“Labor is the father of material wealth, the earth is its mother” – William Petty
Capitalism knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. Capitalism ignores the fact that, regardless of the self-bestowed entitlements to the fruits of our “hard work,” everything we have or create is, ultimately, dependent on the freely given gifts of clean air, rain, and soil.
It should be obvious that the natural resources of the earth -- the minerals, the metals, the fuels -- must all be preserved in perpetuity for future generations until the day when God rescinds the payment. These natural gifts are not free. While we may not make a monetary payment for every breath of air we breathe, or every drop of rain that falls, it is essential that we acknowledge the cost of preserving these essential gifts.
But capitalism ignores all of this. The ultimate manifestation of greed and selfishness is the generation that only puts prices on its own borrowed time, ignoring the costs to future generations. Polluting a river today because the cost of cleanup is “too high” should not be praised as part of the “entrepreneurial spirit.” Poisoning the earth today for profits should not be considered a side effect of “innovation.” Pumping toxic chemicals into the air should not be acceptable in the pursuit of “growth.”
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb
Another mantra of capitalism is self-sufficiency. But any wisdom found in this quote is lost by the true nature of capitalism, which is to consume today at the expense of tomorrow. How can one be self-sufficient if there is nothing to subsist on?
If the river is polluted and kills all the fish, then what? If the river is dammed off, destroying the habitat if the fish, then what? If the river is overfished and there are no fish left, then what? Teaching the man to fish is a noble sentiment, but in order for it to benefit the man there must be insurance that he will always be able to fish from the river. There must be sustainability.
Perhaps capitalism is not about hard work. Perhaps it is really about laziness. Future generations are expected to not only face an earth with depleted resources, but to clean up the mess left behind by the last generation who were too selfish and greedy to think about them.
Instead of blindly extolling the virtues of capitalism, perhaps we should ask; is capitalism and its corresponding emphasis on consumption sustainable? Or is it just a shoddy excuse for selfishness and greed to satisfy the wants of today at the expense of the lives of tomorrow?
This blog post was contributed by guest blogger, Kienan Mick. Kienan is a resident of the beautiful, lake filled Twin Cities. In his spare time, he enjoys amateur photography, nature hikes, and bird watching. He graduated with a BA in Economics from the University of Minnesota in 2009, and just recently finished a MS in Applied Economics from the University of North Dakota. He is interested in “alternative” economic systems where the public, unions, and co-ops take up a greater stake in our economy. He writes, “The idea is that when people are invested in their communities, they will invest wisely, with a long-term view towards sustainability for future generations.”