Is Capitalism Always The Answer?

by The Happy Rock on September 8, 2009

I know that probably sounds like blasphemy to a lot of folks out there, but I am starting to feel like it is the truth. As much as I like free markets, they don’t magically solve every problem.  We all probably have different definitions of what we think capitalism is, so let’s define it so we all start off on the same page.  I am not saying this is a perfect definition, but one that is probably is digestible by all of us.

Capitalism – An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods that are distributed chiefly by competition in a free market

I am really not here to bash capitalism, as I can only think of two other system that would work better, a completely benevolent king/dictator or communism. That’s right communism, not Marxism or the cold war kind or even the Communist China type of communism, but voluntary communism. Despite what you think about those two systems and how they might succeed or fail, free markets are wonderful and have a multitude of advantages.

Capitalism in and of itself is is fairly amoral, although one might argue the natural effects of capitalism on the human condition often leads us down immoral paths. With that said, what I really want to do is start a dialogue about some holes I am beginning to see in the American capitalism. I am not going to bore you with economic theory or politics, I would rather discuss actual stories of people that are near and dear to my heart.

Mom – The Hard Working Volunteer

katrina-help-rebuildFirst, let me set the stage for who my mom is. She is a poster-child for free market success and the American dream. As a poor single mother at the age of twenty she hustled her way from nearly homeless and living off food stamps and government cheese, to waitressing, to an associate’s degree, and finally to a $60,000+ a year job in a little over 25 years. She is the type of person that realizes that she needs to get n degree and within weeks is enrolled in classes, regardless of the numerous roadblocks like money, time, and child care.  She escaped poverty , owned a home, and had a decent sum of money in the bank. The American Dream in action, with one little problem… she hated her field with a passion and only did it to get me through my expensive private school and provide for us.   What an awesome unselfish parent! My life reaped the benefits of her love and devotion many times over.

After I left home, she decided to the sell the house, quit the job, and take up volunteering. This is where capitalism started to turn its back on her. She traveled to Zambia to help out in orphanages, educated children and adults on global poverty and hunger, rebuilt after Katrina, was a community organizer in a forgotten about city,  and much more. Through all of this, she is left without being able to afford health insurance, and barely able to afford a car and housing let alone many luxuries. Why, because there aren’t profits to be made when working with poor and needy.

Now this is one of the hardest working ladies you will probably know. She isn’t the stereotype of the lazy person who doesn’t want to help themselves that people often use as reasoning for the government to not help people and for people to justify not giving their time and money.  She is ambitious, motivated, committed, and hard working and has exceptional skills that she is bringing to society.

So where exactly does she fit in? I would think as a society we would want to support people like her. People who are willing to move travel where there are needs and give their time, energy, and love are in short demand. The ones that do exist have to barely eek out a financial existence.  They have to waste their energy worrying about meeting the basic necessities of life, when instead they want to use that energy to pour themselves into people and problems that could use their full attention.  It seems like there has to be a better way.

My Father In Law – The Devoted Farmer

farmer-tractor-farm-field-skyStory number is two about a farmer from birth. He lives and breathes farming, and for those that don’t know any farmers they might work harder than any profession I have ever seen. Imagine working seven days from morning till night.   The alarm goes off at 5:00am and he quickly grabs a small first breakfast and heads out to greet a never ending list of tasks often before the sun even rises.  As much as he wants to take off on the seventh day or take a vacation, he can’t. Crops and animals don’t stop needing your attention just because it is Sunday. Work must go on whether it is in the blazing sun, bitter cold, or windy rain.  Weather can also ruin months of work in a matter of days or hours.  No rain for a week or two when the corn is first planted and it all shrivels up.   I have gained a new found respect for the food I eat after spending years visiting a farm, it is brutal.

As hard as my father in law works, he will most likely never get ahead. Corporate farms and foreign imports usually ravage any  semblance of profit he might of been able to ring out of the earth.  He is forced to hop from one thing to another just trying to keep his head above water.  I have seen him go from milking dairy cows, to raising beef cattle, to pigeons, to pigs, to raising animals for other farmers,  all in less than 10 years.

He also isn’t a business man; that just isn’t one of the gifts that he has to offer this world.  He’s a farmer with an awesome heart. He sells his sweet corn cheaper than most people because his customers are mostly fellow church members, friends or neighbors, and his dozen is more like 14 than 12.  I remember the first time I helped the family weigh and wrap scrapple to sell.  The capitalist in me struggled to watch him always round up and provide more product than he was ‘supposed’ too at prices that were already too low.  As time moves on I have come to really appreciate the heart and love for people that goes into most everything he does.    I know it doesn’t make business sense, but he can’t ignore his heart.  It is big like that, with a focus that is always on others.  He doesn’t have expensive tastes and he isn’t wasting money either.  Even with all his frugality, he won’t ever ‘make it’.

Again this is someone I would think society would want to encourage, not discourage. A man with that type of heart and that type of work ethic deserves to be rewarded not beaten down. He would be happy if he could just pick a crop or animal to raise that would fetch a fair price and rewarded him just reasonably well.  But I am just not sure that will happen in this day and age.  It seems like the  system often discourages certain skill sets that we deem not as important rather than making sure that he has a revered and useful and compensated place. What is someone like this supposed to do?

What’s The Answer?

There you have it. Two beautiful hard working people that are outcasts in a capitalist system. There are others outcasts too(the poor, the sick, and the producers for starters), but these two people are real. I can’t help but root for them, although they won’t ever ‘win’. I know capitalism doesn’t mean them any direct harm, but it isn’t doing anything to help encourage them or even the playing field. The question is what is the answer? Do we need government to step in? Do we need to focus on a guiding morality to help govern our choices within a capitalist society? Should they just get with the program and start trying to acrue as much money as possible? Should they move to a different country?  I certainly don’t have any answers yet, but I think the questions are definitely worth asking.

[Title Edit 9/9/09]  Changed from Capitalism Is Not The Answer to better reflect the spirit of the post rather than be sensational and distract from the discussion.