It Wasn't Capitalism

 An often repeated talking point from freemarketeers is that capitalism brought us the modern world, and lifted so many people out from under the poverty line. It was the single reason for the growth of the middle classes! This is why we should accept any concept of questioning or weakening pure capitalist society as a definite evil. After all, it was the thing that saved us from feudal drudgery and suffering.

The truth is that middle classes could not have existed without innovations that were brought about in a capitalist world, but none of these things would have happened if it weren't for a philosophical movement called empiricism. Empiricism is the idea that to understand something, you have to look at it. Oddly, it took humanity a very long time to settle this question, with the human species strongly opting for rationalism in preceding ages. This is the idea that you don't have to look at something to know it. You only have to think about it. This is why pre-modern medicine was often useless, and why it took humans so long to figure out that the earth was not the center of the universe. 

Without empiricism, our modern world could not exist. The concepts of capitalism itself are based on empiricist ideas. However the world has morphed capitalism into something that cannot be questioned. It takes credit for things that came about because people shared ideas and thought about stuff. It takes credit without evidence; without proof.

Modern capitalism has become a rationalist affair, bolstered by its own theology, neoclassical economics. Economics is a social science that is plagued by assumptions and uses internal measurements using these assumptions, like theologians measuring angel wings. One such example is the determination of CEO salaries. Despite scientific evidence that more money doesn't always make people more effective workers, economists casually whip out the tea leaves and goats entrails to determine massive CEO pay packages. Another example which is wonderful is how economists continue to fail to predict recessions and market crashes. What a wonderful social science it is! Not only is it not science, it is often anti-social too, reducing humans to rational robots that operate the market with vulcan like logic.

The capitalist presumption is one we are born into. We are culturally trained to see the world through money. We care if we buy someone a gift with money, or give money to a homeless person or charity. Weddings are lavish affairs that prove the love between partners by spending money. We buy expensive coffins for dead loved ones because we aren't really sad if we bought a cheap one. 

If we can see past that, then empiricism comes back into focus, but it's not that simple. Moral and political philosophy has brought us a long way. In many ways, our societies would not be so prosperous if we were still getting drunk and taking the kids to the gallows to watch the hanging.  Without public education, many of our achievements would have been out of reach, and people would still be going insane from lead poisoning in paint factories.

It's likely that capitalism has delivered some good things, but not all good things we know come from it. More importantly, if we assume it is the bringer of all things good we should push for more of it. But if it isn't it could be the lead that sweetens our wine. Maybe there are other ways to make wine without it without poisoning ourselves. The problem with something that works is that people keep doing it without questioning it, and eventually take it for granted. It becomes a natural presumption, not to be questioned. 

Seeing something for what it is or questioning the merits of it should not be seen as a sin. Saying bad things about capitalism is seen as a mortal sin, and it makes you a dirty socialist (sinner). Can we really honestly say that capitalism is the end of history? Can we really say that nothing better can be invented by human minds? Is this really the only way a prosperous society can exist? If we believe that, then we are victims of dogma. Creativity and ingenuity are hallmarks of human progress. If we could invent democracy and land robots on mars, maybe we can think of a better economic and political system than capitalism.



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