Capitalism is a crap system

Mother bear and cubs
Drawing by Julie Gabrielli, 2015

I never took Econ in college, which qualifies me to think freely. Haha! This is like when climate deniers start with, “I’m no scientist, but . . .” (Ignorance is no excuse, but it’s also bliss.) That’s not to say I haven’t read widely since: Ecology of Commerce, Natural Capitalism, Sacred Economics, Small is Beautiful, Deep Economy, Plan B, The Real Wealth of Nations, and The Truth About Green Business.  To name a few.

It struck me recently that Capitalism is a crap system. It’s a lie. It’s a wonder that a system relying on cooked books and slave labor has survived this long. I guess it’s a testament to greed and stubbornness or the lure of power and willful ignorance.

Capitalism doesn’t account for its true costs. It does not factor in the costs of environmental despoliation and degradation. It does not account for the true costs of waste. That a capitalist system has waste at all is a gaping design flaw unworthy of us as the self-appointed cleverest species.

By far worst of all, it does not count the true cost of labor. Not from its earliest beginnings, in the heyday of growth and brutal slave labor, not the offshoring era to black and brown people in the global south. Not here, now, with the refusal to pay workers a living wage and the obscene (and still growing) wealth gap. Not with union-busting and exploitative practices, like keeping a workforce just under the eligibility line for benefits like pensions and health insurance. And bathroom breaks (looking at you, Amazon).

That we must have so many laws to force corporations to do the right thing—for people and for the environment—is itself an obvious tell that it’s a crap system. That corporate execs think it’s fine to cultivate (buy) politicians in order to gut and slash those same regulations just makes the case for me.

It’s right there in the name. Capitalism premiates capital—money—over all else. My family says I’m no fun because I finally admitted how much I hate Monopoly, and I refuse to play it. Capitalism itself is a game, the rules of which require ruthlessness and greed in order to win. No amount of protectionist, well-meaning regulation can remodel a system based on money as the prime value. Capitalism’s evil twin, Finance, is an even worse game. It’s legalized gambling that produces nothing useful or life-affirming.

E.F. Schumacher’s “Buddhist Economics” was one attempt to remodel Capitalism. It centers economics on the relationship between people and nature, and each other. Not a bad idea. Riane Eisler’s “Caring Economy” says, fundamentally, that people are the real wealth of nations. It places value on relationships and caretaking, in addition to production and things. A system based on these proposals would be worlds better than the heartless lie of Capitalism.

Any system that takes as a given the exquisite, immeasurable value of people and the living earth—our home—is a good start.

Any system that throws out the idea of haves and have-nots, that respects and appreciates the inherent value and goodness of all is a good start.

Any system that understands that every single person belongs here, and is needed, is a good start.

I was accused on a FB comment thread yesterday of being “utopian.” I had just suggested that funding mental health care, good schools, housing, social workers, addiction treatment on demand, and job training was a better use of money than to keep asking police to do all those jobs from the end of a gun or a baton. The war on drugs has destroyed communities and made everyone less safe. No one wants the system we have. No one thinks it’s working, not even the police.

Years ago, the environmentalist businessman Paul Hawken said he’s often accused of being a dreamer. His response: “Our children are begging us to start dreaming.” That’s doubly true today.

Capitalism is a crap system. Nowhere in our country’s founding documents does it say we must be a Capitalist country. Contrary to many assumptions, the American Dream is not a Capitalist dream. I always thought it was about democracy, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. Isn’t it?

It’s often assumed that anyone who bad-mouths Capitalism must be a commie or (heaven forbid!) a socialist. I may not have studied Econ in college, but I know the difference between economic systems and political ones. Maybe our democracy is under such epic strain, because of our mindless worship of the Capitalist economic system. And our conflation of it with the philosophies of the Founders.

There are other economic models. At least Socialism puts people and society in the name. Worker-owned co-operatives work quite well all over the world, including here in the U.S.

Tinkering may help. Reformers of Capitalism understand the subtleties better than I. Hawken and Lovins proposed a way to factor in the true costs of natural resources and to redesign our systems to eliminate the concept of waste.

Taxing billionaires might be a start, but as long as we still have the concept of waste—which, sadly, includes people and whole communities—we won’t get very far.

Fundamentally, I want to go after the flawed, toxic assumption that lies at the cold dead heart of Capitalism: that people with money are superior to people with less or no money. That having money entitles you to selfish exemption from common decency and even the laws of physics. Having money infects the brain to make people think they can drill, mine, extract, pollute, and exploit to their heart’s desire.

Capitalism is killing us. And it’s killing the planet—which is also us. This is not news.

As we consider a wholesale redesign of our public safety and criminal justice systems, I hope we will widen the lens to include Capitalism itself. Not because I want to make everything even more difficult and complicated. Because if we don’t fundamentally insist that people matter and keep pointing out that black and brown people have historically borne the brunt and shouldered 99% of the burden of Capitalism’s toxic lies, we will simply be re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

6 thoughts on “Capitalism is a crap system

  1. “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

    ~Abraham Lincoln

    Thanks Julie!

  2. Julie, I wish I’d had something more like this perspective when we met, while I was still in Maryland. I’m glad at any rate to find again that we’ve become more firmly fellow travelers despite not being in a place to sustain that direct conversation.

    I think you’d be encouraged by stuff we’re starting to get under way with at Solidarity Hall — all too gradually, which is partly about the distance covered from the more politically ‘centrist’ posture where SH began and partly about the limits of what we can do without funds. You might find the ‘Eutopia Workshops’ thing started in April (introduced here) particularly interesting.

  3. I so agree with all of this, Julie. And it’s really important to have these conversations! Capitalism and consumerism are so omnipresent in our system that most people don’t even think of questioning it. I do. I hate it. I believe it is a completely unnatural system.

    Thanks for writing.
    It’s time for a peaceful revolution!!!!

  4. Good blog, but I disagree about the Founding Fathers’ intent.
    The so-called Founding Fathers overthrew feudalism in favor of capitalism. They were wealthy, white, male, land and slave owners who didn’t want to pay taxes and who want to make money.
    The US is exactly what they wanted it to be and the fight for freedom (ending slavery, women’s suffrage, voting rights, GLBTQ+ rights, etc.) have involved an uphill battle against the Founder’s ideology.
    The US was set up by rich, white, males as a capitalist utopia. We’ve had to fight them every since 1787.

    • Thanks for your comment. I realize I was confusing what they *said* (“all men are created equal”) with what they *did* – which, as you point out, was to set up a country that worked for them. This reminds me of that pearl-clutching expression whenever something dramatic happens, like the January 6th insurrection: “This isn’t who we are.” Hmmm. Actually, yes. It is *exactly* who we are; we just got caught pretending otherwise. Thanks for reading!

Leave a Reply