What is capitalism, when did it start, or is it natural?

Saw a college chick that was a big proponent of "smashing capitalism" and installing a marxist/communist system. It got me thinking why do people hate capitalism? First thing that's interesting is that people don't know what capitalism is. Discuss what it is, as it seems to be hotly debated on its beginning, etc.

  1. To start, the Wikipedia page is wrong on the definition of capitalism. It describes it through the lens of Marxism and calls it an economic system.

  2. Capitalism more so resembles a social system based on individual rights.

  3. The economic system under capitalism that advocates for private industry and production, would be the free market economy. Adam Smith described capitalism using the emergence of the division of labor:


Wealth of Nations:
Every man thus lives by exchanging, or becomes in some measure a merchant, and the society itself grows to be what is properly a commercial society.
  1. The people who understand the practicality of life, know they must develop some ability to produce something that may lead to a valuable and exchangeable surplus that can be traded on the market.

  2. Capitalism is social and natural while the economic system must be reflected in the private and individual institutions that allow for the free exchange of goods.

 

Marxism as it was written was supposed to be the final sustainable iteration of a thriving Capitalistic society. In that sense, they're right that it's never been attempted correctly. The philosophy was a response to oligarchy - a state under which people were understandably dissatisfied. The thing is that it was written by an angsty, privileged, self-important young adult with no practical life experience. It failed to take into account basic human incentive structure. Marxism can never work in humans. Democracy rests on the premise that the majority is right, which is also incorrect.

I like Capitalism. Intelligence creates wealth which creates influence... it's a lot more above the table than most other places.

heister: Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad. https://arthuxtable.com/
 

I agree. Perhaps some of the chagrin from folks stems from i) misunderstanding of marxist theory and ii) the misunderstanding of capitalism's intent.

My belief was that capitalism unfettered would likely lead to the same path as socialism/communism unfettered. On one end of the spectrum you will have a scenario where a select few folks have a centralized amount of substantial wealth, and are charged of creating products/services that are consumed by folks. However, if it's an ultimate race to the bottom to the extent that folks can't afford to consume, then it becomes a bit of a cannibalizing incident (wholly theoretical, however). OTOH, socialism unfettered really only works as long as others are gregarious in the sentiment that there is a cap on where they can aspire to, as well satisfaction garnered from societal utility broadly rather than individual utility. The second that someone wants to aspire higher, or is dissatisfied of a free rider incident, the infrastructure likely crumbles.

I like capitalism very much, as it allows for opportunities and upward social mobility the likes of which no society in the past was able to accomplish. While there are certainly cases of folks living in poverty, it's not unlike others living under different forms of economic regimes. I suspect much of the dismay from many come from seeing a greater spotlight on global issues and the perception of systemic conflict (a large part due to social media, which tends to emphasize sensationalized events while minimizing commonplace happenings in my view), while misdirecting it's root cause.

There's a closer meaning to my user name. Try reading it quickly. Perhaps you will then understand ;P
 
alpha_q:

My belief was that capitalism unfettered would likely lead to the same path as socialism/communism unfettered. On one end of the spectrum you will have a scenario where a select few folks have a centralized amount of substantial wealth, and are charged of creating products/services that are consumed by folks. However, if it's an ultimate race to the bottom to the extent that folks can't afford to consume, then it becomes a bit of a cannibalizing incident (wholly theoretical, however).

This is a very noteworthy point. Capitalism does seem to advocate for the accumulation of wealth by a very small minority of the population. The Marxists view capitalism as being a system that allow what they call "capitalists" to control the means of production. The basis and cause of oppression today is by the wealthy "capitalists" from a Marxist's point of view.

It's important to understand this because it's easy to see why this point is made and widely believed. You can see that this does seem to be the case. And it is easy to understand why capitalism becomes such a strong sense of frustration.

I don't know what ways this phenomenon of wealth accumulation and control can be reduced or eliminated. One interesting thought I had is that government and regulation creates a framework for stronger capital accumulation. Regulation acts as a limiting force on how production develops. Take land rights, as an example, only after a permit and sometimes with the requirement that a certain high barrier of investment is agreed on, can someone develop a piece of land. That means not everyone can produce off land.

