Many critics of capitalism have given up trying to claim capitalism makes people poorer. Faced with so many obvious gains in the standard of living, and in reducing poverty worldwide, markets have won the economic debate over whether or not capitalism is the path to material riches.
But the doctrinaire anti-capitalists have other strategies. They’ve now branched out into blaming capitalism for a host of other social, ecological, and psychological ills.
Sometimes, the tactic is to blame capitalism for destroying the earth. Other times, it’s to claim that capitalism, in spite of the material plenty it delivers, makes us miserable.
For example, George Monbiot, columnist at The Guardian blames pro-capitalist ideology for making people, sad, lonely, and unhealthy. Writers cite polls claiming people in richer countries — i.e., more capitalistic ones — are more miserable than people elsewhere. Holly Baxter at The Independent suggests capitalism is the reason elderly people are now so lonely and isolated: capitalism makes us more concerned with buying things than with visiting poor, dying Aunt Ethel.
Claim: Capitalism Wants Us to Be Sad, Needy Consumers
And it’s all by design, it seems. According to Monbiot and other critics of “neoliberalism” — by which they just mean anything resembling a market system — the capitalist ideology is designed to isolate us, and turn us into soulless consumers. This then paves the way for an endless cycle of misery and consumption.
For a more academic phrasing of this idea, we could consult Ankita Singh’s article “Capitalism, Consumerism, and Popular Culture” which examines how capitalism creates a downward cycle of despair. This persistent unhappiness, Singh explains, “is caused [by] the sense of alienation one feels in today’s urban corporate culture.” Consequently, consumers attempt to “compensate” for their capitalism-caused “emptiness” by “indulg[ing] in inanimate objects offered by the consumerist culture.”
At this point, all that is left for the capitalists to do is to tell us what products to buy. And fortunately for the capitalists, Singh tells us: “The power of advertising is such that it can create a demand where none exists, of a commodity which is not needed.”1
Much of this general concept can be traced back to Marxist psychologist Erich Fromm, who in Escape from Freedom (1941) wrote:
In capitalism economic activity, success, material gains, become ends in themselves. It becomes man’s fate to contribute to the growth of the economic system, to amass capital, not for purposes of his own happiness or salvation, but as an end in itself.
That is, through capitalism and its propagandists (i.e., advertisers) human beings are reduced to “a cog in the vast economic machine” who no longer pursues his own happiness, but only serves the interests of “capitalism.”
There are a couple of problems with this theory, though.
One is that a capitalist economy does not rely on endless consumption to sustain itself. The second is that advertising doesn’t work the way many assume it does.
Capitalism Doesn’t Cause Consumerism
For starters, it is not the case that the capitalist system is built on consumption or that it requires us to mortgage our future in order to buy ever-larger amounts of consumer goods. After all, it is for a good reason that capitalism has historically been much associated with misers — the quintessential literary example being Ebenezer Scrooge — who shunned consumerism. Saving (i.e., deferred spending) is every bit as essential to capitalism as is consumption. It is governments and their central banks, not markets, that seek to maximize consumption always and everywhere.
Moreover, saving and investment are key ingredients in increasing wages, growing the capital stock, and increasing future consumption. In a market economy, many firms, such as retirement funds and banks, directly profit from more saving and investment.
Spending every last dime on another trinket or bauble is not a recipe for robust capitalism.
How Advertisers Are Supposedly Making Us Miserable
At this point, the purveyor of the capitalism-makes-you-sad theory could still insist: “sure, maybe capitalism overall doesn’t require us to relentlessly consume. But certainly there’s a portion of the capitalist system, such as toy sellers and auto makers, who need us to consume. And to get us to do so, they use advertising designed to keep us hoping we can fill that hole in our souls with just one more trip to the mall.”
There’s a (small) kernel of truth to this. Many capitalists do indeed want us to buy consumer goods, without much regard to the consequences to each consumer personally. In hopes of getting us to spend, they employ advertising. And advertising often promotes feelings of inadequacy to get us to consume more.
This particular kind of advertising was developed at least as early as the nineteenth century. It was then perfected in the 1920s.
Typical examples of the formula include:
- Why be ugly … when you can use Zenith Cold Cream?
- Why be fat … when you can take Acme Diet Pills?
This formula was so widespread by the 1920s and 1930s, in fact, that Sigmund Freud joked the “boldest and most successful piece of American publicity” would be an ad using the phrase “Why live if you can be buried for ten dollars?”2
Nowadays, a lot of modern advertising is more nuanced and less in-your-face than this formula. Modern advertising often appeals to humor. Nevertheless, advertisers nowadays still rely on the strategy of presenting consumption as a sort of self-improvement. They offer a glimpse of a life of better looking people, more luxurious cars, and more fulfilling friendships. It’s the life you might have if you only consume the right products and services.
But do people actually believe what advertisers tell them?
Clearly, people don’t buy everything advertisers tell them to. If they did, as Ludwig von Mises noted, candle makers could convince us to abandon light bulbs with a few ad campaigns.
