A Critical Look at Economics 101
Economics 101 is essentially the uncritical and superficial study of capitalism. Granted, it is important to make familiar the language of our current system. But Economics does not just familiarize, it justifies. It propagandizes. It distorts logic and misconceives rationality to make capitalism seem natural, pure. It does not study society as it purports. It perpetuates it.
In Economics 101 I was told that capitalism is a very democratic way to organize society’s resources. At first I did not understand. Was I missing something? Was there a representative from my community who decided how to use our fields and timber? Why didn’t someone tell me this before!?
My professor looked distracted, then smiled and explained that under capitalism people have “dollar votes.” For example, if I want the fields in my community to grow food that stays in my community, all I have to do is cast my dollar vote on local produce. Easy-peasy japaneasy. He smiled. Did I understand now? “Isn’t it simple?”
Hmm. At the time I was suspicious of capitalism, but hadn’t learned or lived enough to confidently critique the professor who seemed so sure. If I was taking the class today, I would ask him how capitalism could be democratic if some people had more votes than others? No doubt he would grin his smug grin.
But I would keep going. Sure, I would cast my dollar vote to keep what my community reaped, but what if the man who owned the fields had more votes than everyone else in the town combined? And what if he did not want to keep produce local? What if he wanted to send it far away?
Today I realize that in our capitalist “democracy,” the people with more dollar votes can use them to acquire even more dollar votes. Power begets more power. Democracy is voted out of office. I wonder what my professor would say to that.
In addition to being democratic, I also learned from Economics that capitalism is rational. Page one of any Economics text book says “rationality is based on self-interest.” Okay, so I agree it is good to base a society on rationality. And what better kind of rationality than that based on self-interest? But does capitalism really fulfill our self-interest?
I may be alone here, but my self-interest seems inextricably tied to society’s interest.
My most pressing self-interest is clean air and water, a healthy environment. Does capitalism ensure that?
I guess next for me would be leisure time. I only have one life to live, so why toil it away, especially since technology and 6 billion people working together could drastically reduce workloads. And yet when I went to cast my dollar vote at Quiznos the other day, I was waited on by a woman who had to be ninety and her hands were shaking so much that she couldn’t wrap my sandwich. I was so disgusted that I left without paying and I will not go back. Do we not even get leisure time when we are ninety?
Ranked third on my list of self-interests is the assurance that I will always have food and shelter, even if I become sick or lose my house in a hurricane… And of course, capitalism fails the test here too.
I guess maybe that my self-interests are irrational. But I think it is closer to the truth to say capitalism is irrational. Of course, you could define rationality as choosing the cheaper of two items. And in this way capitalism is rational. But do we want to base our society on this conception?
I for one do not. But then again, I’ve been called a “radical.”
This entry was posted on January 1, 2009 at 6:15 am and is filed under Social and Political Commentary with tags capitalism, economics, economics 101, local produce, politics, quiznos, rationality, socialism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.