But, I think if capitalism is going to survive, some form of mechanism needs to be created to increase competition and minimize the affects that large capital accumulation has on market dynamics, if that's possible. Otherwise, people will constantly feel suppressed, separating their identity away from "the capitalists".

 
alpha_q:
On one end of the spectrum you will have a scenario where a select few folks have a centralized amount of substantial wealth, and are charged of creating products/services that are consumed by folks. However, if it's an ultimate race to the bottom to the extent that folks can't afford to consume, then it becomes a bit of a cannibalizing incident (wholly theoretical, however).

Totally disagree with this statement and it is in of itself a mis-characterization of capitalism. Sure, you have the Warren Buffets of the world with extreme wealth but capitalism does not beat everyone into the ground but instead creates a pretty healthy middle class.

Take a drive through any suburb in the U.S. as an example. We're not all living in shanty huts while Carl Icahn and Warren Buffet count stacks of cash.

I think that you're falling into the popular trap of wanting to present balanced views as to not offend anyone too much. Some views are right and some are wrong. Socialism and Capitalism do not lead to the same place.

 

What's the alternative to our Democratic Republic though? A council of benevolent multidisciplinary geniusus would be rad. But they would need to truly be gods not to eventually get into it with each other and polarize the public.

heister: Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad. https://arthuxtable.com/
 

This was very well written, thank you! It definitely put into perspective the history I had been taught in grade school. I certainly wasn't encouraged to reflect on history in this sort of angle while I was in school, this totally would have gone over my head.

 

The free flow of capital is the back bone to a free and open democracy. I also love when people assert that money is the root of all evil......like you really want to go skin a beaver to trade pelt for your next meal??

Monkey see. Monkey Doo [Doo].
 

Why do people hate capitalism? Simply because they can not compete and are at least rational enough to choose a system where their ability to compete is not necessary. However that is where their rationality ends, they align themselves with a system that has zero use for people who have below average ability to compete. Now why do the smart people support this system? Simple, they see it as an easy way to gain more power.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne
 

One bit about Capitalism that trips me up is the environmental shit. I'm pretty Libertarian-leaning until it comes to the environment, at which point I go full Lefty. I don't even know that regulation is the answer, but there was just a 30-car pileup in Mumbai because of pollution and I won't buy ginger from China at the grocery store. And I don't want to have to wait for China to stop polluting because not enough dicks like me won't buy their shitty ginger root. But at the same time, they grew and shipped a 3-lb bag of a perishable goods thousands of miles across the world and want to sell it to me for 99 cents. So that's sort of nifty as well...

heister: Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad. https://arthuxtable.com/
 

The worst environmental offender, China, is mercantilist--I'm not sure China is, strictly speaking, a capitalist country (although I can see both sides of the argument). In fact, looking around the world, the most polluted and filthy countries are either explicitly not capitalist or they are emerging economies where capitalism is relatively new (and I'm not talking about the fake pollutant, CO2).

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Them and South Korea are Croney Capitalist success stories. Except for the bits about baby girls stuffed in sewer pipes and mass disappearances of old people every year... shit like that

heister: Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad. https://arthuxtable.com/
 

No regulation is the answer. Let people sue the fuck out of companies for damaging land. Those who put their faith in regulation are saying that pollution is fine to a certain level. Also regulation comes with lock outs and other obstacles to recourse. Why not let companies do what they want but make them responsible for what they do? That seems like a damn quick way to solve the problem.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne
 
Stay.Hungry:
I agree that part of the reason hate capitalism is because they don't understand it, but a bigger reason that is connected to misunderstanding is that what most people see as capitalism is cronyism, and view capitalism as the cause for the 2008 crash.

Well let's not get ahead of ourselves, it was certainly part of the problem lol.

If you find yourself feeling lost, go climb a mountain.
 

No it wasn't. Capitalism is not and has never caused a financial crash. Considering that capitalism doesn't really exist in its pure form anywhere, it sure as hell gets blamed for just about everything.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne
 

Capitalism started at the end of the Middle Ages when skilled laborers and craftsmen in Europe started gaining more bargaining power and began forming guilds and companies. But it really didn't take off until credit became more easily available to common folks and joint-stock companies were invented in the 1600s (the English invented the modern public corporation and the Dutch invented the stock market).

