Capitalism: Does Planning on Infinite Growth Make Sense?



Infinity by E. Wagele

    Capitalism is: a system in which private capital is used in the production or distribution of goods. – Oxford Dictionary.

Capitalism has made Europe and the United States wealthy. It has also led to huge debts, exploitation, oppression, unemployment, poverty and ever-increasing waste. Is the main problem the materialism, greed, and selfishness capitalism creates? Or could capitalism work if most people under capitalism had good characters, that is, a sense of equality, fairness, and the desire to do the right thing? Could capitalism be stable—not have to depend on constant growth or inflation?

            Long ago I told my parents, “People buy bigger and bigger houses so they need to make more and more money. They need their companies to produce more and more so they need more and more people to buy their products. Pretty soon there will be too much of everything, including too many people for the earth to support. How can we and our leaders endorse an economy based on infinite growing?”

What does infinity mean?

            When I was 7-9 years old, every few months, I would hear a flute-like sound in my head. Then a voice of authority would order me to hear this tone rise to infinity. I would try to obey.

I would imagine the tone going higher and higher, and when it got as high as I could imagine it, I would try to imagine it going even higher. I would suffer because I couldn’t obey the authority. When I tried to hear the tone go even higher, I might be able to stretch it a bit more, and maybe a tiny bit more than that. I knew it was far away from infinity and had to admit defeat.

At that point I would feel so stressed and frustrated. I would shake my head and arms to make the whole thing go away.

I didn’t tell a soul. I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy. Nobody else seemed to hear rising flute-like tones in their heads and authoritarian voices demanding things of them. Never mind that the authority was asking for the impossible.

A few years ago someone introduced me to the idea that I could have said No to the authority and the tone. I liked that thought.

60-something years later, I realize that trying to push a musical tone to infinity is something like an economy built on infinite growing. They’re both illogical. At some point, it’s bound to crash and people will be shaking their heads.

Just like my rising tone had an end, so do the resources of the earth. We need to slow down our population and take better care of our planet or it will become too crowded and too polluted. And the economy… what about it?

But how will we get from here to there? Someone who understands economics and governments better than I do might explain how to achieve an equal distribution of wealth and resources. And how to convince Americans it would be positive to have a saving attitude instead of consuming way beyond their need. The propaganda from banks and advertisers for decades has been to spend and borrow frivolously.

I’m taking time out from my Famous Personality Types series to write about something that’s been bothering me for a long time. It feels like The Emperor’s Clothes—something obvious that people don’t talk about. I’ve gotten it off my chest. Thanks for listening.

My last blog on Famous People, Psychology Today, 10-18-1. Tony Bennett.