Capitalism: As a System of Punishment

We are taught that capitalism rewards innovative individuals. Neoliberal social institutions throughout the United States, especially the media, embody and decree messages that shout, “Hard work and dedication will allow you to achieve anything and live in great comfort!”

These messages ignore that for the vast majority of people capitalism is not a system whereby labor, capital, and ideas (not to mention basic human life and survival) are rewarded. Below, I share some working ideas about how capitalism is a problematic system that punishes the vast majority. This is not, however, to suggest another economic or political system would be better. 

Capitalism, for one thing, guarantees that most people will never get ahead or build substantial savings because everything cost so much more than is actually necessary because we have accepted a system that provides certain lucky people with tremendous rewards and punishes everyone else. 

Additionally, capitalism says that if you get sick, you are financially responsible. Even if you get sick with cancer because so-and-so chemical company is negligent, we, as a society, have decided that you alone bear the burden and punishment for your “imperfection.” Companies are usually large, anonymous bureaucracies, too large to hold responsible and too protected by prior success for punishment.

Capitalism also says you are ultimately responsible if someone damages your existing capital, especially if said person cannot be caught. But even if said person is caught, said person probably lacks the capital to fully reimburse you. Here again, capitalism protects the anonymous and punishes the unlucky victim.

Capitalism does not like changes or challenges either. When it comes down to it, capitalism and its buddies unite together to prohibit new technologies and punish their creators. Products are punished if they aim to save people en masse money or if they might potentially change who has the most money. Products that aim to save the Earth are especially feared. Capitalism, at its end points, might even punish itself to destruction and end the world. 

Under capitalism, products of the brain or ideas do not have a highly-regarded place. A $50 book might provide $1 to the person who wrote the book. People in education are paid far less than most other professions. Capitalism punishes those who help society continue because they play a “background” role. Why aren’t my ideas, which have no physical manifestation per se, as valued as a new and faster computer? Why I am punished for being a thinker and professor?

Capitalism punishes people who are in the wrong place, at the wrong time, even though through no fault of their own. If only person-x hadn’t been in y-place, he and his family for generations wouldn’t have been enslaved and would have had the opportunity to save and pass along that savings. If only person-z had been in w-place, she and her family would had the opportunity for hundreds of acres of free land that would eventually be sold for thousands. If only person-q had been in r-place, she would have won the lottery.

Under capitalism, ironically, those who work the most are often punished with the lowest compensation. If they are compensated at all. And often the “compensation” includes physical and psychological abuse. 

Capitalism punishes those who were not born with the “correct” racialization or reproductive organs. Capitalism punishes those without direct and strong connections to the economic and political structures of the United States. Capitalism punishes those who have children or take care of others who cannot take care of themselves. Capitalism punishes the everyday selfless citizen who wants to support other people. Capitalism punishes by constantly requiring urgency: New businesses have to take off quickly or forever be forgotten, for example. 

Capitalism can never be fair because it was not designed to be fair and emerged from the unfairest of possible conditions.

Be sure to also see 9 Problems with Money in 2015 and Two Fundamental Flaws in Capitalism No One Talks About.

Andrew Joseph Pegoda


Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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2 replies

  1. Very interesting remarks, especially in the light of what Thomas Frank says in his talk (based upon his book, ‘Listen, Liberal’) on Alternative Radio this week, . Thomas Frank speaks about Capitalism, and one thing that was emphasized is how the educated elites do not practice solidarity, unlike the uneducated union workers, so that educated people, especially those with PhDs, get no help from each other with the extremely high unemployment rate among them (estimated for science PhDs at 92% in a recent article in Nature Biotechnology ). In fact there is little acknowledgement that there is a problem. Indeed that article completely misinterprets the data because it assumes that all people sampled for periods immediately after getting the PhD are again sampled later during their entire careers in a true longitudinal study. However, the surveys depend upon finding PhD’s at various levels in their careers from typical PhD hangouts,and thus greatly underestimates the number who are likely to even see the survey to take it. See my comments on a broken economic model for PhD production in this country at .

    His comments on how the Democratic Party and even the Republican Party are inundated with the educated elite. He speaks about how it affects their platforms, assumptions about the economy and what needs to be done (e.g. increase education, despite the problems with lack of job availability for the newly educated jobless). After all, they succeeded, so all we need is education for the masses and they will succeed, too. That is their thinking. Thomas Frank addresses the problems with lack of attention to details.

    You are able to listen to what Frank says now on the internet. WREK radio streams its programs on demand at, which shows this week’s schedule beginning on Sunday, but next week (July 31, 2016), when a new set of programs is aired, Thomas Frank’s talk will then be available. If you can’t listen to it next week, there is an opportunity at that URL to click on “Last Week’s Archive.” Both locations show a schedule, but you can click on the streaming rate of 24kbps or 128kbps under the “Alternative Radio” time slot and listen to the program at any time (within the 2 week period of availability). Because of this “listen-on-demand” model you are not limited to listening to AR on Sunday at 11 am on WREK. But there are other alternatives. KUOW in Seattle streams it twice, once on Wed (11 pm Pacific time–Frank was on July 27, 2016) on the station KUOW, and again on the following Sunday afternoon (this coming Sunday at 2 pm Pacific time), on the station KUOW2 ( ). There are several other radio stations that stream it at different times, sometimes as much as 3 weeks after the program airs on its mother station (KGNU, Boulder).

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  2. I found this blog at the most excellent time. The more I’ve learned about Capitalism, the more I have grown to despise it, yet I can’t seem to comprehend why others are unable to see how Capitalism ultimately promotes Imperialism.

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