Capitalism, we have a problem

Capitalism, we have a problem

There is a teeny-weeny problem with capitalism: it’s fundamentally flawed.

There, I wrote it. I hope I won’t get thrown in jail.

Something about capitalism (defined as ‘an economic system based on private ownership of capital’) has never sat comfortably with me. It’s not that I reject the idea of private ownership—I don’t—but just not of absolutely everything and anything. You see, I hate waste, and while capitalism’s arch rival communism sets off the same ‘everything and anything’ alarm bells, the unlimited enthusiasm with which capitalism chews through finite resources has had me worried for as long as I can remember.

And therein lies the flaw: limitlessness.

Now you probably want more than just a one-word critique of something so fundamental to our society, and I am happy to expand on my bold and perhaps even heretical statement, but not with thousands of words. ‘More’ is exactly the problem. We have too much, we do too much, and we write far too much: we are overloaded with details and we cannot see our precious, shrinking forests for our few remaining trees. So I am going to focus on a single principle and just leave you to muse on it. Another 186 words should do the trick.

If a bloke eats an unlimited amount of food, he won’t be better off, he’ll be dead. Even if he merely overeats, or eats only junk food, he’ll become ill. This is because the human body has limits—finite needs and capacities—and, accordingly, an optimal consumption rate.

An economy also has limits, but our global mega-economy doesn’t just ignore them, it blatantly demands an impossible-to-sustain year-on-year growth: more consumption next year than this year regardless of all other factors. There is, irrefutably, only a finite amount of natural capital with which to fuel economic activity, and to feed and house and heat and cool all of us busy, busy capitalists. And every year there are millions more capitalists all wanting to sell things that others may or may not need, and that may or may not result in more overall good than harm.

We need discernment, not a free-for-all, and we need to respond to and embrace our limitations, not act as if they don’t exist. The time for us capitalists to rigorously question the quality of our economic activity is long overdue. Let’s have this discussion.

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