Like Neo from ‘The Matrix,’ some of you Pandas might sense that there’s just something deeply wrong with the world. You might not be able to put your finger on it, but some online groups like the ‘Late Stage Capitalism’ subreddit, with over 624k members (ironically called ‘consumers’) document what’s wrong with capitalism and highlight some of its hypocrisy.
Below, you’ll find some spot-on, insightful, and even funny memes about capitalism from the online community. Upvote the ones you agree with, share your personal thoughts about the weaknesses of capitalism in the comment section, and let us know how you’d go about improving things, dear Pandas. What economic alternative from the many, many theoretical ones do you think is the best for everyone?
The term itself, late capitalism, is a catchall phrase that refers to all the inequalities and absurdities of contemporary capitalist society. From inequality to the continuously shrinking middle class.
Finance writer and financial independence expert Rick Orford spoke to Bored Panda about the pros and cons of capitalism, socialism, the link between greed and financial crises, as well as about inequality. Rick was very open that extremes—any extremes, whether we're talking about dieting or capitalism—will always be problematic. "And with that, there will always be folks on either side who scream that their ideas are better." You'll find our full interview with Rick, as well as with another expert from the world of finance who explained the importance of accountability, below, dear Pandas.
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According to Rick, extreme capitalism and excessive greed both thrive when a large enough part of the population is willing to take the risks. "Remember though, greed is widely accepted to be the reason for the two largest financial crises in the last century; namely 1929 and 2008. It also creates the income inequality that’s largely seen in the United States. Indeed, while everyone, in theory, has an equal opportunity to flourish, the scales seem to tip to those with the most money," he explained to Bored Panda.
However, Rick points out that capitalism in and of itself isn't dangerous to society. "It allows folks like you and me to succeed by creating or investing in businesses. Indeed, one looking to borrow money from the banks today won’t have to pay much for the loan. As such, it encourages growth. However, extreme capitalism creates a scenario where greed overtakes reason, and it risks the financial system," financial expert Rick said.
At the other end of the scale, we'll find modern socialism or social democracy as it's sometimes known. The way that this system works is by taxing citizens more than capitalistic countries. "However, in return, citizens are given services such as free and (easily) accessible healthcare, child care, social welfare, etc. Conversely, highly capitalistic societies charge for these services, making it incredibly challenging for the poor," Rick noted.
Rick added that capitalism, theoretically, gives everyone the ability to flourish. And even the titans of industry that pretty much everyone knows today aren't always raking in the cash: they've also undertaken big risks and losses before making a profit.
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"Today, the news is largely distributed by some of the largest American corporations: Google, Facebook, and Twitter," Rick said, drawing attention to the fact that social media sites have the potential to shift people's thinking and even influence elections. "Think Brexit or the 2016 American Presidential election."
What helped these companies flourish is capitalism. However, just the same, capitalism is what helps ordinary people open up a business or sell their products. "And those with the best quality, price, customer service, or combination (of at least two) often do well. Increasingly, however, those who are willing to spend more at the beginning are seeing both extreme gains and losses. Famously, Amazon and Tesla, for example, have spent hundreds of millions of investor’s dollars before ever making a cent," financial independence writer Rick told Bored Panda.
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Meanwhile, a banking expert and independent investor who preferred to stay anonymous due to the sensitive nature of his work, told Bored Panda that capitalism disproportionately rewards individual incentive and punishes the lack of it. Especially when compared to socialism.
"As someone acquires more capital, it—on average—becomes exponentially easier to acquire even more of it, which adds to extreme wealth inequality," he said. "It really bothers me when trillions in pension funds are wiped out only for a couple of bankers to get slapped on the wrist. Making sure that the costs of financial crises are borne by financial institutions that manufactured them (even if unintentionally), as opposed to transferring the burden to other members of society, would increase accountability."
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In the expert's opinion, free markets are responsible for standards of living that are "unparalleled in human history," and he personally believes that it's the best system. However, he's an advocate of capitalism with "effective social programs," not pure capitalism. "Honing in on how social the capitalism should be is the path with most future rewards," he shared.
The expert also added that a lack of proper education about communism leads some individuals to have an unrealistic and even romantic understanding of such regimes. What's more, he believes that such beliefs are further propagated by "the belief that unlimited compassion is a virtue" and by certain university professors who have worked hard all their lives on research that isn't valued much by the market and other people. He said there's an easy way to figure out where you stand: "Ask yourself—do you really want to help the poor, or do you simply hate people richer than you?"
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Some of the main criticisms that academics throw capitalism’s way include the accusations that it’s exploitative, alienates people, it’s unsustainable, and deepens economic inequality.
What’s more, critics point out that capitalism essentially turns people into commodities and slowly erodes away human rights while also putting a large emphasis on expansionism and warfare. By this point, these criticisms sound almost like a stereotype of capitalism. One that everyone knows but something that’s more akin to a caricature.
Like all things in life, however, things aren’t always so black and white. There’s plenty of nuances even when talking about capitalism which people seem to have a Marmite-like relationship with (i.e. they either hate it with the fiery passion of a hundred burning suns or they think it’s the best thing since sliced bread).
While there are some theoretical alternatives to capitalism, far from every one of them is practical or even attractive. For instance, anarchism might sound attractive on paper, but actually abolishing the State and potentially even private ownership would lead to outright chaos. And it’s well worth pondering whether this sort of system could survive for long.
A more practical alternative could be a very soft form of socialism where public ownership would replace private ownership in some form and give workers greater rights and input in how the economy is planned out. However, one of the biggest fears there is that this sort of system might, in turn, evolve into communism. And history shows us that this is something that many countries who lived under such a regime would want to avoid repeating.
Anyone who’s opened up a history book knows that communism has led to the deaths of around 100 million people worldwide in a century. To put it bluntly, if history is anything to go by, it’s not a valid alternative to capitalism, no matter how exploitative the latter might be.
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So what else are we left with? Economic democracy could potentially be the answer. It’s a model where firms are democratically controlled by their employees. Meanwhile, a network of public banks takes charge of investments that affect the entire society. In other words, it’s a way to extend people’s democratic rights to more areas of their lives. In a way, it’s a point between capitalism and socialism without truly being either.
But what do you think, Pandas? Do the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to capitalism? What alternative to capitalism could work out the best? Should we aim to completely reorganize the system? Or should we focus on keeping the current one while making small changes that would improve things for everyone?