I will be the first to admit that economics baffles me. I could not tell you about game theory nor explain the complexities of our tax system. However, I know one thing: you don’t have to be an economics major to understand capitalism. In fact, as a sociology major, I have been lucky enough to have the theories of Karl Marx and Adam Smith engrained into my head for the last four years. In addition, I have been a member of our capitalist society since as long as I can remember.
So what have I learned from my time as a sociology student and law-abiding, tax-paying citizen of the U.S.? I have learned that, like my friend Ellen Scully has alluded to, it is extremely easy as a wealthy, straight, white, American woman, to happily accept the benefits that I have so luckily inherited from capitalism.
I would argue that, contrary to Ms. Scully’s accusation, non-economics majors are not all anti-capitalism. I think the majority of them would agree that, relative to those that have come before it, capitalism is actually a pretty solid system. The idea of a free-market system seems great in theory—but here in the United States, it is neither free nor equal. There is an excess of deeply rooted cultural, social, and political ideologies that act as obstacles and go completely unacknowledged.
Nothing against economics majors, but we social science kids have learned that, despite what the Declaration of Independence may tell us, we are not all born equal. Despite capitalism being supposedly race- and gender-blind, it is one’s demographics that determine the opportunities they will receive. If the free-market allows for equal opportunity, then why is the unemployment rate of African-Americans still double that of whites? Why do women still earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man?
According to the 2012 census bureau, 46 million people live below the poverty line while the top 5 percent of earners saw their incomes increase 4.9 percent. Ms. Scully argues that those living in poverty live “comfortably” relative to those in third world countries. In my opinion, “comfort” is a subjective idea. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly 16 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure sometime in 2007—meaning that 16 percent of households in the U.S. did not have consistent access to adequate food for active, healthy lives,. These families may not have been, “barefoot, scrounging for food in the meadows” as Ms. Scully describes, but they were certainly not living in what I would describe as “comfort.” In comparison to other developed countries, levels of poverty in the United States, the richest country in the world, are horrendous.
Lastly, I find it quite hypocritical of Ms. Scully to refer to CC students who disagree with capitalism as “ignorant” while taking a completely one-sided argument, lacking in any sort of critical examination of alternatives to capitalism. Top scholars and academics in economics, history, sociology, and philosophy have argued for decades that America move toward a system of democratic socialism, similar to that of countries like Norway, in order to create a better overall quality of life and to lessen the separation of wealth. I cannot pretend to know who is right on the specifics, but to call anyone who disagrees with you “ignorant” is frankly immature.
Do I think we should we overthrow our current system and revert to communism? No. Should there be systems in place that check and regulate capitalism for the sake of our collective well-being? Yes.
Ms. Scully’s article offers us many “would you rather’s” about living in capitalistic America. But why should we have to choose? Why should we have to sit back and passively accept the gender and racial inequalities capitalism perpetuates? Why should we be fine with the sacrifice of others so that we can comfortably sip our Starbucks soy-whatever lattes?
I’m critical of capitalism, and you should be too.