Critiques of Capitalism

Darwin and Moral Criticisms

Darwinian Justification

“Survival of the fittest.” This commonly recognizable phrase has been the root of Capitalism, a system that pits individuals against each other for profit and reward. Capitalism is about struggle, competition, and those who are strongest survive. Some claim that these concepts are derived from evolution, stating that it’s human nature to be competitive and that the strongest survive.

Now, most people attribute survival of the fittest to Charles Darwin — a man famous for his science of evolution — but in actuality, it was Herbert Spencer who said it first. However, that’s not the only misconception about the phrase.

The Darwinian justification for Capitalism is false. How does evolution work? It occurs through genetic modifications. A photon strikes and alters the genetic code; this introduces variations in a species. The variations that produce a desirable trait are then worked into the species. Darwin stated that evolution is a matter of natural selection.

In essence, evolution is not about struggle or competition. Rather, it’s about chance genetic modifications, some of which make a species better suited to its environment. People who call upon Darwin for justification of Capitalism have fundamentally misunderstood his message and the nature of evolution, particularly as it pertains to the success of a species. “Survival of the fittest” isn’t about struggle or competition, it’s about chance occurrences that made some better suited than others.

Key takeaway: Capitalism was built, in part, on the notion of “survival of the fittest” and an idea of human nature based on evolution that we now know to be a false interpretation of Darwin’s thinking. We should’ve been more careful when calling upon biological sciences to construct and justify an economic system.

Moral Criticisms

In addition to Capitalism being built upon a false interpretation of a great scientific thinker, the economic system also has intrinsic moral failings. Presently, we as a human species have the ability to supply ourselves with the material needs of existence, e.g., food and housing. However, Capitalism judges us based on our ability to pay for those material needs.

Therefore, under Capitalism, we deny those who need the fundaments of existence not because of scarcity but because they cannot afford it. It raises the morality of a Capitalist system. We are responsible for letting our fellow citizens, members of our community, starve or die because we judge them on the ability to pay for material needs. While advances in science and technology continue to solve the material challenges of our world, we must acknowledge that Capitalist systems continually deny people in poverty the very right to existence simply because they cannot afford the means to live.

Is it time for a change? Here’s the Millennial perspective.

A Spring 2016 poll from the Institute of Politics at Harvard University revealed that a majority, 51%, of young adults between ages 18 and 29 now disapprove of Capitalism; 42% said they support it.

“The word ‘capitalism’ doesn’t mean what it used to,” said Zach Lustbader, a senior at Harvard involved in conducting the poll, which was published Monday. For those who grew up during the Cold War, capitalism meant freedom from the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes. For those who grew up more recently, capitalism has meant a financial crisis from which the global economy still hasn’t completely recovered. — The Washington Post

Acknowledging my bias: I’m a Millennial, born in 1995. Like many of my peers, the housing market crash of 2007 redefined the lifestyle of our families. We grew up in an era of never-ending international war and domestic economic hardship. This has produced the sharing economy where Millennials are opting to share services rather than own them. Prime example: Millennials have the fewest vehicles of any generation; ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have made vehicles and transportation accessible, even without the ownership of those vehicles. I acknowledge that the innovations leading to the sharing economy were made possible by Capitalism, but the need for those innovations was necessary because of Capitalism through the painful economic environment it created.

Key takeaway: Millennials are disenchanted with Capitalism as the ruling economic system. However, Socialism doesn’t appear to be in favor either. Until we can figure out a new economic system in line with our values and our priorities, we will continue to transform markets and disrupt the system; let the sharing economy serve as an example.