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Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality


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Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality

*Originally published on the author’s website in 2020

When COVID-19 became a global pandemic, America was no exception. But the way the US handled it as a capitalist makes it an exception. In America, the novel coronavirus hit New York the hardest and the availability of medical supplies stood as a barrier. But the producers of medical kits, along with other states, had another plan in mind. For the companies, this was a profitable opportunity. They didn’t provide the medical equipment for the state which was hit the hardest, but rather to the highest bidder. This was easy for there was no shortage of bidders as other states joined the bidding despite the desperate need in New York. As Lydia DePillis and Lisa Song reported in ProPublica on April 2, New York State was forced to pay 15 times more than the usual price for medical kits. The State has paid, “$248,841 for a portable X-ray machine that typically sells for $30,000 to $80,000.”

The state and the federal law of America did not prohibit price gouging or competition between government agencies. This was simply how capitalism works and it is no one’s fault! On the other hand, the Chinese Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma took another approach than what the capitalist creed dictates. He has sent 500,000 testing kits and one million masks to America. Alibaba has done this not only for the US but also to Europe, Africa, and any other continent or nation struggling against COVID-19. This test of reality manifests how capitalism stands as a barrier to humanity or morality.

When we see a communist country like China act properly or morally and a capitalist nation like America act improperly or immorally, we might assume communism is better than capitalism. This is not my line of argument. I will not defend communism for its sacrifices of the creative and strong for ‘the common good.’ However, the fact that communism is wrong does not make capitalism, with all its flaws, right. I agree that capitalism is the best economic reasoning compared to the other theories history presents us. Unless we find a better economic approach, we are stuck with capitalism. The best we can do is weed out the elements of capitalism that are becoming an impediment to morality and the refinement of our species. The problems of capitalism are revealed when we try to apply the principle in all spheres beyond economics.

Legion are the miscalculations and wrongs done around the world in the name of capitalism. They mostly occur when we make economic reasoning in areas that require morality and justice. Adam Smith is a prominent figure in the field of economics, yet he fails to attain the same status in other areas primarily because he forgets human greed. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argues:

“When the landlord, annuitant, or monied man, has a greater revenue than what he judges sufficient to maintain his own family, he employs either the whole or a part of the surplus in maintaining one or more menial servants. Increase this surplus, and he will naturally increase the number of those servants.”

This argument is made to make us believe that as the capital increases, which is what defined capitalism, the more people the person will employ and so everyone will profit. But this is not always true since some become hoarders and greedy as their capital increase, to finally become a monopoly. As Yuval Noah Harari points out Sapiens under the chapter ‘The Capitalist Creed’ shows how Adam Smith is revolutionary with this statement because he came up with not just an economic but also a moral and political perspective – “egoism is altruism.” Harari shows how capitalism became as an ethic of life by saying, “Its principal tenet is that economic growth is the supreme good, or at least a proxy for the supreme good because justice, freedom and even happiness all depend on economic growth.” For this reason, the worth of life is defined by how much capital one possesses.

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Upon making capitalism a principle of life, we have made all else dependent. For instance, a scientist who wants to improve human life can only get funding by the amount of profit s/he could bring the sponsor. The donation for universities and generally for education depends on the profitability of the field of study. For instance, the medical field is funded more because it generates more money, and not because it saves more lives. The money spent on medical researches goes to those who work on drugs that make life pleasurable than those who try to save lives. There is more investment for cosmetics than there is for curing diseases. The principle of capitalism dictates that profit or capital must increase. A fresh graduate in Chemistry prefers to work for a beer or fast food company than for a low funded medical institution that fights cancer or diabetes. This is also why the company causing air pollution has more lobbyists working for it than does the environmental institution fighting against pollution.

The same principle of capitalism works in agriculture and innovation. There is an increasing number of cash crop producers and flower exporters in developing countries while these countries suffer from food insecurity. In Ethiopia too, more farmers have begun producing Khat instead of vegetables because it yields more profit. The tech industry also focuses on satisfying the greed of the capitalist. During the industrial revolution, the machines were made to make life simple, despite the consequence. Currently, more and more technologies focus on producing gadgets that serve as toys and make people lazy.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The terrible historical facts surrounding privatization and deregulation are other manifestations of capitalism. I have only shown the basic problem of capitalism but promise to return to this issue of privatization in the near future. This is not an attack on capitalism as an economic principle, it is rather an attack on its failure when applied to issues that require moral and ethical principles. When people desperately need humanitarian relief, the system or government should not let capitalists take over. It is difficult to accept a person who uses another’s misery to profit by simply saying ‘this is how capitalism works!’ After all, capital and profit are means to human ends; they are not the ultimate goal of life.

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