Capitalism Needs A Hit of Community


This past weekend I was at a restaurant and I overheard a couple young kids, maybe in their early twenties, talking about marriage, or rather talking about looking forward to their second marriage, because the first marriage was just practice. And one specifically, who sounded as if he was going to the military after college, because he just knew his first marriage wouldn’t work, because they never do in the military.

I wish I were exaggerating, just a little bit, but I am not. As I listened, I was first annoyed, saddened, and then quite angry for so many reasons. I quickly jotted down what they said, and added a few comments of my own and thought, “this is what this week’s blog is going to be about: marriage.” That’s usually how I pick my topics, something usually happens during the week that sparks my interest, I do a little research, form my opinion, and then I write, write, write.

But then I sat down to write, and with the election around the corner, I thought I should be focusing along those lines, and all the other issues that seemed more important than marriage, traditional marriage, marriage equality; such as the economy, racism (civil rights), healthcare, terrorism, and all the other topics that  are in the forefront of our minds. As I sat down to write, something was still tugging at my heart, about the disregard of marriage. There are so many people who are still fighting for marriage equality, others fighting to maintain traditional marriage, and the statistics surrounding divorce are truly depressing. Why is that? What can we do? And then I realized, all of the issues today, including marriage point to at least one thing that is lacking … community (a sense of family). How did we get here? Capitalism. Yes, Capitalism. Is Capitalism bad, Nope. I would just argue that Capitalism just needs a HIT of Community….

In 2012, David Brooks, a conservative political and cultural commentator from the New York Times, made the assertion that the idea of capitalism “is a problem for the American family because it reinforces self-interest” over other social ethos of the family. (Source). And I would tend to agree, and argue that it seeps into other parts of our lives besides just the family. It applies to almost every issue in America, overwhelming self-interest is hurting America. When we specifically look at marriage, the marriage rate is 6.8 per 1,000 people and the Divorce rate is 3.6 per 1,000 people, which is why they say that 50 % of marriages end in divorce. (Source). The researchers say those statistics are misleading for several reasons that I won’t go into today. But no one would disagree that there are a lot of divorces. And although infidelity is rampant, the number one reason people still get divorce is  finances and money. And if we look beyond marriage, capitalism is creating a crippling economy as the wealth disparity grows and the middle class continues to shrink, especially with rising healthcare costs,  and educational opportunity is different depending on what side of town you were born in. Not to mention all of these things are the main cause of the growing strain of race relations in America.

So, What do I mean? Capitalism at it’s most basic level is to allow trade and industry to be controlled by private owners for profit rather than the government. This is a good thing, because when governmental regulations are too stringent it hurts growth and the economy. But at the same time, when the private owners are such a select few, capitalism can hurt the economy for the whole, and not the select few.

I am in no means saying that we should utilize another system besides capitalism. I like capitalism, especially at its core. When describing Ayn Rand’s political philosophy, a fan of laissez-faire capitalism, a scholar described it as, “Her basic theme was that free people, acting together voluntarily, produce greater general prosperity than central planners wielding the whips of State power”. (Source). The key word in that is “greater general propensity”; the problem is that prosperity cannot only be defined in monetary terms. Prosperity includes security, comfort, and well-being. Nowhere in the definition of capitalism or free-market economy  is the focus supposed to be so heavily focused on self-interest; see the simplest form of capitalism does not exclude community, but we’ve created that environment.

When you have a capitalistic society that is not in touch with community then you cannot expect the country to be successful as a whole, and we should be concerned. There will be plenty of people who are successful, who have no worries. Why is this a problem? People who you really start from the bottom, need a village to help raise them. Not only are they born without enough resources, but often lack the social and human capital to compete with others who face few challenges.  If we don’t help those children, no wonder they become delinquents in our justice system, dependent of benefits from the state, etc.

There are a lot of people who lament against food stamps, Medicaid, and any other “handouts” given out with the backdrop of a low minimum wage. While an increased minimum wage would hurt some small companies, let’s tier the minimum wage based on profit and size of the company, or any other factors that would make sense. I would argue that the mom and pop stores shouldn’t have to pay the same minimum wage as Wal-Mart. But it does not make sense for executives of Wal-Mart to live in an extreme excess and their employees struggle to try to obtain their American success story. There’s come a point that making the highest profit isn’t the MOST important thing and the market may not be calling for it. This is why we need more community in capitalism. We want businesses and the economy to continue to grow and be prosperous, but not if it’s hurting a large number of the population. If we care about the success of America, taking a couple of million dollars away from the richest parts of America, to decrease the wealth disparity,couldn’t be the worst thing ever.  But the thing about capitalism, which is why it’s awesome, the private actors have to decide to take this action for themselves.  Just like the CEO of Starbucks, creating a partnership with Arizona State University to make it a little easier for their employee to reach educational advancement.

This can be seen very openly in our political voting system. The wealthiest Americans are attempting to buy elections on both sides, donating large amounts of cash that have potential to change elections. Despite, the large amounts of money being poured into elections it doesn’t necessarily create more involvement in the voting process, and to some extent probably decreases it. But do you know where people come out in high percentages? In places with high sense of community.

There are 6 states that have high voter participation compared to the rest of the population, and three out of those six states, including the state with the best record (Minnesota), all cite a sense of community as a part of why they are successful in getting to the polls. In South Dakota, they have a 60. 2% voter participation rate and say that “South Dakota is part of the collection of Upper Midwest states where a strong sense of community, civic duty, and civility in political discussion are abundant”. (source).  In Wisconsin, with a 60.93 % voter participation rate, they say, “People want to live up to the expectation for themselves or community norms,” says Michael Slater of Project Vote. “They think, ‘voting is what we do in this community.’” (source) . And last, but not least, is Minnesota, which has a 68 % voter participation rate, they say, “Minnesotans do love this place we call home, It’s our responsibility to take care of this place, and voting is one of the ways we do that.” (source) . Although there are a few other factors, such as competitive races, access to the polls, the community is a large reason that they are able to have such high voter turnout and we all should strive to duplicate this effort in other communities.

I have said a lot here, and even included the infamous Ayn Rand, who would probably disagree with most of what I said. She has a famous quote that says “Capitalism and Altruism care incompatible … they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society”, and I would actually agree with her.  Altruism is taking it too far, were not asking for an absolute selfless concern for the well-being of others. But I do think we need to take a look in the mirror, and wonder if we’ve turned capitalism into something so selfish it is bad, when its not…. we all need a little community in our life.


Have thoughts? Please comment and start a discussion with me. I love to hear other perspectives!

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