How to Stop Capitalism
That's Philosophical #41
The American dream is a flawed concept. I hate that it guides so many people in their lives. Making monetary gain the main goal in the adult life of Americans probably made the US the richest country in the world and influenced a bunch of other economies as well. This might be a really good result, but do the ends justify the means? Is the global society ever going to prioritize human well-being over efficiency?
Making more money is so glorified people can’t help but unconsciously believe that this is the path they should take to achieve a meaningful life. “Would all that time and money invested in my education be worth it if I don’t get a prestigious job?”.
But that’s the problem- we are looking at external parameters to define our lives. Your life’s meaning is what you make it to be internally. No external numbers or rankings are going to justify your living. The only life worth living for is the one you enjoy, while not making life worse for others.
The social stigma of not growing financially is what makes us chase after something bigger every time. This treadmill never stops. We should stop looking at the outside and question ourselves on how we can live a meaningful life. According to our soul.
Making money a priority makes the economy thrive, but not the human heart. When we put money at the top, we tend to forget our inner priorities and put greed above all else. Is it possible to create a society that doesn’t prioritize that? What could it look like?
I like the Scandinavian countries for their approach to wealth. People in Sweden, for example, tend to settle for just enough to have a comfortable life. But this cultural thing wouldn’t be effective if there weren’t laws in place.
That’s why Sweden’s progressive tax system discourages people from becoming wealthier. A super high tax increase makes it virtually pointless for you to work more just to get the same amount of cash by the end of the month.
This system helps with two things: removes the incentive to maximize profits, and shows people that working more won’t make them more money.
A capitalist society wouldn’t approve of such a scheme that just leaves workers without getting all possible production value out of them. But it doesn’t matter. Because the point of this philosophy is to keep people happy, not rich.
Unfortunately, to keep up with the competition, companies have to keep the 40-hour workweek. A company that implements shorter work days is doomed to be behind the companies that demand more from their workers. The competition between the biggest apparel brands in the world is a great example. The race for a cheaper price made some of the clothing giants make disgracefully unethical decisions and make people in less developed countries work for pennies, exporting the goods all over the world.
Shorter workdays also come at a cost, companies will need to hire more people to make up for the cost of employees doing less work than normal. Paying extra salaries might not be what most businesses (especially small ones) are able or willing to do. However, that may not be the case if we consider that the workers will be more productive with more time to rest.
89% of employees in the US say they waste at least 30 minutes during every workday. 30% admit that more than an hour is wasted every day. Often, less than 60% of the day is productive, according to a survey.
Looking at these numbers, it seems like we can adjust the schedule and make the work actually meaningful for most people. A lot of time and money is wasted on employees doing non-work related activities, just because companies have to keep an employee at these 40 hours.
Reducing existing wages and introducing government subsidies to help businesses pay for more workforce might help too. But I feel like nobody would vote for a president who would propose lower income, especially for the higher class.
To make this change, or even explain why a country would do this, requires a fundamental change of values. If a society is materialistic and focused on constantly moving up the ladder, then this obviously wouldn’t work. On the other hand, if we try to change what people count as happiness, then it would be easier to implement this change. Why strive for more if you already have a comfortable lifestyle?
Shorter workdays result in better physical and mental health, more time to spend with family, and a smaller risk of burning out. Longer work days result in more mistakes and worse quality of work. However, they are still more efficient for big companies.
At the cost of slowing down the economy, we can put quality over quantity.
Epicurus famously convinced most of his friends to leave their high-paying jobs and take significant pay cuts to have a flexible schedule and do something they find meaningful. According to Epicurus, the best Job is the one that helps others. We can only find a job fulfilling if we feel like we are making a difference. It’s considered one of the laws of Epicurean happiness.
As billionaire businessman Charlie Munger once said:
“It’s not greed that drives the world, but envy.”
According to this statement, we can never settle because we see the people around us and try to be better, more productive, and wealthier. Is it possible to remove this inner instinct and focus on ourselves?
Going back to Sweden, it’s socially unacceptable to show off your wealth there. Wearing simple clothes and driving simple cars is what makes Swedish society more equal, at least mentally for most people. Simple living is what a lot of modern societies lack. Visible class segregation results in a less happy society overall.
However, it might come at a cost. This social rule is criticized by Swedes and can make money a taboo topic.
It’s very hard to do this. Fundamental societal values have to be flipped and explained to everybody. Economic structures should be transformed, infrastructure rebuilt, and the right people elected.
I don’t think it’s possible to completely eliminate class segregation. But introducing small steps, like shorter work days for worker happiness or a tax system that discourages you from working more, can help drastically.
It all comes at a cost though. From an economical perspective, some extra employees will have to be hired. From a moral perspective, people will just stop growing intellectually. A capitalistic society rewards those who develop new skills and become better experts. If a country won’t pay its best people competitive wages, the talent is just going to be lost. Other countries will lure the professionals away, leaving the economy stagnant. On the other hand, it opens opportunities to those who actually believe that this society could work.
Unfortunately, the world economy is currently at a pace that feels like it’s impossible to stop it. Idealogical change might be the only way to decrease constant consumeristic hunger. Vote with your money towards a future that prioritizes the right things, like the planet or human well-being.
What we have is never enough, but hopefully, it can change and make us finally settle down.
“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
― Edward Abbey
I’ve referred to Sweden multiple times here, I think the concept that might be behind this country’s excellence is Lagom.
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