These days, times are hard. Despite the upcoming election, unemployment skyrockets and misery starts threatening. I am not speaking about a random African country; I am speaking here about Europe. The crisis is far from being over and therefore our economic model is being questioned. The recent riots in Greece illustrate well the drift of the European economy. Capitalism, which has brought prosperity to the Old World, is now blamed for being the cause of the current situation.
Capitalism is based on the accumulation of capital in order to create wealth. Can it be considered as moral? It is an interesting question that the professors in my University would not dare answer without starting by quoting Karl Marx. The latter explains that the exploitation of the workers is inherent to capitalism. Remember that according to Marx, exploitation has always existed, first with slavery and serfdom. When it comes to capitalism,
its characteristics are to camouflage exploitation through the salary system. According to Marx, wealth is created both on capital gains and on the back of workers. The latter are deprived of their dues by the capitalists. Marx wrote: “Capital is (…) not only, as Adam Smith says it “the power to command the labor of others”, it is also essentially the power to command an unpaid labor” (Capital, Chapter XVIII).
Morality can refer to the customs, rules of conduct, values, and ethics within a culture. In the western culture for example, man must always be the purpose of any action. In order to answer our initial interrogation, the question must be changed: is capitalism immoral? “Amoral”? We define something as immoral when it is opposed to morality. According to the analysis made by Marx, the term immoral is used to blame the exploitation of human beings.
Yet, lots of things have changed since the 19th century. Indeed, living conditions and in particular the workers’ living conditions were not comparable to those of these days. Without enumerating all the social benefits, one can still realize the significant change that has occurred by observing the life expectancy of the workers in general, -which nearly makes one with the life expectancy of the other economic agents- and by noticing the continuous progress of science. It may seem not connected to our topic but I believe it is. We must always remember those facts when rereading Karl Marx.
Moreover, capitalism is not based on exploitation but rather
on property and responsibility. As a result, it can be considered neither as immoral nor as moral, since it is a complete system. In my opinion, it must be considered as amoral. Indeed, it is foreign to all kinds of morality and not opposed to morality.
Obviously, the current events, like the outraging salaries of several managers or traders while a poverty of a new kind (the poor workers) is appearing, shock. How can a few earn so much money when so many do not earn enough to have a decent life? Olson explained that a group’s power decreases with its size. Maybe this is the beginning of an answer… This, however, needs to be qualified. This paradox makes us think. Yet, I am convinced that the best answer is not to blame capitalism but its actors. Another answer is to say that it is the “less bad” of all the systems. Bernard Mandeville tells in his Beehive Tale, the story of a hive in which the more the bees consume, the richer they get. Then one of the bees once asks for a bit of morality in the beehive, which then becomes impoverished. Mandeville’s description of Europe in the early 1700 can help us understand the world of today. I grant you that capitalism is neither perfect nor moral. However, shouldn’t the result of capitalism throughout history compared to other systems suffice us?