Arguing for Egalitarian Societies Essay

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Capitalism vs. Democracy

Curing Neoliberalism with Democracy

Pope Francis, never one to shy away from controversy, attacked contemporary forms of capitalism as not only exclusionary, but also deadly (Downie). To support his claim, Francis notes that the news media regularly report a meaningless one or two percent change in the Dow Industrials, but the death of a homeless person goes unnoticed; or that daily tons of food is thrown into the trash while millions starve. Although some liberty was taking in the paraphrasing of Francis' words, the point is the same; i.e., capitalism today, as it is being practiced, rewards the ruthless and powerful and marginalizes the rest. According to the author of the Washington Post article about Pope Francis' stinging criticism of neoliberalism, James Downie, what separates Pope Francis from earlier papal proclamations of capitalist evils is that Francis talks specifics, such as the destructiveness of trickle-down economics and the market economy. The main tenet of trickle-down theory, according to Downie, is that economic growth through a free market economy will eventually increase social justice and inclusion (para. 4). In addition, neoliberal proponents argue that the nation state should step aside and let the open markets determine our economic fates.

Thomas Pikatty explained in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century that historically, economic and social inequality and exclusion have always dominated, at least up to the end of World War II (241). During the
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18th and 19th centuries, Western societies were stratified economically into incomes derived from capital or labor; the latter at a huge disadvantage. Inherited wealth was everything, since the amount of income that could be expected from labor alone, regardless of the profession, relegated laborers to a life of struggle near the edge of poverty. Increasing one's social status, therefore, could only be accomplished by acquiring a large dowry through marriage or inheriting a fortune. The moral implications of such a system, according to Pikatty, are the lack of economically meaningful work incentives. Instead, ruthlessness would seem to be the best attribute to have.

After the end of World War II there was an apparent growth in egalitarian values in Western nations as the social value of inherited wealth declined and the best pathway to economic health was academic and career success (Pikatty 241). Although Pikatty admits to the reemergence of inequality concerns in recent years, he argues that the same values and work ethics that emerged after the war are still intact today. For example, would it be a familiar refrain that the best way to ensure economic security is through a large dowry or inheritance, rather than pursuing a law or medical degree? Not yet, anyway. The most likely sources of contemporary economic inequality is a decline in the demand for skilled laborers, a faltering educational system, and government policies influencing the…

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Works Cited

Downie, James. "Pope Francis's Stinging Critique of Capitalism." Washington Post 26 November 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

Muller-Doohm, Stefan. "Nation State, Capitalism, Democracy: Philosophical and Political Motives in the Thought of Jurgen Habermas." Trans. Stefan Bird-Pollan. European Journal of Social Theory 13.4 (2010): 443-57. Print.

Piketty, Thomas. Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014. Print.

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