The moral justifications for capitalism are very much few and far between; over the past decade it has become overtly obvious that the application of a selfishly driven economic system will create a similar social construct. The most moving argument for the moral justification of capitalism is in the natural right to property, often explained by John Locke and Adam Smith, as JW Gray explains in an essay. This right would imply that when a person imposes their labor on a natural object, it becomes their property to gain profit from. This idea along with Adam Smiths concept of our natural tendency to be selfish are the main arguments made in Grays article and beyond. Unfortunately these concepts are wildly outdated and have basically been nullified by studies like the one I mentioned in a previous post and Gray points out that “we can’t just assume that property rights as understood by capitalists is that ideal” meaning that we cant assume that we own natural things in such a way. One other truly interesting argument about capitalism that gray mentions and many scholars on the topic touch on is that capitalism can fix the problems it has created through for example “we can reduce poverty through taxation and public services” So even though capitalism creates a hegemonic economic and social system it can be fixed though taxation and “the redistribution of wealth”. Others say that the “benefits of capitalism could outweigh the harms” in that it is so economically beneficial we cant look at the social harm and mental health effects, because the consumers can just purchase their happiness in the eyes of many capitalists. In regards to capitalism as a whole there are plenty of arguments made in opposition of a capitalistic culture, purely from an economic standpoint it is not fostering the same growth it did. But socially the effects are very prominent and more urgent. The most prominent mental health concerns that come out of a selfish capitalistic economy are depression and anxiety but it can be assumed to pose an dance of behavioral issues like adhd and bipolar disorder, in an article by Richard U’ren he explains that in “1952 the psychiatric Diagnostic Manual contained one hundred entries. It now has over three times that many.” This expansion shows a large relation in psychiatry and consumerism. He explains that the mental state that capitalism fosters is one of being not full and not having enough and that capitalism is fueled by this in order to impose people to buy and consume more to fill the void. The amount of sadness associated with the lifestyle that consumerism pushes obviously inhibits people from gaining true happiness, they merely feel pleasure from buying things, instead of finding happiness in genuine human relationships they seek to escape their sadness with money this can lead to loneliness and hopelessness strongly influencing depression and anxiety. The life style also puts emphasis on a fast paced life and constantly focusing on what to get next this pushes on the attention span of people influencing adhd and because we have lost concrete ways to be happy and find good friendships without material means, personality disorders like bipolar disorder can be closely related to the confusion and isolation that capitalism has pressed into our social lives. These arguments about the influence of capitalism on our mental health are more concrete and understandable in our modern era as it is visible every day.
To have a well rounded understanding on capitalism and consumerism it is important to educate yourself on the foundation, the roots and it was applied in the past, and if the application proves beneficial for our modern state. Adam smith explained extensively in The Wealth of Nations the economic system that capitalism fostered. Mercantilism would put emphasis onto the individual instead of the group; it favors entrepreneurship and self-motivation. Capitalism would favor the quickest and most productive forms of production meant for the highest profit. Smith explains that in this laissez faire system the market would be something that would be pushed along by human nature, as he believes we are self interested and seek more profit and power for ourselves. This idea of a free market and mercantilism was something that hugely benefited the 1700s economy and took power away from government run monopolies that were very oppressive. The growth of capitalism helped people reach enlightenment and self growth, the system may be similar in ways to the current more neo-liberalist approach to capitalism, but in some ways it is based on false ideas about the nature of humans and it has become so exploitative in its application that is has very little to offer to the average citizen.
Over years and years people have done little questioning on how an economy entirely based on the individual would in turn actually effect the individual, it appears to produce massive economic gains but has severe social repercussions. People have also assumed this natural selfishness to be inherent but three are many people who disagree with this. Graham Peebles comments on this in his article Materialism and Misery he explains that this supposed human nature is not entirely true and was created to promote the profits for the ones who were truly gaining from the economic growth, the capitalists. He references a study by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology where they “observed that 14-month-old babies spontaneously acted with kindness when an adult in the room needed help. Actions, which are inherently selfless, offer an intrinsic reward because they facilitate relationship with our true nature.” He shows that so many people have gone along with the idea that we are inherently selfish, when the only thing that benefits from that outlook is the market, and therefore the people who have the most control in the market, the capitalists. He further elaborates that when the children were offered a materialistic reward their focus shifted and “They lost interest in the act of kindness and became fixated on the object of reward.” This interpretation of human nature would foster growth and community and a more successful worldly relationship, instead of primarily and almost entirely focusing on the success of the individual self and the profit margin for the capitalists.
Capitalism has been growing for many years, after the industrial revolution as a society, and very prominently in western countries, it began to be engraved into our daily social lives that we will derive our self worth and happiness from our material items. Most people have stopped looking for self-fulfillment and growth; they look to obtain something they think will fill a void. Unfortunately the big companies that own most of the wealth in these countries exploit this social choice. According to CBS news we are exposed to 5,000 advertisements every day, and although we may not consciously remember each ad, we subconsciously are affected by the huge amount of branding we encounter on a daily basis. It creates a constant desire for humans to chase the next thing they want and confuse actual happiness with the pleasure of obtaining something physical is perpetuated by cooperate America, as Graham Peebles notes in his article on the subject of happiness and consumerism, “The thrill of getting what we want – the new car, i-pad, job or dress – quickly dies away and we regress to the previous level of happiness or frustration” So even though you may feel pleasure from earning something material it is merely temporary because these huge corporations are always throwing ads in your face explaining that what you have is not enough. In feeling as though we need to have these material things in order to be content we succumb ourselves to never fully being satisfied.
A study revealed that depression rates have been rising significantly and almost 1/4th of the population in the United States suffers from major depressive disorder. In the 50s this number was significantly lower only about 6 percent of Americans suffered from depression according to Dr. Myrna Weissman of the New York State Psychiatric Institute. With the rise of a saturated economy it has become the norm for people to find the value of their life to be extrinsic. In an article by Rebecca Sato she explains how as humans in the more consumption you find the more apparent unhappiness is in a culture. She states, “In fact, the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago.” Now everyone is expected to have an Iphone and it is socially imposed on people that you need to have xyz in order to be liked or to be happy yourself when this is clearly not the case according simply to those statistics.
This issue is becoming increasingly important because it is no longer far fetched to say that consumerism is essentially the most popular religion. People worship their possessions and as in Tim Kassers book The High Price Of Materialism, he explains that many humanistic philosophers understand that “material comfort is necessary to provide for basic human needs… but a focus on materialistic values detracts from well being… qualities such as authentic self expression, intimate relationships, and contribution to the community are at the core of mental health.” This expansion of capitalism and globalization has reached the point of altering the way we see ourselves we are less in touch with wanting those human values and there is more emphasis put on what car you dive and what purse you own. Our personal growth and happiness is being stunted by the desire to consume, and the stunting is perpetuated by cooperate America. Although it is virtually impossible to say this would change any time soon widespread awareness is a huge part of understanding and overcoming the major problems it has given rise to and I would like to learn more about the origins of the system that we have now, understanding the way that it managed to become this concrete.