After all, what better way for a government or company to raise capital for its empire than by issuing debt?

"Work ethic, work ethic" - Vince Vaughn
 

Markets naturally occur. Specialization, trade, free association all occur naturally.

Forced equality, redistribution and centralization are not natural things, yet humans keep trying.

"When you stop striving for perfection, you might as well be dead."
 

On the whole I support capitalism but I don’t think it should be exempt from serious criticism. As I see it, the focal flaw of capitalism as a system is that it generates and then imposes external costs on society, and in some cases, these externalities can be quite grave. Because free-markets and non-interventionism lay at the heart of capitalism any sort of intercession, whether preemptive or reactive, to address these externalities becomes a gross violation of the system itself— essentially it lacks an effective moderating force and rejects any form of exogenous intervention.

Just to outline a few of the foremost negative “externalities”:

Income Inequality: Income inequality is not categorically a bad thing, but there is surely an optimal level for society. I would contend that its best represented by a Laffer curve type function. However, left unchecked income inequality begets more income inequality and initiates a positive feedback loop. If you look at U.S. history, overwhelming outside forces were required to reset the system periodically, such as WWII. Income inequality is now reaching pre WWII highs.

Asymmetric Power and Influence: Concentration of wealth also leads to a concentration of power. In turn this creates a system with less equal opportunity and a political process that increasingly favors the powerful. Research has shown that the political opinion and preference of those in the bottom 90% have literally zero impact upon public policy.

Climate/Ecological Impact: Deforestation, pollution, resource depletion, ect are all severe ecological externalities that require strong economic incentives or regulatory insistence to combat.

These are just a few quick examples. The insinuation here is not that capitalism is inherently bad or that these issues do not exist in other economic systems. The point is that unrestricted capitalism, without sensible guardrails, can erode and cannibalize the society it relies on. Not necessarily to the degree portended by Marx, but enough to warrant legitimate attention.

 

Please explain income inequality. How does income inequality beget more income inequality e.g.the rich get richer?

I think 1800s capitalism is different than whatever we have now, and I contend that the central bank created in the early 1900s has had a huge negative effect on "pure" capitalism. Also our social security and New Deal programs were implemented to the detriment of future generations.

 

Sure, its largely due to a preponderance of advantages that accumulate and accompany wealth. These include education, asset composition and investment income, political influence, and lower implicit and explicit rates of discount. Inversely, there are factors that disproportionately affect the poor, automation, de-unionization, globalization, and the shareholder revolution.

The relationship between income and education is as strong as you'd expect. However, the cost of secondary education has outpaced virtually any other good. Additionally, those in the top 40% on average tend to spend 4x on education what those in the bottom 60% spend.

The top 20% own 92% of America's share of stocks. In the last 20 years the DOW has quadrupled while real median wages have barely budged. The runaway affects of this should be obvious. Investment income, which is very concentrated, has eroded labor income-- see shareholder revolution.

In fact, because of the stagnation in wages the majority of purchasing power of U.S. households is afforded by debt and debt only. Recent studies have shown that debt among U.S. households is rising 60% faster than wages. This is another dynamic that perpetuates income-inequality.

Automation and globalization are topics that have been beaten to death so I won't belabor them but they disproportionately affect the poor and enrich executives and shareholders.

EDIT: Look no further than the Tax reform bill getting rammed through as I write this. We just had 8 years of monetary stimulus in the form of ZIRP and QE that disproportionately benefited large corporations who used their access to cheap capital to buyback stocks and drive asset prices up versus capex, wages, innovation, ect.

Today we are witnessing stock markets at all time highs, record profit margins, record cash balances, record share buybacks, record executive compensation, and record levels of household debt. Yet despite the soaring heights of the markets, corporate profits, and executive pay we are going to pass a debt-fueled tax reform whose focal point is lowering corporate tax rates. Again, it goes back to asymmetric power and influence on public policy. Corporations have been using the near-free capital available to them to buy back stock over the last 8 years, which enriches the top 20%, but more specifically the top 10%.

The additional capital made available via tax reform will be no different. This is how income inequality begets more income inequality.

