Is this the Mother of all Dumb Arguments?

I am being criticized for my criticisms of capitalism on the ridiculous grounds that I live in a capitalist society. It’s a bizarre criticism, but it is one I have faced it before. The basic argument is that because I buy things I support capitalism. I don’t know why those who make this argument do not immediately recognize how completely absurd it is. True, I support capitalism in a material sense when I buy things, but that’s not support in the sense that I promote capitalism or that I have a desire that it succeed. I support capitalism materially because I am forced to. I live in a capitalist society by misfortune of birth. I didn’t choose it.

Slaves supported the system of slavery on these grounds, since their labor is what made the system of slavery possible. Slaves accepted food, housing, medicine—everything—from the slave owner. But that’s because they had to. They had no choice. It’s called survival. Likewise, I have no choice under capitalism but to buy food and medicine, pay rent, and so forth. I even have to pay the capitalist money to use my eyes (I wear glasses).

This reality is in fact one of the central reason why capitalism and every other exploitative system is wrong. If I were forced to contribute my labor to a society in which the workers owned and controlled the means of production, that would be one thing. Every society in history has required those who could work to work for the betterment of the community. “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” I would even settle for “From each according to his ability to each according to his contribution,” with some social provision for those who cannot produce enough for themselves, of course (you know, children, the disabled, the elderly). But under capitalism, I am forced to contribute my labor to, and obtain necessary items from a class of non-workers who monopolize the means of production.

Capitalism is in essence a system in which people who don’t work live of the labor of those who do—and they live even better than the producers do. Being forced to contribute to such an unjust arrangement is what’s wrong with capitalism. It isn’t supporting capitalism to be forced to live with it any more than prisoners support prisons because they live in them. Frankly, I would be embarrassed to have made such a stupid argument.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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