“Fuck Capitalism,” proclaimed a sign held by a man in his late twenties who was protesting in the Occupy Wall Street movement. His sign did not seem entirely out of place considering the context of its use.
In 2011, the world witnessed a revolution rallying against the excessive corruption and economic exploitation found within our society due to certain flaws in our capitalist system. Thus, sentiments such as the one expressed above have become commonplace. Browsing through other pictures of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I noticed signs and T-Shirts with similar messages printed on them. Some held placards stating that “capitalism is an organized crime” and “the whole system has got to go”. The image of individuals making such strong statement and rallying against an economic system in which I so vehemently believe was shocking to me. How did we come to a stage where individuals readily disregard an entire economic system that has given rise to innovation, democracy, and a wealthier way of living?
The answer to the question posed above is simple. The economic crisis of 2008, the current European crisis, and growing income inequality in the developed world make it easy to lose faith in our system. It is easy now to disregard capitalism as being the root cause of society’s malaise and to make bold statements calling for a return to socialist or communist economic systems. Arguments labeling free market capitalism as the devil itself are ubiquitous on our own campus too. In fact, our own politically progressive peers in the Arts faculty proposed hanging a portrait of Karl Marx in the Arts lounge. Given the way in which big corporations and businesses are destroying our environment and reaping profits at the expense of labourers, student sentiments have an important place in our discourse.
But, there is a difference between informed criticism of the capitalist system and a wholesale disregard of it. As university students, our objective is to study and eliminate the flaws of the current economic system instead of camping out in our banker’s or government official’s backyard and rejecting their authority. We must have healthy debates between proponents of a purer form of capitalism and ones who prefer government to play a larger role. We must not look at Wall Street and the banking system as evil, but as institutions that need a few changes and give in easily to excess and greed. We live in a society where inefficient government plays an ever-larger role, while a combination of greed & irresponsibility has tainted the reputation of politicians who are supposed to change the world.
So how do you save capitalism? Stop blaming greedy bankers, futile regulators, underpaid workers, or overpaid executives. Stop using apocalyptic words to prescribe the end of capitalism. The truth is that a viable alternative to our system is nonexistent; I believe the Occupy protesters definitely haven’t come up with one. Capitalism has remained a success due to its ability to never be static. Through booms and busts, the system goes through complete reforms where it comes out stronger. The Great Depression led to increased involvement by the government and a rejection of the gold standard. The Reagan and Thatcher revolutions introduced an era of deregulation that led to global booms.
And how will we reform capitalism after the current bust? By pushing models of innovative and sustainable capitalism, embodied in part by companies such as Apple. By appreciating the philanthropic power of big business tycoons such as Bill Gates, who established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And most importantly, by reinforcing capitalism and making it freer.
Governments need to stop coddling big banks and offering them bailouts. By doing so, the self-regulating nature of capitalism is lost. Corporate boardrooms must be reformed to reflect capitalism’s ideals of meritocracy and long-term profits. Finally, taxes must not be increased, since they only make our inefficient governments larger and more bureaucratized. In short, we must return to a purer form of capitalism.
Murtaza Shambhoora is a U2 Political Science & Economics student. He can be reached at Murtaza.Shambhoora@mail.mcgill.ca.