The logic of offering something in return for goods and services has been tested by time. So far, aside from varying charitable contributions (or things like blogs) people haven’t discovered a way to simply make the things they specialize in available to others for free without suffering losses that lower their quality of life.
I offer much of my writing for free because the internet allows me to, but I can’t knit you a sweater just because you want one and I can do it. You have to buy yarn and perhaps the correct size needles, then we have to discuss an hourly rate or a flat rate, depending on what you can afford and how much my circumstances influence the amount I’ll settle for. Enterprise works that way doesn’t it?
In the example of the hand-knit sweater, three industries benefit fairly if they aren’t unreasonable about their profits, perhaps a fourth if the buyer wants a specific pattern I haven’t written. I don’t think capitalism is inherently evil. Capitalism is a concept, a thing. It’s the people who allow themselves to lean toward evil that corrupt it. People who aren’t brave enough to remain fair in the face of more and more profit are the ones who keep adding to the economic house of cards without caring that when the winds of fate blow, the cards fall like boulders onto those not insulated with money.
We haven’t yet come up with an alternative -ism that isn’t vulnerable to government and corporate corruption. At least capitalism, supposedly, gives each of us the opportunity to try something. I don’t want to go into all the ways its form of opportunity discriminates against many people’s circumstances, including lack of capital, unmanageable illness, personality type, and the desire to be fair without enough backing to make the decision to be decent actually work. We love stories about overcoming the odds. We seem to be easily turned off by ones that illustrate the other side. Specific groups don’t even believe the people on the other side matter.
I wish many of us weren’t afraid of all -isms that aren’t capitalism. More honest discussions about ones that have been tried, and their good and bad points, could help us make a fairer world for everyone. Maybe we could construct a new -ism that works fairly for all aspects of society instead of just for the few who prosper the most within it. But first we have to examine why we all don’t understand the ways our lives touch each other. How can we work on our fear of -isms when so many of us are more concerned with excluding parts of the discussion that include differences like gender, race, and who one loves and wants to build a healthy family with?
A young man stopped my daughter and me years ago at a bus stop outside our polling place on the first day she got to vote. He asked us who we had voted for in the congressional and presidential races. When we told him, he expressed sadness and much concern that we hadn’t voted as his pastor had suggested. He told us that the most important thing was that we make sure our government didn’t “legalize homosexuality.” My daughter and I were appalled. How do we make a decent society when folks like his congregation actually believe it helps us all to forget about war, poverty, escalating attacks on consumer choice (especially concerning healthy untainted food), and the increasing assumption that health care should only be a benefit of having the opportunity to work at a very good job? I don’t know, not when that young man was as appalled at us as we were at him.
At one time I was convinced that we could figure out how to become kinder by studying how the human mind works, how ridiculous prejudices prevail, and why so many people want to stamp out healthy decisions other people and families make about their lives. I’m realizing more and more that those studies are mostly being used to enable corporations to figure out how to sell us more stuff and services.
This one truly is a rant, because I’m blowing off a little steam without having any answers. I’m willing to keep taking part in the discussion no matter how much it hurts, because being quiet about it is the only thing worse than all the bad stuff that continues in our world. But this discussion isn’t a new one. It’s been going on in human history for a long, long time.