obviously does not really cost less, it simply transfers the cost to the rest of us. Walmart is a welfare bum, and when you start digging, almost all corporations are. Most would not be viable if they had to clean up their pollution (or not create it in the first place) and pay their staff a living wage.
More Capitalism, Less Everything Except Garbage
I don’t think anyone would disagree that our society produces an awful lot of stuff. Much of it becomes garbage moments after purchase – and not just the packaging. But producing lots of stuff isn’t necessarily good. It’s bad if most of what is produced becomes toxic garbage that we then eat, whether we want to or not.
The trash is literally piling up everywhere. Crooked corporations in corrupt developed countries illegally ship their trash to corrupt developing countries, where it poisons people. Sometimes they find out about it and attempt to embarrass the developed country by shipping the garbage back.
We, or rather the capitalists, are making this garbage by depleting our natural capital. Meaning, for example, that a corporation digs up oil in one country, causing pollution, sickness, and death while doing so. That oil is then shipped somewhere to be refined, following which it is burned and its waste products dumped into the air that we all breathe.
The Communists were hardly blameless: the Soviet Union was more polluting than the capitalist West. But just because capitalists polluted less per unit of GDP than the communists is hardly good. Both systems require “sacrifice zones.”
Sacrifice zones are areas where the people and environment are literally sacrificed so people elsewhere can have products for less money. This happens in diverse ways. A shoe factory in Asia, for example, may employ young women – under harsh and dangerous conditions for miniscule pay, only to fire them when their eyes burn out. A mine in South America or a factory in China may pollute the local area so badly that rates of cancer and birth defects skyrocket.
To be fair, it’s not just capitalism that sacrifices people – every hierarchical system seems to end up with evil people on top who are more than happy to sacrifice anyone and everyone below them. But why is capitalism making these sacrifice zones if it is superior to communism?
Evil Is As Evil Does
All hierarchical systems tend to wind up with bad people on top, because sociopaths are attracted to power and (their idea of) glory like moths to a flame. These systems not only lack controls to prevent sociopaths from gaining power, or expose and remove them if they manage to weasel their way into a position of power – they actually enable sociopaths to reach the top.
Most major religions are hierarchical and all have done some truly evil things in their day. Some still are. The Catholic Church is still quasi-apologizing for supporting the genocide against the Indigenous people in Canada, or the decades of child abuse by priests that they covered up.
Corporations are hierarchies and almost all have broken our laws, often more than once. (Check out The Corporation by Joel Bakan – the book and documentary are both excellent and eye-opening.) Consider the evil that tobacco and fossil fuel companies have done: They lied about the danger of their products and are responsible for the deaths of millions.
Governments are also hierarchies and are susceptible to being taken over by raving, homicidal maniacs if certain controls are not in place. Germany updated their electoral system to a new kind of proportional representation after World War II – in order to prevent another Hitler taking power. Democracy itself is supposed to prevent evil people from rising to the top, and to be transparent enough that they cannot conceal their evil deeds.
Capitalism Is Inherently Evil
Anyone paying attention has seen the evil that large corporations do:
- exploiting people in sweatshops
- denying climate change, thus sentencing billions to a harsh or no future
- demanding giant bailouts while lobbying for people to get none
- corrupting our elected governments to the point that the USA is an oligarchy
But capitalism’s supporters claim that capitalism is just a tool and it’s our own fault if we let people use that tool in ways that harm others. However, the tool itself is evil. Let’s take the religious perspective first:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.BibleHub
That seems pretty clear: it’s virtually impossible to get rich without doing evil. Now consider what a corporation is: It is an organization with the primary purpose of making money. Nothing else really matters, all that matters is how much money the company makes. That sounds like the love of money, and I think it’s fair to say that from the Christian morality, large corporations are inherently immoral, and this immorality has been demonstrated many, many times.
It’s More Cost-effective to Buy the Government than Compete
To recap: Corporations will take the most cost-effective path they can get away with, even if that way does great damage to people, to planet, to our democracy.
There is no capitalism without these rich people and the huge corporations they control. That is always the way: corporations consolidate into oligopolies. No executive really wants to compete on a level playing field, so the company gets bigger and bigger until it can influence the government. At that point, it becomes more cost effective to corrupt the government to block competitors, to get plush contracts, and more, so that’s what corporations do.
Corporations are led by people (mostly white men) who do this and much other evil on behalf of the company. People make these decisions to do evil. Either the corporation corrupted the individual or its power attracted corrupt people. Either way, much evil is done.
Capitalism will always favour the most-profit approach. That is, the people and companies that are the best lovers of money will be most successful in a capitalist economy. We see that now, with obscene paycheques and bonuses going to Wall Street hedge fund managers for shuffling money around. Meanwhile, people who love people, like teachers and nurses, are demonized and struggle to get fair pay.
Capitalism is always going to reward people who make the most money for companies – that’s how it works. And that will always favour dishonest people, because they will find ways to get favourable treatment from the government, to collude with others, and so on. One way to save money is to pollute without having to clean up their messes, and almost all corporations use this method.
If safety standards can be reduced, so much the better for a corporation. The defenders of capitalism will say that it is in the best long-term interest of the company to have a healthy workforce, but they ignore that short-term thinking – and profit-taking – is also inherent to capitalism. Shareholders want a return next quarter, not next decade, so workers are sacrificed.
In theory, factory owners should not want their factories burning down with the workers chained inside, yet Bangladesh has factory fires like the US has mass shootings.
The Definition of Insanity…
Often attributed to Albert Einstein, there is no proof he said that the “definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Still, it’s useful. Proponents of capitalism often attack Communism or socialism to deflect, but the fact is, capitalism is not working the way we need our economic system to work. It is producing highly negative outcomes in the form of climate change, government corruption, and gross inequality leading toward civil unrest. Further, capitalism enables government repression and makes lots of money from wars.
We need to replace capitalism with something that is people and planet-friendly, rather than a system than consumes everything and calls that profit. If we keep ‘doing capitalism’ and expecting a different outcome, well….