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.
6 fully vaccinated people who attended an outdoor wedding caught the Delta variant, but people with Pfizer and Moderna shots survived, study says
Six fully vaccinated people who attended an outdoor wedding in Texas in April came down with COVID-19, a new study says – a small outbreak that underscores how effective US-authorized vaccines are against even variants of the virus.Though the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna may not knock out every COVID-19 case, especially now that the more infectious Delta variant dominates across the US, they are very good at preventing death from COVID-19.
The preprint study from Baylor College of Medicine found that only one person who’d gotten an Indian-made vaccine, Covaxin, died after attending the 92-person wedding near Houston.
The wedding took place in a “large, open-air tent” before the Delta variant was circulating widely in the US. Guests were required to be fully vaccinated at the event, though that policy operated on the honor system.
The study’s authors said they suspect the Delta variant was introduced at the wedding by two people who had traveled from India and tested negative before their flight but developed symptoms in the US. All the COVID-19 patients said they’d had close encounters with those two people during the wedding, according to the study.
5,946 Fatalities Reported Related to COVID-19 Vaccination
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed on July 7, 2021, the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) had received 5,946 reports of death among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine.
However, a review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines, says the CDC’s website.
This CDC data indicates a vaccine fatality rate of about (0.0018%) since over 331 million vaccinations have been completed in the USA since December 2020.
The U.S. FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after a COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.
VAERS is co-sponsored by the CDC, and the FDA, agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination
What You Need to Know
- COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
- Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.
- CDC recommends everyone 12 years and older get vaccinated as soon as possible to help protect against COVID-19 and the related, potentially severe complications that can occur.
- CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other federal agencies are monitoring the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.
- Adverse events described on this page have been reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)external icon.
- VAERS accepts reports of any adverse event following any vaccination.
- Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.
For public awareness and in the interest of transparency, CDC is providing timely updates on the following serious adverse events of interest:
- Anaphylaxis after COVID-19 vaccination is rare and has occurred in approximately 2 to 5 people per million vaccinated in the United States. Severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, can occur after any vaccination. If this occurs, vaccination providers can effectively and immediately treat the reaction. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis.
- Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen (J&J/Janssen) COVID-19 vaccination is rare. As of July 12, 2021, more than 12.8 million doses of the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine have been given in the United States. CDC and FDA identified 38 confirmed reports of people who got the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and later developed TTS. Women younger than 50 years old especially should be aware of the rare but increased risk of this adverse event. There are other COVID-19 vaccine options available for which this risk has not been seen. Learn more about J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and TTS.
- To date, two confirmed cases of TTS following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination (Moderna) have been reported to VAERS after more than 321 million doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines administered in the United States. Based on available data, there is not an increased risk for TTS after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination.
- CDC and FDA are monitoring reports of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) in people who have received the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine. GBS is a rare disorder where the body’s immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Most people fully recover from GBS, but some have permanent nerve damage. After 12.8 million J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine doses administered, there have been around 100 preliminary reports of GBS identified in VAERS. These cases have largely been reported about 2 weeks after vaccination and mostly in men, many 50 years and older. CDC will continue to monitor for and evaluate reports of GBS occurring after COVID-19 vaccination and will share more information as it becomes available.
- Myocarditis and pericarditis after COVID-19 vaccination are rare. As of July 12, 2021, VAERS has received 1,047 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis among people ages 30 and younger who received a COVID-19 vaccine. Most cases have been reported after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), particularly in male adolescents and young adults. Through follow-up, including medical record reviews, CDC and FDA have confirmed 633 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis. CDC and its partners are investigating these reports to assess whether there is a relationship to COVID-19 vaccination. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and myocarditis.
- Reports of death after COVID-19 vaccination are rare. More than 334 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through July 12, 2021. During this time, VAERS received 6,079 reports of death (0.0018%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. FDA requires healthcare providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause. Reports of adverse events to VAERS following vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem. A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records, has not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines. However, recent reports indicate a plausible causal relationship between the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and TTS, a rare and serious adverse event—blood clots with low platelets—which has caused deaths.
Health7 months ago
Candace Owens sticks up for skeptics of COVID-19 vaccine, discusses her “terrifying” injury from HPV vaccine
Editorials8 months ago
Our Love-Hate Relationship with Gimmicks
Editorials8 months ago
HILL: The Great Reset
Editorials8 months ago
Stakeholder vs. Shareholder Capitalism: What Is Ideal Today?
Headline News2 weeks ago
Why some vaccinated people are dying of COVID-19
Headline News7 months ago
The Vaccine From Hell
Editorials8 months ago
How Multi-Stakeholder Capitalism Can Pay Off For Investors And America
Health7 months ago
Mystery illness strikes town in India: Hundreds hospitalized and 1 dead