Indeed, studies conducted to determine the effectiveness of ads have never been conclusive. A 1931 consumer survey revealed the “only 5 percent of the public believed any of the more obviously outrageous claims made by ads.” Only 37 percent believed any ads at all.3
A 2013 survey concluded only 21 percent of consumers agreed “ads are somewhat accurate.” 21 percent also said they will even “refuse to purchase products due to brand advertising.”
Some might claim this is only survey data, and thus questionable. But then there are countless cases in which ad campaigns failed to achieve results. A 2015 study from the University of Texas, for example, showed alcohol ads have increased 400 percent over the past forty years. Meanwhile, per capita alcohol consumption has gone down. Yes, advertising can be helpful in promoting a certain brand. But it hasn’t been shown to increase a person’s overall spending.
So, it seems people don’t spend more just because capitalists tell them to. And its unclear that many even believe what ads have to say. If this is the case, it’s hard to see how “capitalism” has succeeded in its nefarious plan to make us miserable consumers, assuaging our loneliness with another round of mindless spending.
Are We More Miserable than Our Forebears?
In spite of the unconvincing reasoning behind the capitalism-makes-you-sad narrative, many continue to find it plausible. This is largely because many people remain convinced that people were happier — or at least had an easier time — in the past.
Certainly, there’s no statistical data to support this. Those happiness measurements we sometimes read about in the popular media (such as this one) are usually based on totally subjective self-reported survey data and offer absolutely no means of comparing the present with the past. Attempts to systematically asses “happiness” in the past were virtually nonexistent.
Quality-of-life indicators reconstructed from the past (such as working hours, living space, life expectancy, and homicide rates) don’t often make the era of our grandparents or great-grandparents look especially wonderful. The nineteenth century — an era before modern methods of mass marketing and mass consumption — wasn’t an era of carefree indifference to the requirements of daily work and toil. The poverty of the “good old days” was not exactly a source of personal fulfillment and contentment.
But perhaps we need to look deeper into the past?
On this, Murray Rothbard suggests the imagined Golden Age before capitalism existed. It was, according to the myth, an era of “Happy Craftsmen and Happy Peasants” who had a “sense of belonging” and all were “sure of his station in life.” No one suspected he ought to be buying a new car or a new bedroom set. No such options were available at all.
Was living in poverty with no access to advertisements or capitalism the real key to happiness? Rothbard is skeptical and notes that people — should they really want to flee capitalism — are largely free to pursue this supposedly happier type of living in communes like the utopians or hippies of old. He concludes:
Not only has almost no one abandoned modern society to return to a happy, integrated life of fixed poverty, but those few intellectuals who did form communal Utopias of one sort or another during the nineteenth century abandoned these attempts very quickly. And perhaps the most conspicuous non withdrawers from society are those very critics who use our modern “alienated” mass communications to denounce modern society.
It’s comforting to think there is some time or place in which human beings were not troubled by feelings of unhappiness, emptiness, or inadequacy. It’s unclear, however, where or when this place has existed. In the mean time, few seem willing to give up their modern amenities to investigate first-hand.
*About the author: Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.
Source: This article was published by the MISES Institute
1. Singh calls to mind a line from the 1999 film Fight Club in which a main character declares modern workers in a capitalistic system are “slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes. Working jobs we hate so that we can buy sh-t we don’t need.”
2. Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty:Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s (New York: The Noonday Press, 1995), p. 144.
3. Ibid., p. 68.
We Need a Politics That Is Not Only Class-Focused, but Class-Rooted
When the pandemic eventually ends, globalization may no longer accelerate at the same rate as before. Particular sectors will remain hard-hit, and tensions between the United States and China will continue, and may even become more menacing (to borrow from Mao Zedong, the making of a global capitalism is not a “tea party”).
But none of this signals the end of globalization, an imminent collapse of capitalism, or an inevitable decline of the American empire. Global business will still be profiting from the commodification of nature and human activity, US corporations will still be a leading force in high tech and business services, the dollar will still be the global currency, and the Federal Reserve effectively the world’s central bank.
The crisis that consequently frames the political opening beckoning the American left isn’t capitalism’s economic but social failures; capitalism’s vulnerability is marked by the destructive impact of its successes on popular needs, aspirations, and fears.
And with the responses from parties and states to the rising popular discontent falling short, this crisis of legitimacy has expanded into a political crisis. Alongside popular anger with policies like free trade and austerity has come a loss of faith in state institutions ranging from social agencies to the judiciary and the police, as well as disenchantment with mainstream political parties.
The pandemic further exposed the distorted priorities and social irrationalities of capitalism: its lack of planning capacities and unpreparedness to deal with social emergencies, the ugliness of its inequalities, its general disregard for those who produce needed goods and provide essential service. The health pandemic was, as well, the canary in the mine for the far greater environmental pandemic waiting in the wings, a threat which will demand very much more than social distancing, lockdowns, or vaccines.
