So, I’ve been debating with some friends on another forum about the sustainability of capitalism. While I respect their opinions, and they speak from great lived experience, I sometimes have difficulty explaining some of the problems that (I think) are inherent in capitalism. Namely, that the landfill filling consumerism we see in the US and around the world is not an aberration, but a systemic part of capitalism. Consumption is the engine that fuels the US economy, after all, and it was “the resilient American consumer” who patriotically shopped after 9//11 and kept the US out of a depression.
I also have difficulty explaining how businesses’ singular purpose of making money (as soon as a business stops making money it ceases to be a business) creates an unsustainable conflict between cost of production and profits. I have, in the past, been reduced to pointing a finger at Wal-Mart and saying, “see?”. To borrow from The Police, my eloquence obviously escapes me. So, to create a more fruitful discussion, here are three things I think every committed capitalist should read:
The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith so they know what capitalism is.
The Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels so they know what capitalism’s limitations are. An argument is only as good as its refutation of the counter-argument, and it would be impossible to refute Max and Engels, still one of the most complete and coherent criticisms of capitalism, if you’ve never read it.
The New Testament Gospels so they know what is missing from capitalist ideology. Even Adam Smith, a staunch anti-slavery advocate, argued that capitalism needed to constantly be checked by morality and ethics. Capitalism can mislead us into thinking that making money is an end in it self, while the gospels of Christ clearly state that wealth should only serve a higher purpose–blessing the lives of our fellow humans.