“Capitalism began as a theory about how the economy functions,” writes Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens, but today, capitalism is more than just an economic theory. “Capitalism gradually became far more than just an economic doctrine,” writes Harari, “it now encompasses an ethic – a set of teachings about how people should behave, educate their children, and even think.”
Capitalism is the basic framing through which most of us live our lives. If you live in the United States you probably get bombarded with advertisements all day long. Those advertisements are a product of capitalism (a message to get you to purchase more things and use your capital) and also reflect the general nature of the capitalistic system we live within. We praise two parent families with children who purchase the newest things, have the most expensive stuff, and take the most exciting vacations. Everywhere you look you see advertisements featuring parents purchasing things and experiences to enrich the lives of their children. You see messages about the things you could be if you spent your money on a new car, a new outfit, or traveled to a new place.
Underlying all of these messages is that the true way to exist within society is through purchases. Buy more, spend more, work more, all in service to the economy and our own consumption of materials and experiences. Those who work and produce are good, those who have lots of resources to spend and spend them freely are even better. A hermit, not working, not producing, and not spending money, is the worst thing you can be.
I think it is important to step back and recognize how many areas of our lives are influenced by something that started as a way to describe a set of economic principals. Major decisions, like where we should live or whether we should have children, are often influenced by ideals found within capitalism. In many ways, capitalism has become the end goal, and not just an economic theory. Many values have taken a back seat to consumption, or the appearance of consumption, and that can leave life feeling empty, cold, and somewhat vain.