Culture and Capitalism Term Paper

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Capitalism and Culture

The works of Smith, Marx, Freud and Wolf center around the history of capitalism and its meanings as it has emerged from the west: first from western Europe and subsequently from the United States of America. However, this is not the only light in which world economy might be seen. There are various economic systems that are viable in various cultures. These will be considered in terms of the above-mentioned authors, together with authors who write from a different perspective, including Sahlins and Appadurai.

Western Capitalism.

The main characteristic of the capitalist system is that those who produce actual goods are employees. They do not own and cannot buy their own equipment and materials. Through this system, and especially through the advent of the machine, workers have been separated form the production process. Such displacement has occurred through coercion, especially during the early stages of the system, and also in less developed countries. Thus globalization has also to some degree caused such separation in countries where capitalism is being enforced. Another aspect of this is that the worker's resources are insufficient to compete with those of large capitalist firms. A further symptom of capitalism is the change in lifestyle. This is one major component discussed by the list of authors in cross-cultural works, which will be considered later. The lifestyle change, brought about by capitalism, and the "civilization" of the west, is a certain amount of work hours per day, with a certain fixed salary, by which a more "modern" lifestyle of leisure and consumption could be pursued. Thus capitalism is made possible by the fact that producers do not have the means of production. The worker hires out what he has; labor power, which earns wages, and thus the capitalist lifestyle.

Capitalism is also what initiated the process of globalization. Before the era of this system, national or local economies had diverse methods of production. With the rise of capitalism and its associated economic means of mass production and profit against competition, the pressure has grown to beat the competition by expanding to other countries through imports and exports. In this way also factories and business could be started in different countries for less than the cost in the original country. Thus the capitalist system grew and expanded, eventually being enforced on a global scale. This then further escalates in terms of competition from local capitalists, imitation, reduction of standards, and changes of standards in other countries. The consequence of this is standardization, and subsequently all countries are drawn to the single world economy.

The continual pressure to innovate to stay afloat has then resulted in the invention of the machine. In theory this was to save time, but instead the result was mass production, and more time than ever goes into innovative techniques. A further consequence is unemployment, where workers are displaced by machinery that saves labor. Thus, not only have producers been removed from their means of production; they are now also removed from their means of livelihood. The employee thus has very little control in the workplace. "Civilization" has thus been forced upon less developed countries by those who adopted the capitalist system in the first place. Thus the world and its laborers are turned into slaves and masters by a system of which the main aim is to prevent scarcity.

The writings of the above authors furthermore show the colonialist attitude of the capitalist system towards less developed countries. The Asian countries are viewed as important through their fur trade activities, while African systems are forced to adapt or be dissolved by the trade in slaves.

Different Paradigm

While the above examples depict capitalism as seen through the western viewpoint, authors such as Marshall Sahlins and Arjun Appadurai give a more global viewpoint. Sahlins for example compares current western society to hunter-gatherer communities in order to arrive at a different paradigm to explain the term "affluent."

Sahlins points out that modern economies, although considered economically prosperous, feature, as mentioned above, a large amount of unemployed and destitute people. This is not so in hunter-gatherer communities, where everybody is taken care of by everybody else. Affluence in such societies is also not measured by money, but rather by commodities that can be found in the world around them. Sahlins further contests that the "civilized" world is obsessed with feeding the masses while exploiting and dominating as much as possible of the earth. This panicky search for the endlessly new and…[continue]

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