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