An Evaluation of Capitalism: Quality versus Quantity

The Southerner

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By Steve Terry

Watching our economy crash in 2008 got me thinking about the nature of capitalistic economies. Even though there were just as many resources in the economy in 2008 as in 2006, it wasn’t the same. This led me into thinking about what the goal of a capitalistic system is, and what makes it really work. I came to three conclusions: first, that the definition of a thriving economy is one that can quickly and efficiently turn natural resources into trash; second, Gross National Product is not the best indication of a nations economic success; and third, that any product made in a capitalistic system is automatically not as good as it could be because reducing production costs also reduces the quality of the product being made.

An economy does better when more goods are being sold. When more things are being consumed, when more resources are being utilized, economies thrive. Products are either labor or material, and material products come entirely from the environment. It is profitable to extract resources from the environment, process them into products and sell them to people. It is much more profitable to do so and to then create a new product so that everyone throws away the old one so that they can then buy the new profitable item. In doing so, materials are being extracted, produced, bought, used and thrown out. Basically, a capitalist society converts the physical material of the earth from natural resources into trash. The faster this process is occurring, the better an economy is doing. I find it disturbing that it is extremely profitable to exploit the resources of the earth and wish that in more cases, it would be immediately profitable to protect them instead.

A country’s value is not measured in overall happiness, or social wellbeing. It is measured in economic terms. The “best” countries in the world with supposedly the highest standard of living are those with the highest GDP or gross domestic product. The United States is the richest, most powerful nation in the world. We are over twice as rich as the next richest country in the world China. We’re No. 1. We’re the top dog. The United States also has the highest number of people in prisons by more than 500,000 over the nearest incarceration according to the New York Times in . We have the most expensive medical system on the planet, and receive the 37th best care after such nations as Morocco, Cyprus and Costa Rica, whose GDPs are respectively ranked 58th, 90th and 83rd according to the World Bank. We are 20th in the world in education. Gross domestic product is a measure of how efficiently the economy is able to consume goods. A thriving economy is one that can very quickly create waste. Why then do we see production as the sole measure of the success of a nation?

Nothing created for profit is created in the best possible way. The profit motive forces top producers to make products efficiently at the lower cost. Rather than making products well, production must make them inexpensively and quickly. As a result, reduced cost trumps quality.

When someone sets out to create a car, for example, they do not ask themselves how to create the best car possible. No, they ask themselves how to make the most profitable car possible. It has to be able to compete with cars that are created by companies that have gotten very good at creating cars efficiently, so the price has to be low so that people will actually buy it. When these parameters are placed on creating this car, it changes everything. You can’t use the best materials possible. You can’t spend the optimal amount of time required making that car because time is money. You have to use materials that are good enough and affordable. You have to spend enough time on it so that it works, but not too much because that would drive the price up and make them unaffordable, unmarketable, and ultimately not a source of profit. Quality production is useless in a world where profit is the only thing that matters.

The “great” thing about the free market, is that we are free to compete with others, and rise to the top. I think that perhaps those at the top are doing their best to help paint capitalism in this positive light. I’m not saying I’m a communist, or that I have any better ideas, but I do think that it’s important for people to stop and think about why we value the things that we value so much; to take a minute and figure out why we support and love this system, and try to realize what it is doing for us and what it is doing against this planet.

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