Is American-style Capitalism the best we can do?

If American-style capitalism is compared to the kind of socialisms that existed under Communism and which were economically ineffective and abusive of human rights, we can clearly see why the world is choosing capitalism. But the yardstick against which we should compare capitalism is not these defunct state socialisms, but rather the human values that any economy is meant to serve. When seen in this light, capitalism has a shadow side.

We are creating a global capitalist economy of great intricacy, and perhaps great fragility, as well, and doing it at times in an atmosphere of manifest destiny, as if this were the way that things had to be. What we are not doing is spending enough time reflecting on the  human values that this economy is meant to serve, and the absence of this reflection leaves a vacuum that is quickly filled by less worthy goals.

We need to question the economy we are creating from a vantage point outside of that economy itself. Do we really need or want, for example, a global economy in the first place? A global awareness of the human race as a whole is a valuable attainment, for we are one human family before we are separate nations or races. But this global awareness does not demand in itself a global capitalist economy. Do we really need large waves of money sloshing daily around the planet, waves often generated by speculation, and capable of dislocating entire local economies? Do we need larger and larger corporations which concentrate economic power into fewer and fewer hands?

Economy in its root sense means acquiring the basic material things we need to lead a human life: food, shelter, energy, etc. But this is something quite different than a quest for a so-called higher standard of living, which really is, for the most part, the unending quest for a higher level of consumption. Our material needs are finite. After a certain point we are simply embellishing them, and not long after we begin to embellish them, we begin to distort them, twisting them out of all recognizable shape and making them the carriers of our own disordered desires. We need shelter: warm, dry and pleasant to be in, but we don't need 30,000 square feet trophy homes. We need light, but we don't need nuclear power plants in order to have a light bulb.

Just what is there in the intrinsic nature of an economy that demands the kind of global system we are creating? Is American-style capitalism really the best we can do? What do you think?


A Response from Philip Posgate

I’ve read your article and would like to make a comment. But first an introduction to myself. My name is Philip Posgate, age 30, living in Vancouver, BC. My background is like most contemporary Canadians. I am non-religious, raised by a working mother and father, gone through school and college, developed a career in computers and software and business, worked hard, played hard, paid taxes, and made many friends along the way. I have no major regrets. Llife has been pretty good to me so far.

My view point on life is beginning to change. Where before I would be content with a materialistic lifestyle and happy to grow financially and socially, those things are increasingly losing their relevance to me, and I now find myself going through a difficult paradigm shift in personal values. Two reasons for this: I have a been there, done that, now what? attitude toward my lifestyle. I suppose I’ve been lucky that way, but more of the same just isn’t for me. Second, environmental and leftist media have successfully planted a degree of guilt in my mind, for the blind, materialistic way that I’ve lived. As a result I’ve become more fulfilled by simple acts like making friends, meeting strangers, giving and receiving love, having a good debate about things that matter, enjoying the outdoors, and understanding my position in time and space. Sounds kinda flakey, but I can’t focus it more than that. As I say, I am in a mental transition.

But the problem for me now is that I live in 2 worlds: one where I must continue to exercise my skills in the business world in order to survive, and the other that wants to reject all that in favour for something more simple and sustainable. Well, rejection is perhaps the wrong word. What I really want is a balance between the two, a sort of a best of both worlds kind of thing.

And there’s my point. After reading your article I realize that the debate you bring up, like many others I’ve heard, is an issue between two extreme view points. On one side we have the opinion that we, the people living in the modern world, must be good little consumers and run our lives according to the design of the contemporary social machine, which foreshadows world destruction. On the other side we have the rebels, who would like to reject the machine altogether, and favour a life closer to nature. It’s like extreme right-ism vs. extreme left-ism.

Can there not be a balance between the two? Can we not have our modern global economy while being socially/culturally/environmentally responsible at the same time? Can we not engineer a balanced global society that is globally conscious, active AND sustainable? Think globally, act locally, and all that jazz? Can we not teach our children these values? Can we not ask the next few generations to make this effort?

I believe we should. It sounds very difficult; probably the largest project mankind would ever take on in its history. I guess I’d rather see an effort towards balance rather than saving the world by living in a mud house, eating roots and berries.

My 2 cents. Phililp Posgate.


A Response from Harry LeBlanc

I've been thinking about this issue a great deal in the past few months. It seems to me that the problem isn't an intellectual one, but a spiritual and mythical one. American-style capitalism is, at its heart, a belief system about how the world should work -- a religion, if you will. Its tenets are pretty simple:

Progress is good

Personal freedom and power are more important than social responsibility

All problems can be solved technologically

These are not facts, or even opinions. They are tenets, articles of faith, pillars of a credo. They operate below the level of consciousness. And they no longer work for us.

Just as medieval Catholicism gave way to Protestantism at the precise historical moment feudalism gave way to capitalism, we are on the brink of a newly transformed world view. To try to "balance" capitalism with a social conscience misses the point. We must take the thesis and antithesis, and synthesize them.

For instance, there's an emerging faith in balance and sustainability, which is fundamentally at odds with, and replaces, the tenet of progress.

Likewise, the reliance on science is being transformed into a reliance on myth and ritual, and the "opposition" of personal freedom and social obligation are being merged into models involving self-realization, self-actualization, and social engagement.
Harry LeBlanc,


A Response from JS

If American Capitalism is a kind of religion with it's own dogma as it appears to be then it's God is Money and its driving force is Greed. It seems to me that this lack of values is doing much it any wonder that our Leaders choose to align themselves with the Christian Right? At least it will then appear that our values are in order. I believe the push to Globalization is much of the same. Goods and services provided to us cheaply from third world countries in the name of their progress is a mask for the real intention of yet more greedy profits. There is no true heart beating within our system. If there were we would be paying these workers a fair wage so their lives could truly improve. Blue Collar Americans have been losing jobs left and right while the rich of our nation get richer. As Americans, we have trusted in our Government to make the right choices at the same time we have been lied to. In fact...our values have gone down the drain with all of the lying. We need to begin to be honest and true. We live in a Capitalist Society but it is also a Democracy which is supposed to be serving "we the people" not they themselves. Lying isn't serving us well. Just as when people possess much wealth they need to become aware and share and help in a genuine way so does a nation. We are a small part of the world population using most of it's resources and our way of life is not sustainable. Value wise we are lagging behind and need to play catch up as fast as we can. How? Stop the lies and face and tell the truth, wean ourselves from our greedy need for fossil fuels by building windmills off our shores and solar in our deserts. Writing laws to assure the very wealthy pay their fair share in taxes. Demanding honest integrity from our leaders. I am obviously not well versed in these kinds of issues but I can see that our nation lacks heart. Many of us could live very well with much less than we do. We are so spiritually hungry we need to keep filling the space inside with More. Our addicted Nation needs a twelve step program and the sooner the better. It works for individuals so it can work for us. We are the bully in the school yard...telling everyone else what they should do and believing that might is right. We need to be the biggest and the strongest and the fastest and the richest...but these are not true values. Truth, compassion and love are.....when we as a Nation can embody these values instead then the rest of the world may begin to look to us with respect. JS


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