Not that I've ever embraced it. Being a working-class northern-English person, embracing capitalism is like lying in front of a steamroller and watching hopelessly as it advances and then flattens you. Unless you own capital - and I'm talking about more than being a homeowner, having a good income that allows for the purchase of further capital, and/or a decent inheritance of capital coming your way - if you 'embrace' capitalism, you're supporting the system that ensures you will never achieve equality.
Karl Marx - and others - call this 'false consciousness'. It's a way of thinking that stops us from seeing what our social/economic position really is. Here's an example, which is a bit long-winded, but I'll get to the point eventually.
In England after WWII, the welfare state was created with the intention of ensuring that every UK citizen's basic needs were met. It was achieved through the partial redistribution of wealth. This worked by taking the excess wealth from each citizen at any given moment and redistributing it across society and each citizen's lifetime.
For instance: a thirty-year-old, healthy, qualified working man (I use 'man' because the system was gender-biased at its inception) who earns more than he needs (at that point in time) pays the excess into 'the pot' through national insurance and tax deductions. That pot is then used to provide basic income and provisions for those who are less healthy and unable to work. It is also used later to pay that man's pension, or at other points in his life, when he is unable to work.
On a basic level, this system should work perfectly. We pay in when we can, claim back when we need to. Nobody gets more than they need, and we all have basic food, clothing, shelter, education and health and welfare.
However, we know now it doesn't work, because...
I don't believe for one minute it's a natural human 'quality' to hoard wealth at the expense of others. I don't believe we are naturally competitive. From an evolutionary point of view, it's nonsense, and in any case, our ability to reason moves us beyond evolution in so many ways (not all of them with positive outcomes) it's ridiculous to suggest that storing surplus is a natural tendency in human beings.
From what we know of prehistoric humans, they worked together to ensure everyone was fed and looked after. When we look at other predatory species, we see a lot of sharing behaviour, but we also see some hoarding/taking too much. Even non-predators, like the humble squirrel, hoard food supplies for the colder months. That's no different to the 'redistribution across a citizen's lifetime' that was introduced in the post-war welfare state, other than each squirrel is hoarding for itself, not for a community of squirrels. That's because squirrels - like those hoarding predators - are a solitary species, whereas human beings are a social species.
I'm not going to take that point any further, other than to say most species that hoard do so selfishly and don't share, but human beings are unlike most other species - because of our capacity to reason.
Thus, it is a nonsense for businesses to argue they're storing surplus capital in case the market goes into decline (and in fact, it's usually a lie, seeing as the same businesses will pay out profits - surplus - to shareholders whilst at the same time laying off staff and increasing prices).
It's also a nonsense that a mass social welfare system is unsustainable for the reasons that we're all familiar with, which include:
- People are living longer, therefore there is not enough in the pension fund;
- People are refusing to take lower-paid jobs, therefore there are too many dependent on benefits;
- State-run welfare is admin-heavy and inefficient because there is no competition.
A mass social welfare system IS unsustainable...within a capitalist society, where we are brought up to value the accumulation of wealth - houses, cars, jobs with high status, top-class education, savings in the bank, something to leave our children - above all else. In that system, we are always trying to get hold of and keep more than we need.
I've had a few conversations recently with non-UK friends/acquaintances about why I am anti-fox-hunting and anti-royal. Aside from the fact that fox-hunting is a barbaric and unnecessary activity that serves no purpose beyond cruel amusement, both fox-hunting and the continuance of a royal family underpin a centuries-old social/economic inequality in the UK. It existed in feudal society (before the industrial revolution) - the landed gentry who lauded over the peasants - and with the industrial revolution came the new super-rich: the capitalists who owned the factories, etc.
In 2017, this inequality persists. The UK is run by those who inherited their wealth, power and titles, and those who oppress and exploit the rest of society to hoard their surplus.
There is them, up there, with their wealth and power.
And there's us - the rest of us. The middle classes, the working classes, and those who don't even come close to having a 'social class' because they can't get a foot on the bottom of the ladder. The underclass, chavs, scallies - whatever awful label they're given, they're systematically excluded, as they have been for hundreds of years.
That's just the UK, or the USA, or any other 'western, developed country'. We have our super-rich, and we have everyone else, most of whom are comfortable and don't want to rock the boat, which is why we end up with greedy, rich idiots in control. 'It could be worse...'
That's false consciousness.
And it IS worse.
Widen the view a little...
Take a look at this list: http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-poorest-countries-in-the-world.html
Malawi is the poorest country in the world, with a GDP per capita (essentially how much, on average, each person has to live on for a year) of £255.
£255 a year.
And don't bother telling me 'oh, but the cost of living isn't as high in Malawi'. No, it's not, but why isn't it? And why is it SO high in the UK, or USA, or anywhere else?
It underpins capitalist thinking, and that is how all of us have been conditioned to think.
In school: you must learn this, and pass the exams, so you can get a good job, earn good money, buy a house, a car, get married, have children so you can pass your wealth on to them.
In the workplace: you must do this overtime/undertake this training to get a pay rise, earn better money, buy a better house, a nicer car, save for your retirement...and then die, leaving your wealth to your children.
It's drudgery, always working to earn more, spend more, leave more...and we have no choice.
Or that's how it seems.
But we do have a choice. In western societies, most of us have the luxury of the choice to turn our backs on capitalism.
"...there is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror."
(Karl Marx, 1848 - The Victory of the Counter-Revolution in Vienna - https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/11/06.htm)
Whether Marx was right, and the only way we end this massive, global inequality is through bloody revolution, most westerners are not prepared for that fight. We've been conditioned by capitalism to value our relative safety. We have food, shelter, security, peace... Capitalism encourages us to only think about our own well-being, not that of our fellow human beings, so many of whom do not have food, shelter, security and peace.
But the idea of revolution is horrifying, and unless we're prepared to live with 'it could be worse, best not rock the boat', we're left with two options:
1. We give up, lay down and die.
2. We reject capitalism.
I think about this often, how many of us are already rejecting capitalism: the credit unions, which work on a non-profit basis and reject profiteering banks; the food cooperatives - again, not-for-profit - where producers are paid fairly and people have access to good food at affordable prices; community cafés, housing associations, hospices and so on - all of them run by the people, for the people. Profit and surplus cease to have meaning, or value, because all of these work outside of capitalism.
You don't have to be part of an organisation to do this (but it's easy enough to find these groups near you). You can do it as an individual. Each of us has something to offer our community/society. It doesn't matter what it is, or how little or how much capitalism says we are worth. There are skills, talents, services each of us can offer for the good of our community, and for our own good. Yes, we're still stuck with bills to pay, mortgages, rent, council tax and so on. As long as we have enough money to pay for what we need (and no more than that), we're heading in the right direction.
It's not easy. I'm not talking about the lifestyle adjustments - that's the easy part. We live to our means. In my case, our household income is about a third of what it was ten years ago, and it barely covers our expenditure. But it does cover it.
The hardest part for me has been hearing the same old rubbish over and again:
Don't you want to earn more?
If you do it this way, you'll make more money.
If you employ staff, you can expand...
Why don't you join a teaching agency?
Why don't you charge?
No, thanks. I reject capitalism.
I work for my own good and the good of other authors. I earn my living through teaching with the Open University - an institution that has changed a lot in recent years but is still about providing access to higher education to all.
I love my work. I'm giving back what I can, and that is enough. I don't need more.
"If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people."
(Karl Marx, 1835, Reflections of a Young Man - http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/marx/works/1837-pre/marx/1835-ref.htm)
Thanks for reading,