There is No Ethos of Capitalism

There is no ethos of capitalism, just exploitative rhetoric. Capitalism is, according to one version of the myth, meant to be fair in that it is (meant to be) a meritocracy. If you work hard, then you will be rewarded adequately. Empirically, this is false. The system does not reward hard work, and in any case, the rewards that actual capitalists reap cannot possibly be achieved by everyone who fulfils the same degree of hard work. Not everyone, no matter how smart and hard-working, can possess the same amount of material wealth as the 90% percentile. There simply isn’t enough stuff.

So, faced with the myth, capitalists then justify wealth-distribution with appeals to ability, the assumption being that this ability is innate. Thus capitalism is not a system of meritocracy at all, but merely one that trades in social-Darwinism and genetic classism. If one is to point out the inherent unfairness of this system, the capitalists will reply, “Life isn’t fair.”

Here the capitalists are caught between their conflicting myths. The archetypal capitalist critique of socialism is that it is unfair – people do not earn their keep. But faced with reality that under capitalism people do not earn their keep either, the capitalists turn to myths about human nature to defend their system’s inherent unfairness.

So since there is no ethos of capitalism, certainly not one that can be considered ethical, what grounds is there to adhere to this system? The capitalists have already established that their system is not fair. The emptiness of the moral critique against socialism is revealed – even if socialism is “unfair,” at most we are just substituting one unfair system with another.

To this, the capitalists would respond that their system is more “natural” and thus morally correct. What the capitalists perceive as right is a system that upholds a form of eugenics – an economy oriented towards ideals of Darwinian natural orders.

But this is a myth as well, because successful capitalists are largely the product of social and historical circumstance – that is, luck; usually the luck of having wealthy parents. Indeed, luck produces many successful capitalists that are neither particularly hard-working nor above average in any relevant proficiency.

So then it seems we have two choices: either dispense with the artifice of the social systems that effectively distort the idealised Darwinian distributions of wealth and battle it out like animals, each taking what we can; or, we can act like human beings and reject the inherent unfairness of capitalism.


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