 

External costs? Every system has costs...what is this “serious critique” that one must level that will fix this? That’s how this universe works...we aren’t god, there are always trade offs. Capitalism is the best because, once again, it’s how the universe naturally works.

And really, I mean true free markets. Not the crony, centralized, mostly quasi-socialist system we now have in place. Critiquing “capitalism” based on the current state of Western economies is not useful or relevant, might as well rate Ferrari as a company based off the performance of Lamborghini road cars.

Clearly you have no idea how a free market actually functions - the market is the moderating force. Incentives are the moderating force...that’s literally the point. How do you suppose it should be done instead? The way it’s been trending over the last 200 years, and failing?

Are you arguing another world war is preferably to income inequality?

Concentration of power is by nature not capitalism or free markets. We have such an incredible concentration of power right now precisely because we’ve slowly eroded our freedoms and liberties in order to gain some of the so-called “necessary moderating forces” that you claim are so vital to a healthy society.

The US leads the way in generally keeping a clean environment. This insane, ridiculous assumption that naturally all free markets want to destroy the environment has no basis in reality, fact or really anything other than childish, nonsensical drivel that comes from extreme far-left ideologue talking points.

I get what you may think the problem is, but I really must ask you to think about how exactly we got to the point we are now...we have nothing like unrestricted capitalism, and we haven’t almost as soon as we signed the constitution into place.

"When you stop striving for perfection, you might as well be dead."
 

Take a deep breath.

The criticism is not that external costs exist. It's that the system shuns any attempt to moderate those externalities from any force outside of the system itself. This can slow or suppress response times in addressing or removing said externalities, especially when they are the source of a competitive advantage.

The invisible hand was conceived when the world economy was largely mercantilist and even prior to the industrial revolution. It's efficacy as a moderating force in a global economy where corporations comprise 69 of the top 100 world economies is inadequate at best. Unless you think you can dismantle or reset the current state of the world economy then your fetishizing of pure capitalism is just a theoretical wet dream. Transnational corporations have enough scale, capital, and clout now to command the system that you contend would moderate them.

PeterMullersKeyboard:
Capitalism is the best because, once again, it's how the universe naturally works.

Capitalism is an immutable law of the universe? Again, capitalism relies on a sovereign authority recognizing and enforcing private property laws. This, in and of itself, is already a violation of the state of nature and requires the assistance of an entity outside of capitalism-- the state. I think I get your point, but the statement was to grandiose and clumsily stated to let be.

PeterMullersKeyboard:
Are you arguing another world war is preferably to income inequality?

This is an absurd and pointless form of argumentation. It's a baseless straw-man with no substantiation with regards to either A.) the intent of my argument or B.) the logic behind the presented dichotomy.

PeterMullersKeyboard:
This insane, ridiculous assumption that naturally all free markets want to destroy the environment has no basis in reality, fact or really anything other than childish, nonsensical drivel that comes from extreme far-left ideologue talking points.

This is not the assumption, it's just a useful strawman for you to rebuke. Again, there is no assumed malevolence towards nature or anyone or anything else, it's just corporations optimizing their outcome within the existing incentive structure. The actual argument is that in some cases, the organic incentive structure of the system itself is either not strong enough, or too short-term focused, to protect long-term collective public interests-- such as deforestation, soil depletion, oceanic pollution, ect.

PeterMullersKeyboard:
I get what you may think the problem is, but I really must ask you to think about how exactly we got to the point we are now...we have nothing like unrestricted capitalism, and we haven't almost as soon as we signed the constitution into place.

My critique was of capitalism through the lens of the 21st century economy. Pure capitalism is merely a thought exercise, as is pure socialism, or pure anything anything at this point. Perhaps, "pure capitalism" is as impeccable and self-sustaining as you contend, but it also exists in a vacuum and arguing about its sanctity does little to advance the current state of economic affairs.

 
Best Response

Capitalism is simply a system of free exchange rooted in private property. It represents the mechanisms that naturally emerge from the ownership of one's productive effort and the ability to exchange with other productive parties. The ownership component creates the incentives required to stimulate production (i.e., your ability to generate and retain the return/loss). The exchange component creates the mechanism required to direct production (i.e., the price mechanism).

