Anti-capitalist sources constantly berate commercial aspects of society as materialistic and greedy. We hear this message especially during the holidays. As early as Thanksgiving day businesses push their Black Friday ads to make quick bucks on Christmas shoppers. How materialistic our society is! Is it true that “capitalist America” is primarily concerned with profits? Do private companies brainwash us with the shop-till-you-drop culture? Do the virtue signaling leftists actually have a point this time about our apparent addiction to Christmas season shopping? First of all, one must honestly ask whether true capitalism is even materialistic in the first place.
The left is right about American society being too materialistic. American concern themselves far too much with accumulating more stuff. The newest car. The fastest computer. The designer clothes. The biggest house. We have an addiction to consumption. The incentives of the entire economy are structured to fuel this addiction. Predictably however, the left is wrong about the source.
One can scarcely tune in to economic news stations without hearing about GDP and other metrics of measuring spending. The mindless parrots in the media and mainstream economists closely monitor these numbers. Is this obsession with spending really a function of capitalism though? The left fails to realize, yet alone acknowledge, the gross economic distortions that encourage such behavior. It is true, our society is indeed committed to spending and over-consumption, but it is the direct result of government policy, not the free market.
Anyone who seriously studies the intricacies of capitalism knows that capitalistic societies focus more on investment, not consumption. In a true free market, business success directly stems from the deferral of consumption. An entrepreneur defers spending in the present to accumulate savings. These savings are then used to acquire capital goods for improving future productivity. Think of a farmer. He works hard all day, but produces near subsistence levels of output. To improve his production, the farmer decides to make a plow. He must however, sacrifice a few days worth of present consumption and save to make the plow. After these savings are made and the plow finished, his production becomes more efficient and increases twofold. The farmer now has a higher standard of living and even some time for leisure.
The culture of materialism comes directly from the state, not capitalism. Capitalism is about living within ones means, and in many cases sacrificing consumption of material goods to accumulate savings. The state however, is a spending and consumption entity. Politicians and governments have a mixed relationship with savings because like parasites, they live off the wealth of others. The state wants, in fact needs, some people in the economy to save. As an entity outside of the market, the state produces no goods and services and thus relies on theft (taxation) to fund their ventures. In order to fund their extravagant spending programs–often to directly enrich themselves–politicians need savers. In short, the state uses the prudent and frugal as tax livestock. Once the state claims a portion of the extra wealth generated from savings, they spend it liberally. Unfortunately, the spend, spend, spend mentality has trickled down from the top and infected our entire society.
The government’s spending-focused mentality is certainly a driver of materialism. There is however another potent source of materialism that comes from the state: the fomentation of envy. The state, and its vociferous leftist supporters, never forgo an opportunity to denigrate the savers who become wealthy. He has more stuff that you! Isn’t that unfair?! Let’s raise his taxes and take some of it for ourselves! This is the mantra of the state and the left. They cleverly cloak their crusades behind a moral veil of fairness and social justice. Their true motives however, are obvious to anyone who has eyes to see. They seethe with hatred and envy of the successful.
In a free capitalistic society, the successful are seen as a beacon to others, sometimes even coming from poverty themselves. To the poor, the rich are an inspiration of where hard work, savings, and tenacity can lead. By following the examples of successful people before them, a poor person with entrepreneurial spirit might climb the ladder and rise above their poverty. The state profits enormously from poverty though and has absolutely no interest in alleviating it. A high number of poor people allows politicians to justify their anti-poverty spending programs, which reliably causes the poor to vote for more state power. The government has a much greater incentive to stoke the fires of materialistic envy among the poor. Stealing and redistributing is a much easier feat than saving and producing.
Materialism is entirely a product of a cancerous government worshiping culture. Its roots thrive on the government’s encouragement of spending over savings and resentment of success. One cannot also forget the government policy of artificially suppressing interest rates to effectively punish savings and reward spending. And if capitalist America was so materialistic, then why did countless friendly societies spring up during the 19th century, exclusively to assist the poor? As government becomes more and more involved in society, so does the culture of materialism.
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