May 29, 2010

Is Capitalism Evil?

I'm a little late to the table on this question, but is Capitalism evil? My boyfriend and I watched the Michael Moore film Capitalism a few days ago and have been arguing since. My boyfriend believes the whole capitalism is evil argument, while I'm torn. It is a system based on greed and greed ultimately equals corruption (because that's just the way people are), however it's the best system I know. That's not saying it's the right way to have an economy.

If my boyfriend had his way, he'd live in a real communist society. One where everyone really gets exactly the same. His happiness will never come from material goods. He could live in a cardboard box and be perfectly happy as long as he had the freedom to live as he chooses and more importantly that he knows everyone else is equally compensated.

I, on the other hand, live my life squeezing out pennies from my salary, negotiating for higher pay, working long hours at two jobs to earn as much income in as little time so I can put it into the stock market and other less risky savings vehicles and have compound interest hopefully work it's magic for the future. It's not that I need a lot of money to be happy... I more so need a lot of money to feel comfortable. Maybe that's the evils of capitalism telling their story.

My boyfriend likes to compare Hitler killing all the Jews to capitalism, because in a capitalist society you have the super rich and then everyone else is poor, and there's very little in between. As a Jew, I kind of take offense to this argument. I don't think it's the same thing at all. In Capitalism, everyone DOES have a chance to succeed. Not everyone will. Some people do have an unfair advantage. But no one is taking masses of people and killing them in gas chambers. The comparison is unexcusable.

But -- I'm not sure where I stand on the whole capitalism thing. If I knew that I could make less money but have stability over the years (a pension, enough to buy a house, live a decent life, take vacations every few years) then maybe I wouldn't be so set in supporting capitalism. The only way I can see living that life is through capitalism now. Even if I'm able to sock away $50k per year after tax for the rest of my life, it will take me 20 years to become a millionaire. I'll be 46. That's not so bad, but that also means that I will need to keep renting an apartment with roommates, will need to keep working two jobs with one of them being for a large corporation that can afford to pay a 6 figure contractor salary, and I'll have to sacrifice much of my life for work.

At least with the stock market there's the chance that those 20 years can be shorter, or that I can save less each year and through compound interest have my million or two million in retirement. I know I won't have a pension. I don't know how much social security will be around by the time I retire. I can't lead a comfortable life unless I know I can save money and have it grow.

Ok, so the biggest argument in the movie that I can say my boyfriend and I agree on is that politicians shouldn't be allowed to be funded by private corporations. That really is just asking for corruption. It doesn't even help the small businesses because the only companies who can afford to have major influence are the ones who are already super rich.

But I don't want to live in a communist society. I like making money. It seems that's the only thing I'm passionate about these days. I don't even like spending money anymore. The more I make, the less I want to spend, because I'm able to start saving thousands of dollars a year. My goal this year is for my networth to go from $50k to $100k. And what's amazing is that it's possible. I'm one of the lucky ones, sure, but I'm still working two jobs. I'm still finding out what my skills are and applying them to roles where I can make a decent wage. I still know that I can lose my job at any second, so I have a sizable emergency fund, and I don't have debts so if I need to cut back on my spending I could feasibly live off $1,000 a month. I wouldn't get to save any more, but I wouldn't be losing money. I wouldn't be evicted.

Maybe I can't understand yet because I don't have a family. I'm sure it's a lot harder with kids. I have so much freedom as a single person to say I can live on $1k a month. But that's why I believe in spending your 20s earning as much as possible and saving as much as possible. Living as cheaply as possible. Work hard now, play later. Hope the stock market doesn't completely crash. That's my motto. Does that make me a capitalist? Eh, I guess so. Will my boyfriend ever understand? I think not.


Chris said...

Socialism is an idea that sounds pretty good until you put people into the picture. Even on a small scale, it is difficult to ensure that every person gives and receives the same amount.

I did some reading this semester about people living in socialist societies, and even in the most tightly controlled areas black markets would pop up for things like eggs and books. I believe that people are naturally capitalistic, looking for opportunities to grow their own value and gain recognition for their natural talents and original ideas.

eemusings said...

Right now I'm feeling the same. Life is work, work and more work (day job and side ventures.) I want to make as much as possible so I can save, because right now I'm the main income earner and even my pay increase is just being eaten up by providing for the two of us.

Harm said...

Is your boyfriend a dedicated long time communist, or has
he just been one since watching Mr. Moore's film?
(hint to your boyfriend: People are more equal in
a capitalist society than a socialistic one)
"My boyfriend likes to compare Hitler killing all the Jews to capitalism, because in a capitalist society you have the super rich and then everyone else is poor, and there's very little in between."
Ask your boyfriend, what does Hitler have to do with capitalism? (Nothing, Hitler was a socialist dictator. Nazi stands for 'National Socialism')

aspiringminimalist said...

