We have been told a great lie about capitalism — that everyone who works hard in life will be successful, make a lot of money, and have a good life.
So why is it that most of us wake up on Monday morning with groggy heads, grab some coffee to stir our minds, and go off to jobs that make money for someone else?
Think about it. The logic of corporate capitalism is for owners to “invest” their money in the work that other people do, then get a “return on investment” as all that effort creates value in the world.
Or said more simply, you get up in the morning and go to work to make money for billionaires.
The statistics bear this out. Seventy-four percent of all the new income billionaires get comes from the hard work of other people. They just sit back and let their stock portfolios “do the work” for them. The sleight-of-hand trick in this sentence is that stock portfolio is a stand-in for all working-class people on the planet.
Is this the natural consequence of all market-based societies?
Is it somehow a law of nature that the only way to make a society prosperous is to have a tiny elite sucking wealth off the sweat labor of the masses?
Most definitely not. But it is the core logic of capitalism. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Story of Capitalism is really a history of inequality and poverty creation. The historic roots go back to the British Enclosure Movement that kicked peasant farming communities off their land in a feudalist society and allowed owners to extract rents from people working the land they now controlled with the backing of Parliament.
All the wealth and prosperity in the world comes from two places — the natural world (which we are a part of) and the social webs of human cultures converting some of the energy and materials of the natural world into things that are useful for our species.
What capitalism does is create systems of wealth extraction that syphon off this natural wealth into their private estates.
They do this with the backing of governments that enforce the legal arrangements of ownership that let the capitalist ownership class charge debts and imprison those who don’t pay them. Sound familiar? Isn’t your job (if you are lucky enough to have one at this late stage in the capitalist game) merely a debt repayment program? Wouldn’t you rather be doing something else with your time?
It is vital that we connect the dots and see how it is that 62 people can aggregate the same total amount of wealth as 3,700,000,000.
They do it by setting up systems of wealth extraction that syphon away our productive efforts and hoard it in their estates. So we built their wealth and it isn’t really theirs to control. The principal “owner” of all that wealth is the natural world — as we can see in the mass extinction and environmental damages all around us. When that ecological debt comes due it may well mean the collapse of our civilization. Or worse, it could be the death of all humans.
We are currently on a path to extinction, which would be bad enough except that the REASON we are on this path is to make super rich people even more wealthy as we increasingly find ourselves malnourished and deprived.
Herein lies the spiritual choice for global warming, mass poverty, and inequality.
Will we honor the sacredness of life on Earth and evolve our global economy so that is in service of life?
Or will we desecrate all that is sacred in this world so that a handful of families can have a few more yachts, a few more marble bath tubs, and bragging rights that they are the ones who died with the most toys?
Because if we choose that latter path, it will be all of us dying together. And I don’t think any of us — the billionaires included — really want that.
We can do better my fellow humans. Indeed we must do better.
Onward, fellow humans.
Joe Brewer - I am a change strategist working on behalf of humanity, and also a complexity researcher, cognitive scientist, and evangelist for the field of culture design.