COUP-IN-PROGRESS: White Collar Mafiosos Fauci, Pelosi, Cuomo & Cuomo Conspire to Topple Trump
Let’s put THE GREAT SCAMDEMIC aside for a moment.
And let’s jump ahead to Election Day — November 3, 2020.
Three things are certain based on Deep State’s no-holds-barred MO.
First, the DEMs will steal the Senate just like they stole the House during the 2018 midterms.
Second, the DEMs will increase their majority in the House with even more election fraud and theft.
Third, the DEMs will either politically incapacitate Trump between now and Nov. 3…
or, they will outright steal the POTUS election now that the electoral process has been thrown into chaos and confusion…
or, they will let Trump win so that they can impeach and convict him in 2021 with their solid majorities.
Now let’s take a close look at THE GREAT SCAMDEMIC, and especially how it will be used to manipulate the 2020 election outcome.
This thing — THE GREAT SCAMDEMIC — goes way beyond the Democrats and Deep State. It goes way beyond CROWNgate and Pedogate. It goes way beyond the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers. It even goes beyond the Cahilla and the Khazarian Mafia … as well as the Black Nobility and the International Banking Cartel & Crime Syndicate.
THE GREAT SCAMDEMIC is so HUGE and has so many objectives that you know it’s the end … the final end … … … as in the “End-times” !
But that’s not the point here.
What happens between now and Election Day will determine the fate of the American Republic. The future of the American people hangs in the balance with the 2020 outcome like no other election in U.S. history.
The election outcome (and process) will also dictate the inevitable consequences for the Democrat Party, as well the destiny of Deep State. The Patriot Movement also stands to gain or lose a LOT!
This is why TPTB have strategically positioned so many Deep State Democrats all over the place.
We’re talking about white-collar mafiosos like Fauci, Pelosi, Cuomo & Cuomo.
The liberal power elite have installed a top hitman in every position that counts.
It’s like JFK driving through Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963 surrounded by the 8 C.I.A. sniper nests (yes, there really were at least eight sniper’s nests).
FALSE FLAG ALERT: Obama Foundation tweeted about George Floyd on May 17th, a week before his supposed murder – UPDATE
(Natural News) We have now confirmed that the Obama Foundation was tweeting about George Floyd on May 17th, more than a week before the day Floyd was reportedly killed by police in an act of violence that sparked the worldwide riots we’re all witnessing.
George Floyd was killed on May 25th. So what was the Obama Foundation doing tweeting about Floyd on May 17th, when nobody knew who he was?
UPDATE: Some people are saying that Twitter retroactively alters images from the history of your timeline when the source URL changes its image. However, what investigators have already confirmed is that the Twitter URL validator was used by the Obama Foundation to validate this image on May 17th, in advance of releasing it publicly. Thus, the image was VALIDATED more than a week before Floyd’s claimed death. This, combined with the new video analysis that claims George Floyd’s death was faked using crisis actors, raise serious questions about the authenticity of this event, which appears to have been planned and carried out for political purposes, right in time for the 2020 election. The Obama Foundation Twitter picture is only a tiny fragment in the larger picture that is now emerging of a pre-planned false flag event.
The answer, of course, is that the whole thing was planned in advance. Just like on 9/11 when the media was reporting that the WTC 7 building had collapsed even while it was still standing in the frame directly behind them, it looks like the Obama Foundation got its wires crossed and accidentally started tweeting about George Floyd a week in advance.
Once the first tweet accidentally went out, they couldn’t delete it without raising suspicion about it, so they just left it up and are relying on Big Tech’s censorship to make sure nobody learns the truth that this was all planned in advanced and rigged as public theater.
In fact, there is growing evidence that George Floyd isn’t even dead. We’ll cover more on that later. We’ve already documented the fact that actors are now posing as cops as part of a rioting psyop (psychological operation) that’s being used to brainwash more people into supporting the communist uprising.
YouTube is now banning all videos that discuss the Obama Foundation tweet about George Floyd on May 17th, and Facebook has made sure that no one can share any link from NaturalNews.com as a further suppression of truthful, independent reporting.
Popular on The Canadian
- Agora Publishing Consortium
- Le Journal Canadien
- Dominion: Food News
- The Ottawa Star
- Toronto Business Journal
- BBW Singles
- Transgender Singles
- Montreal Business Journal
- New York and New Jersey Business Journal
- Ottawa Book Expo – Salon du Livre d’Ottawa
- TorontoBook Expo – Salon du Livre d’Toronto
Headline News10 months ago
ROTHENBURGER: What we need in this country is a special racism court
Headline News10 months ago
Former cop says more than apology to black community needed from police
Headline News10 months ago
What Don Cherry, Canada’s Archie Bunker, shows us about cancel culture
Headline News10 months ago
Remembering everyday violence against women and girls on Dec. 6
Headline News10 months ago
Toronto-area rapper blames systemic racism for months of misdiagnosis
Sports7 months ago
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Headline News5 months ago
Passport to the Brave New World: the vaccine
Headline News5 months ago
COVID: The squeeze play on the population