Food for Thought - The Irony of Capitalism

n this article, Frank Lin tells us about the lack of compassion of America’s middle class and wealthy for those left to destitution in the stratum of abject poverty.

Self interest and profit motive, the cornerstone of capitalism, while responsible for showering enviable wealth upon the American people in the last century, has not only brought about an unbridgeable chasm between the rich and the poor, but has also hardened the hearts of the more privileged.

Capitalism has always condoned merciless competition and survival of the fittest, and people embracing this conceptual system of economic organization have always been well aware of the inevitable outcome of inequalities under such a system. But even the staunchest of supporters would admit that whoever wins under this system does so because of a confluence of good skill, hard work and good luck. Men are hardly equal at birth, much less the shares of luck that they are destined to enjoy after birth.

The irony of capitalism is that while it rewards those hard-working risk-takers on the grounds that an individual is the rightful owner of the fruits of his labor (and a good deal of luck), it also abets inequalities in incomes and hence social stratification of individuals, which defeats the ideal of individual liberty that it promises.

Lin’s article reminds me of this observation by Paul Bowles, author of a new book titled “Capitalism”:-

“It is true that in responding to consumers’ material wants, wherever they come from, for the majority of the population in most countries, the capitalist system performs this function reasonably well, and particularly well for wealthy individuals with trivial desires. However, it fails miserably to fill the needs of those who have no demand because they have no income. The rise of homelessness on the streets of every Western city in the past 30 years and the permanence of food banks demonstrate that capitalism is failing to meet many people’s daily wants even in relatively rich societies.”