To put it another way, capitalism is a cooperative system where strangers produce for strangers. It's why/how, as an example, Croatian blue-fin tuna fisherman supply Japanese consumers without even knowing them. People liken markets to democracy but, in fact, markets are far superior to democratic political systems. If you want a yellow tie, for example, you can purchase a yellow tie. You do not need permission from 51% of the public.

Marxism/communism is not an alternative system. It's simply the destruction of social institutions that have emerged organically over time. It destroys them but it does not replace them. When you read Marxian literature (real Marxian literature, not the shit that e-socialists post on huff post comments board), you'll notice that it's just a critique of capitalism. This is why all socialist/communist systems necessarily degenerate to state-run/crony capitalism.

“Elections are a futures market for stolen property”
 

"Prior to capitalism, the way people amassed great wealth was by looting, plundering, and enslaving their fellow man. Capitalism made it possible to become wealthy by serving your fellow man."

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I would disagree with this, if anything, looting and plundering has never been greater under capitalism, it just doesn’t happen in Europe and the Western world anymore. The first modern origins of capitalism arose with joint stock and limited liability companies like the British and Dutch East India Companies and their whole business was based on plundering Asia for spice, cotton, etc. Slavery on a unprecedented level also occurred (and while it’s debatable whether capitalism ended slavery or caused it, it’s undeniable that chattel slavery grew in the same period as modern capitalism.) The Industrial Revolution in Europe was essentially based on looting the global south for resources and then using those same places as markets. While today things like colonialism and imperialism may seem like a relic from a bygone age, I would argue they still occur. All the resources the West requires for its high tech manufacturing are sourced from the global south, all while they are paid wages that basically makes them no better off then slaves. Whether it’s oil, fruit, diamonds, lithium, the modern history of capitalism has been based on plundering these natural resources at the West’s benefit. This looting and plundering you speak of in your quote may not happen in front of your eyes anymore, but it still occurs on a industrial level across the world. 

 

Capitalism is not "social and natural" - it is grounded in hard-won institutions which are legalistic in nature. Think of the Magna Carta, or the first joint venture companies in mercantile Europe. It is about private property, plain and simple - private property that is harnessed to generate privately held profit. In contrast to tribal, feudal, or communist/some socialist formulations of the economy, capitalism rests upon the notion that private rights to property and transactions involving those properties must be held sacrosanct and protected from violation by mutual covenants that are enforced by the Leviathan. In many ways, this makes for a great system.

The reason people are mad, however, is because there are many permutations of capitalism in society, not all of which serve people well from a utilitarian perspective (i.e. the greatest good for the greatest number), or an ethical one. Unfettered free market capitalism tends to lend itself to a system of haves and have-nots - and if you have a sacrosanct right to own only meager posessions, like the displaced agrarians of the industrial era, then the concept loses a bit of its shine.

There's also crony capitalism where private property exists, but the channels of transacting with your property are calcified and exclusionary, and the Leviathan may protect the covenants of its cronies better than those of the non-cronies.

A number of atrocities have also been committed and justified in the name of acquiring private property and profit - colonialism, slavery, war, etc.

Further, a system which holds private property and the individual rights of its owners above all else may neglect to address issues like the tragedy of the commons and other collective action problems. Just because you own a factory that pollutes, do you have the right to churn out noxious gas to the detriment of your fellow man?

I think it is naive to discuss a world without the notion of private property - it just seems ludicrous to me that a system without this concept could function in a way that imparts maximum benefit to its members. What I think is more reasonable to discuss is the ways in which private property may sometimes need to be regulated in order to avoid some of the harms discussed above.

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It's true that private property is a key function of modern capitalism. I think Esuric's point about capitalism being natural is that functioning trade markets have always sprouted up throughout history--trade between humans is natural. Take Venezuela, for example--a despicable socialist tyranny. There is a vibrant black market for virtually everything--this market operates under the natural laws of supply and demand and the innate idea of private property (that what I trade to you is mine and I have the right to give it up or not for that which you posses).

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What I meant my "natural" is that, whenever you have property you "naturally" get exchange, which "naturally" creates the system we call "capitalism." It's an if-then logical progression. I didn't mean to imply a seamless social process.