I think that communism is good on paper. People are greedy, it is human nature.

My father fled from Vietnam during the war because of communism from northern Vietnam. His father worked hard to provide for their family of 10 children (my dad being the oldest). People converted as much of their money to gold bars, and hid them in their house (under floor boards, walls, etc) because they had to give all their money to the government to be "re-distributed."

For a while, Vietnam was very quiet. There was little business on the streets - because why work when one didn't have to? Besides, why work when you can't enjoy the benefits of your work?

In the past few years, there has been some more boom in the economy - though it is still cash driven. People are buying and selling again, and it was quite a bustle in the markets when I visited two years ago.

I believe that capitalism can be good if we all have compassion.

Investing Newbie said...

I'm a staunch supporter of capitalism in all of its greedy glory. However, I also feel that in a capitalist society we shouldn't just stop at the "everyman for himself" thought process. No. Those that are successful should have a DUTY to those that aren't as successful, whether it is through time (such as volunteering) or financial means (donations, creating jobs, etc.) This is why capitalism has such a bad name, because people make money and keep it, but as aspiring minimalist said above, if we have compassion for those that are less fortunate than us than capitalism can be a great system.

Unfortunately, once you start talking about helping someon else out, there go the greediest of capitalists crying "Socialist." It isn't about equality. I would never give half of my money to someone who had none so that we could be equal. It is about realizing how much I need to be comfortable and using the rest not to better myself, but society as a whole. And this isn't socialist, because I'm not dictating how much one needs to live on. No, that should be for you to decide. But I'm guessing two 24K gold toilets is probably crossing the line. Just sayin...

Rebecca said...

Communism DOES look good on paper. But looking at history, and current day communist socieities, I wouldn't exactly want to live in one. Capitalism might have its faults but right now it's the one I feel most comfortable with.

One thing I find fault with is the "Work hard now, play later" comment. I understand it. I really do. And I agree that you should save as much as possible and try to live frugally where you can.

On the other hand...

What if there IS no later? What if you spend the next 20 years living with roommates, working 2 jobs, and dedicating your life to work so that you can "play later" only to wake up one day and realize that it is now "later" and you're still not satisfied? Don't sacrifice your overall quality of life just so that you can have some extra money in the bank later on. Not trying to get philosophical here or anything, but we really have no idea what tomorrow is going to bring. Plus, if you spend so much time worrying about money and stressing about your savings then when you DO get to the point where you feel like you will be able to enjoy it, and you might not ever reach that point, then are you going to be able to spend it? Or will you think about all the years that you spent saving it and stress every time you watch a dollar disappear?

Tri Dave said...

Read "Thou Shall Prosper" by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. It presents very thoughtfully, how capitalism and the accumulation of wealth is a noble calling. It also speaks about how generally Jewish people have prospered at higher rates over many decades than some other groups of people.

Greed is not a byproduct of capitalism, it is a part of human nature. Something that we all have at different levels. Some are able to control it better than others.

I guess I'm a little late with this comment too. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rebecca in as much as you seem obsessed with saving and feeling comfortable... but you're missing out on the main part of your life as you do this. This is something I find sad about capitalism, for instance, my mum's worked hard all her life as a nurse, and shes nearly 60 now, and shes just finished paying her mortgage. Shes a frugal woman. Come on, you work hard all your life so you can live in the house you're going to retire in?

Im guessing most of the people supporting capitalism in the comment section are doing well as a result of it. It's all very well defending it because you've done well, but think about the bigger picture. How is the rest of the world doing as a result of this?

Don't you think it's a bit of an easy ride saying that communism and socialism don't work so capitalism is the answer? What about thinking about another way?

Also, we can't have our cake and eat it - greed IS the fundamental component of capitalism, acquiring more and more capital. It's not good to be greedy, but its partly necessary thanks to a lacking in job security, recessions, you name it. But, its inherently bad! If everyone was greedy we'd have a disgusting society where no one shared, everyone was selfish and in competition with one another.

Life doesn't have to be like that. We as a species have advanced far in terms of technology and science and part of the problem regarding job security is that our labor is being replaced by machines. It's actually a good thing, ensuring mundane jobs are done better and more efficiently by machines. So why should we be competing with each other? Why do people have to lose out? This should be where our society is heading. Mechanised labor. It needn't be communism or capitalism.

Seriously, do enough research and it becomes obvious that things aren't working well. Keywords corruption and inefficiency, and oh yeah... debt.

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