Guest columnist Olin Rose-Bardawil: Society’s problems are not all on capitalism

Published: 1/14/2022 1:42:13 PM
Modified: 1/14/2022 1:41:21 PM

A recent letter to the editor titled “Capitalism causes destruction” (Jan. 8), which stated, to quote the piece directly, that “worldwide holocaust and planetary destruction” can be attributed to capitalism and capitalism alone, made me realize that this would be a good opportunity to discuss the claims made in the piece, which many of us who consider ourselves progressive seem to share.

It may have been easier to just dismiss the ideas in the letter and move on, but they seem like ideas worth examining. The letter writer seems to occupy a growing faction of progressivism that holds an unfeasible standard of societal perfection. Rather than working toward progress and then recognizing when progress has been made, these perfectionists view social structures through an idealist lens, where any flaws or shortcomings are deemed reprehensible.

It may be helpful to view some economic systems alternative to capitalism, which the letter writer might be a proponent of, under her own idealist lens. It is widely known that the communist regimes that took place over the course of the 20th century, including Cuba under Fidel Castro, China under Mao Zedong, and most notably the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, resulted in the deaths of millions of people as well as one of the most powerful suppressions of ideas that have been seen in world history. Far from ideal, to say the least.

This is to say: the communist experiment has already been run, and the outcome was something that none of us would ever hope for. The initial idealism that motivated many of these countries turned into what could be considered one of the greatest collective violations of human rights in modern times.

Despite the result of the communist experiment that has already been run, many people, most of whom are well-intentioned, continue to push it as a credible alternative to the free-market system used in the United States. Citing the many issues that plague our country, such as poverty, income inequality, mass incarceration, and environmental degradation, these people characterize capitalism as a machine of mass exploitation.

I am not here to endorse capitalism, nor to deny that the United States is flawed and deals with a multitude of problems — including, as mentioned, poverty, income inequality, and the devastation of the environment. It is wrong, however, to claim that these issues are fundamentally capitalist issues. As history has shown, they will occur, at least to some extent, under all forms of governance. It is quite easy to determine that no society has ever been completely free from these issues, while slightly harder to determine whether capitalism plays a role in greatly exacerbating them.

I believe that it is important for the government to regulate corporations that pose a threat to the common good. I also recognize that the United States could do more to establish a social safety net for those who live in poverty — to me this is an undeniable truth.

But it must be said that while the rich have been getting richer, the conditions of the world’s most impoverished have improved simultaneously. One of the eight Millennium Development Goals proposed by the UN was to reduce the rate of absolute poverty in the world by 50% between 2000 and 2015, poverty being defined as less than $1.90 a day. This goal was reached by 2012, three years ahead of schedule. This is a testament to the fact that improvements in the global standard of living are in fact being made.

To those, like the letter writer, who are quick to blame all of society’s issues on the status quo, remember this: perfection is not always attainable, especially because we all have different understandings of what perfect means. If we want to create a better world, we must work to make progress and celebrate when it has been made. As a member of the generation that will inherit the world in the coming decades, I sincerely hope that I will work alongside people who are not expecting perfection, but who will strive for incremental improvement throughout their lifetimes and relish its greatness along the way.

Olin Rose-Bardawil is a freshman at the Williston Northampton School in Easthampton. He frequently writes for his school’s newspaper, The Willistonian. He lives in Florence.

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