“Elections are a futures market for stolen property”
 

To clarify - my contention against the notion of "natural" is aimed at the OP. I think Esuric's comments, and his use of the word "natural" are spot on. The free market, and other forms of relatively free exchange are the logical result of institutionalized private property.

I was just not clear on what OP meant by "Capitalism is social and natural while the economic system must be reflected in the private and individual institutions that allow for the free exchange of goods", but from what I can gather, I think he mistakenly characterizes how capitalism came about.

Institutions do not follow from capitalism in the first place - capitalism follows from institutions in the first place. Capitalism is not merely the exchange of goods - a barter system achieves that. It is the socially sanctioned and contractually enshrined notion that what you produce or acquire is yours, and not the tithe of your church, your lord, your tribe, or any other paternalistic ruler. On this point, I think the three of us are in agreement.

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...Thanks bud. Maybe you could disclose your position in the real world so that we can all benefit from your worldly knowledge, and how it applies in this debate? No? Then sit down and be quiet with this BS.

I'm a conservative and generally think that the government does a poor job with regulations. I think Dodd Frank and Basel II/III are great examples of regulation run amok, because rather than limiting credit risk, regulations are increasing it by crowing large lenders out of the middle and lower market.

Nonetheless, if you cannot understand why there needs to be a regulatory response to resolve collective action problems like climate change, you are most likely being an ignorant mouthpiece for the brand of conservatism that is on its way out the door in today's world.

Next semester, I suggest you register for a Game Theory class and start out by learning about the prisoner's dilemma. That should set you on your way to eventually having the requisite knowledge for engaging in this conversation.

Some other regulator-driven stuff that OP has probably concluded hasn't "worked so well", in his unique experience as a participant in "the real world":

  • The Securities Exchange Commission, created by regulators to facilitate transparency in the markets.

  • The Federal Reserve Bank, created by politicians to stabilize aspects of the economy

  • Credit rating agencies, whose judgments as to creditworthiness are mandated by regulators as part of a legitimate offering.

  • The busting of trusts in the early 20th century, to avoid a host of problems arising from monopoly

  • Sarbanes-Oxley, which was devised to hold executives accountable for financial chicanery that they ordered or sanctioned after WorldCom and Enron

The list goes on...

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My experience is that people who hate capitalism don't really hate "regular" capitalism, but crony capitalism. And that's understandable.

How politicians can be bought (through lobbying) for pennies, relatively speaking, is disgusting. Or entities masquerading as capitalist free-market supporters, while pocketing politicians for special treatment, essentially making competition almost impossible (looking at you, telecom).

Next time you speak with anti-capitalist people, try to find out what they really hate.

 

I don’t think you understand at all how capitalism works or what it means...there is no “oppression” and “exploitation of others” in a voluntary free market - which is the long way of saying “capitalism”

"When you stop striving for perfection, you might as well be dead."
 

This is the most naive, ignorant, and downright childish response on the forum.

Go ask a factory worker if they wake up at 5am voluntarily.
I'd guess most of them have no choice, as they are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

A simple way to prove this is to see how many lottery jackpot winners return to their minimal wage (or close to it) job afterwards.

Don't be so asinine. Let's call a spade a spade.

And let me add, there is nothing wrong with oppression or exploitation. But there's a huge problem with denying said fact.

 

Actually, capitalism was the result of agrarians in Europe, in the latter half of the last millennium, finally gaining the ability to self-determine their economic existence. Finally being able to buy and sell goods for profit. Finally being able to lease land, etc. from their lords, not in some feudal patronage relationship, but in a contractual, legalistic one.

Capitalism is precisely the opposite of how you characterize it. It is based upon mutual, self-determined agreements, and respect of those agreements by entities who previously took whatever they wanted from their destitute subjects.

Next time you feel like taking this misanthropic view towards the status quo, remember what preceded it:

  1. Mercantilism - essentially plundering and murdering indigenous populations for the sake of the king's pocketbook.

  2. Feudalism - i.e., growing up and dying on the same plot of land as your father, grandfather, great grandfather, and so on, for no other reason than your lordship has the favor of the current monarchy.

  3. Papal rule - i.e. the pope and his cronies building lavish cathedrals in the Vatican using the proceeds of indulgences that they sold you - you know, those little pieces of paper that will totally get you into heaven in exchange for your meager earnings.

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