The Blessings of Capitalism
Last week, I went to Costco, the warehouse retail store. I wasn’t there to buy anything, just filling a prescription. While waiting, I went up and down the aisles, lined with 20-foot high floor-to-ceiling shelving, filled with food, clothing, electronics, personal care, and hundreds of other products.
I was awed by the wealth on display. Shoppers could choose from exotic packaged foods in huge bags (seaweed tempura snacks! Frozen shrimp skewers!), huge bottles of delicious sounding condiments (eight kinds of relish!), 10-pound racks of meat, organic fruits and vegetables, baked goods, clothing from functional to fashionable, computers, camping equipment, four kinds of charcoal, vitamins, chocolates, and a thousand other enticing items.
The shoppers did not appear wealthy. They were ordinary people, buying high-quality stuff that royal families of the past could never have bought, because they didn’t exist. And this was just one store. As of October 2019, there were 782 Costco stores worldwide, 537 of them in the USA, along with thousands of Walmarts, Targets, and other mega-retailers. Where, I wondered, has all this wealth come from?
We could name many sources, but the best answer is: capitalism produced this wealth. Capitalism is much more than the economic system analyzed by Karl Marx in the 19th Century, meaning private ownership of the means of production. It’s a philosophy, a way of life, of looking at the world and ordering societies around private property, competitive markets, and money.
No other way of life ever devised by humans has created so much wealth. Harnessing the problem-solving power of science and technology, liberating the creative energies of entrepreneurs and inventors, scouring the natural world to extract ‘resources,’ driving the labor of working people, capitalism creates a new and richer world every year. In 2020, we have far more people, living longer lives, with more stuff and more entertainment than anyone could have imagined on planet Earth.
How does capitalism create all this wealth? Mainly by turning money into a God-like force that drives human activity. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF,) capitalism comes in many forms, but all of them mold society to…