by Douaa Qadadia
Image: Kevin Doncaster / Flickr
Is capitalism truly the “best” economic system? (Spoiler: It’s not)
What is capitalism?
We’ve all heard about the American Dream. It’s the belief that if you work hard, you are guaranteed financial success, however, we know that that’s far from the truth, and much too often, people work hard to find themselves nonetheless struggling economically. The system that maintains that belief is capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system that is mainly characterised by private ownership of the means of production. Some of its key characteristics are private ownership of property, competitive free markets, wage labour, and the pursuit of capital accumulation. It’s the economic system that most of the developed world runs on and promotes. Many argue that it’s the freest, fairest and most ethical, but are these claims rooted in reality?
Fast fashion and its exploitative nature to the global south:
The global south is not a term exclusively to distinguish between the geographical locations of countries, but rather how financially successful a country is. The global south refers to developing nations or Third World nations.
In many of these nations, labour laws aren’t strictly enforced, and clothing companies know this. Many of them export their labour to these countries for faster production and quicker, higher profit margins, even if it is at the expense of fundamental rights. Asian countries, more specifically China, India, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Myanmar are popular targets of labour outsourcing because of their extremely relaxed labour policies that can be abused by these companies to build very dangerous and hostile working conditions to cut costs. An infamous example is the sweatshops in China, and specifically, the Uyghur labour camps. Millions of Uyghurs have been detained by the Chinese government and coerced into working in these labour camps. Many reports have revealed that massive global corporations and conglomerates are benefiting from this labour in some way. Companies such as Nike, Zara, H&M, Adidas, and GAP are all directly profiting from the exploitation and abuse of the Uyghur workers.
Another example is the Bangladeshi sweatshops. At this moment, there are over 4500 sweatshops in Bangladesh, where 80% of workers are women. Not only do major corporations benefit from these sweatshops, but so does the Bangladeshi government. According to the president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, 83% of the country’s foreign currency comes from this sector. 50 million workers in these countries are dependent on these sweatshops to feed their families.
With such a need for these low-cost labour, you might be telling yourself that whilst people are being underpaid and overworked for the production and overconsumption under capitalism, it’s normalised because this is their only source of income. The reality of this situation is that these mega-millionaire and billionaire companies are directly exploiting the desperation of people who are trying to survive to grow their capital. This remains to be seen as an acceptable act because our economic system encourages it. It encourages people to be greedy, to exploit, and to harm for the sake of profit and compile capital at an alarming rate. It is modern-day slavery depicted as a “neccessary evil”.
The destruction of the environment
The exploitation is not only felt by humans, but also the environment. Our ecosystems, the air we breathe and animals we consume as meat and apparels are all disappearing at the hands of capitalists and mega-corporations. We are often sold the idea that the average person is behind the climate crisis. While that is true to a certain extent, it only makes up a fraction of the damage being done to our planet. We are told to use metal straws, recycle our plastic bags, use public transport more often or simply walk to reduce our carbon footprint, when in reality what we need to be talking about is the dumping of oil into our oceans and the killing of marine life. We need to be talking about fossil fuels, and how much they have contributed to air pollution. We need to be talking about the exploitation of animals for our benefit, and the refugees from this crisis.
One thing needed to be considered is oil rigs. They are used to extract, store and process natural gases beneath the earth’s surface. There are many reasons why drilling for oil is extremely detrimental to our environment. Firstly, it disrupts wildlife. The noise of extraction disrupts an animalss’ natural cycle in mating, hunting, and other behaviors that would in term damage the ecosystem. Secondly, oil-related accidents directly kill wildlife, especifically marine wildlife. In 2010, a deep waters horizon rig had an explosion off of the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in an oil spill. This caused the death of approximately 1 million coastal and offshore birds, 5000 marine mammals, 1000 sea turtles, another major detrimental effect is carbon emissions. When extracting natural gases, greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere. These emissions trap heat into the atmosphere and cause the planet’s temperature to rise. This results in harsher heat waves, stronger hurricanes and longer wildfire seasons.
You may be asking yourself: “What does this have to do with capitalism?” The answer is simple. These natural gases are easy money makers. So long as this profit incentive exists, oil companies have no reason to stop their practices, and governments have no reason to place any policy which would help reduce these environmental destructions. However, some individuals claim that fossil fuels are and always have been an essential for surviving in our modern society, and they aren’t wrong. A transition into more clean and sustainable energy (rather than cutting out fossil fuels immediately) is the most effective way to combat the climate crisis.
We also need to consider factory farming. According to PETA, meat production is one of the leading causes of climate change. It takes 1800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat (in simple terms, it takes 6814 litres of water to produce 0.45 kilograms of meat.) Factory farming also produces a substantial amount of greenhouse gases. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture. Our rigid demands for animal products and our constant need for profit has put a strain on our environment and caused harm to us all.
I could talk about the cause of the climate crisis for hours, and how capitalism is the root cause of all this destruction, but I want to move on to the people who will feel the impact of our selfishness, climate refugees. Climate refugees are people who are feeling the effects of climate change and have to leave their homes because of it. This is caused by water scarcity, and mainly, weather disasters. Extreme cases of weather events are causing people to leave their countries to more livable areas. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be 143 million people who will have to immigrate because of the extreme weather caused by climate change. Because of our greed and unwillingness to reduce our carbon emissions, people, especially those less privileged than us, are being forced to leave their homes and abandon their lives in order to survive.
You may feel some existential dread at the moment. So did I. I felt so helpless and small in this big and vast world, but just know that you can play your part to combat this. Participate in mutual aid. Support your local unions who fight for workers rights. Hold corporations accountable. Tell your friends and family. Support boycotts. Capitalism is not the only viable economic solution. Start researching leftism and other political movements that are similar. Join your local leftist political groups, who are actively combating these issues. I know the word leftist (and other associated political groups) might seem scary, but once you begin learning what leftism truly is about, you’ll understand that the propaganda that was fed to you was completely inaccurate. They have to scare you into believing that capitalism is the only option, to keep the rich richer, and the poor poorer. Keep resisting, keep fighting. Change starts with you.