Capitalism. This is perhaps the most lofty-sounding, pretentious, intangible idea - and also the most concrete description of reality. Capitalism is virtually all-encompassing. Everything from the obvious, such as Wall Street corporations, to the modern familial structure, can be traced back to capitalism. It holds an iron-grip on every aspect of society: the food we eat, the houses we live in, the education we are given, everything. Everything.
Reality can be summed up in one word: capitalism. This is a pretty big claim to make - so, let’s backtrack.
It’s somewhere in the 1600s. Up until now, merchants traded goods that were produced by other people. Kind of like the “middle man,” linking seller to buyer. Merchants are starting to expand their field of business, though. They’re becoming more and more involved in the production of the goods that they trade. They begin hiring workers to make the goods for them. In turn, merchants supply the materials to the workers and pay them wages. Vaguely like a small business of sorts.
Then, the Industrial Revolution hits. We can make goods faster than ever, with all kinds of new machines. We also get better at farming (read: machinery), so we have a lot of new people. A lot of new workers and a lot of more buyers. Merchant capitalists hire more and more workers to produce more and more goods (which are then sold to more and more buyers). Because we have machines, workers technically don’t work that hard… so we can pay them less! In fact, we hire more and more women and children because their labor isn’t worth as much as men’s. We pay them just enough that they can sustain themselves and their families - and so they can buy the same products that they produce.
Well, we have to sell our goods to someone, right?
Capitalism is exploitative. In a capitalist society, the rich own all the means of production - the machines, factories, and raw materials. Workers survive by selling their labor to the rich. And when it comes down to it, workers always receive the short end of the stick. If the rich pay their workers fairly and allow for their own profit gain, the price of the products would be ridiculously high, meaning they would lose customers. The goal of the rich is to turn up as much of a profit as possible. So, they charge as much as they can for a product (a tricky balance between maximizing price and maximizing customers), take as much money for themselves as profit, and pay workers with the rest of the money (which is just enough for them to survive and buy the same products they helped make). In this way, workers are never paid enough.
Capitalism is pervasive. The rich want as many workers for as cheap as possible. In modern society, this often leads to outsourcing. Sure, we could pay workers unfairly in the US, but we could also exploit workers in countries like Bangladesh or Colombia, which have little to no labor laws or protections for workers. If we have our products made there, we could get away with paying our workers even less and turn up an even bigger profit! All in a day’s work of capitalism, right?
Capitalism is also pervasive in the fact that it needs more and more customers. The more customers - the more people willing to spend their money on the rich - the better. Capitalism is always hungry for exploitable workers and customers and will quite literally stop at nothing to acquire them. If you think about it, it makes sense. Without more and more readily available people to exploit, profit will eventually become stagnant and die. Capitalism goes with it.
P.S. It’s not a coincidence that capitalist countries like the US had such a violent reaction to communism. Think past the brainwashing. Capitalism always needs more, remember? Communism is a threat to capitalism because it turns the means of production over to the workers. There is no exploitation in a communist society. Capitalism reached a point where it needed more (more workers, more customers - as always), and turned its eyes to communist countries* to pervade. Communist countries either fell - in which case, this was used as propaganda for capitalists to say “Look! Communism never works!” - or developed strict governments to fend off capitalism - in which case, capitalist propaganda would say “Look! Communism is when the government takes away your rights!” In the spirit of “restoring democracies” in previously communist societies, capitalist countries obstructed democracy in those areas. Capitalist countries rigged elections (among other things) to ensure that capitalism would prevail. Because capitalism dies if it doesn’t have more.
Okay, so, yeah, capitalism is pervasive. It’s an economic system - and the economy (or money, that’s about the same thing, right?) is everywhere. This is, in a way, old news. But wait! There’s more. The Salem witch trials, the very existence of the LGBTQ+ community, the patriarchy, schools, literally almost every single aspect of society has its roots in (and/or ties to) capitalism.
Remember, capitalism is exploitative. It exploits everyone in every way it can (because it’s pervasive!) and it all starts in the home, where parents - typically women - wrack up hours upon hours of unpaid labor every day. Women were made out to be more “fit” to do this labor because by putting them into a biological box, it made them easier to control and exploit.
Under capitalism, exploitation pervades every workplace it finds. Even the home.
*The phrase ”communist countries” is a contradiction in and of itself - communism envisions a stateless, classless, moneyless society. Therefore, communist countries cannot exist. Still, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call countries like the USSR “communist.”
- Yunseo Chung
Cover photo source: https://emperorsgrave.wordpress.com/2020/05/03/the-effects-of-late-capitalism-on-art-and-culture/