The Trouble with Capitalism

Sometimes internal work goes external, and vice versa. I tend to focus on individual development and self-care, but lately it's systemic change that has been occupying my thoughts, because the internal and the external are not so different. [More on that in a future post]

I am not the first nor the smartest writer on this topic, [check out my reading list below, or Why Capitalism Cannot be Redeemed, by Miki Kashtan for some real knowledge] but here are my reasons, and one thing I am going to do about it.

Capitalism inherently separates us from each other and from the natural world. It’s insidious and fundamental to the culture we swim in. It lives in our thoughts, ideas and words. Even calling it “the natural world” demonstrates the idea that we are something separate from nature. 

Capitalism makes us feel incomplete. This is not incidental; it is by design. We are not enough just as we are. Instead, we are constantly given the message that we are not good enough, smart enough, fast enough, etc. We have been told this so often throughout culture via advertisements, religious interpretations, how we play sports, by our parents, who learned it from their parents, etc. This idea of imperfection is internalized and reinforced at every turn, until we really believe it.

The follow-up message is that we can find that missing something in the next something we purchase. The system cleverly motivates consumption and consumerism by making us feel bad about ourselves

Plus, it stokes fear and insecurity by promoting scarcity Scarcity drives up value, so it’s in the system’s best interest to make people feel that if they don’t “act now,” they will miss out later. Scarcity, urgency and mistrust of the future and of each other, are all driving forces of Capitalism.

Capitalism, by its very nature, glorifies greed. It's about taking more than you give and accumulating wealth for the creation of profit. Profit, by definition, means taking out more that you are putting in. In a finite world, (which this is BTW) this is also the definition of being unsustainable.

None of this is news. The next questions are what to do about it? 

What is the alternative? Are you a communist or something?

If that’s where your thoughts went, then (1) You are not alone, and (2) You’ve been hoodwinked by the neo-capitalist rhetoric, which became popularized in the 1980’s Reagan & Thatcher era, that capitalism is the best and only economic and cultural option. The neo-cons equate capitalism with freedom and democracy for all, but here we are, just a few decades later, and we can clearly see that this path has ridiculously exacerbated the divide between rich and poor, is quickly causing irreversible harm to the environment, and the brunt of the social and climate repercussions are being felt by the most vulnerable populations. 

If you believe there is no alternative, then the feeling of overwhelm will freeze any activism in its tracks, and the system self-perpetuates until nothing is salvageable.

So, alternatives… we must be creative. Plus, we can't simply imagine what post-capitalism might look like, but we need to start now by practicing, so that once capitalism implodes, we have alternative systems and new cultural skills to fulfill our needs. 

Fortunately, there are a lot of intelligent folks out there in the world already doing this. One idea that I like a lot is engaging in the Gift Economy.

Miki Kashtan from the Nonviolent Global Liberation Community says it best:

“Operating in the gift economy means that what we give is neither given for free nor in exchange for anything. It is given freely in complete willingness and trust that when we share what it is that we need to thrive, within a group of people who share our vision, resources will organically flow to meet those needs. This is the fundamental trust that drives all those who choose to embrace the gift economy.”

The gift economy is based on trust. Trust that there is abundance, enough to go around, and that your needs will be met as they arise. No hoarding for the future necessary. Most indigenous cultures are based on the idea of trust, gratitude, abundance, and reciprocity, and knowing that true freedom is to be free from worry and fear. 

I have been playing with this idea over the last few years and I think I am going to start again, offering lessons on a pay-what-you-want scheme, although in the past, it confused the heck out of folks. 

If you feel thrown off by it, maybe that means you just need to spend a little more time disentangling how the culture of capitalism has influenced your thinking. Capitalism is only about 500 years old. Humans have lived in civilizations for thousands and thousands of years. Maybe we can re-learn something from our ancient history.


Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer This whole book is about reciprocity and the gift economy described through the lens of indigenous wisdom. 

Less is More: How Degrowth will Save the World, Jason Hickel A South African economist’s lens on the history of capitalism and his take on what it might take for a sustainable, equitable and achievable future.