Capitalism: A Hindrance in Achieving Aristotle’s “Good Life”

Natasha Martinez period 3

The capitalist economy of the United States is one of the most powerful economies in the world. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best economy or that the capitalist system is the best economic structure for a country. During the 1900s, Americans feared the threat of communism replacing capitalism. In attacking communism, “Mccarthyism” in the 1940s gave Americans the impression that capitalism was the superior form of government because it upholds the ideals of innovation and progress through competition. However, I believe that Aristotle would argue that the constant competition stemmed from capitalism results in greediness, selfishness and disregard for those who fall behind in society in not being able to contribute to consumption.  The drive and incessant need for consumption has substituted reason and intellect, which he believed to be critical attributes in a state’s structure, with valuing unnecessary, luxury goods in hopes of being viewed as a worthy or successful individual in society. In the Aristotelian view, capitalism wouldn’t be consistent in achieving a “good life.” Aristotle wouldn’t agree with the modern day politicians’ idealogy of the United States having a capitalist structured economy because he would think it hinders the attainment of a good life.

 
             

Aristotle wants the state (or polis) to aim for the goodness of the masses instead of the individual, as he says, “Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.” Capitalism in today’s world as we know it is not in the interest for the good of the masses, but instead it focuses on the individual wants of people because getting the individual to consume products through the competition of the large market of infinite goods is the main goal of the capitalist businesses in our country and international society.

 Businesses and companies are always trying to come up with the latest technology in order to come up with an updated, new, or different version of their product. This in turn, makes the individual want to keep consuming and purchasing that product because societal pressure makes the individual feel that in order to keep up with society and to be an affluent member of the community they have to buy the latest products. This also diverts consumers from focusing on their “final end” because they are so distracted by constant consumption.  The market is a part of daily lives because the news channels every night always have something to say about the stocks of products on the market or new developing products to be seen in the future.  

The amount of people living in poverty is in the millions and those people are not on the radar for the types of consumers that businesses target. In consumers believing they have to keep spending money on luxury products, it leaves less money for people to donate to charity or contribute in helping people financially to those people who are in need and are living under the poverty line. An example of this is the commercial aspect of the Christmas season. Even at an early age, children often figure out what they want to ask for Christmas months before the holiday season comes around because society has turned Christmas into a season of shopping, making it the pinnacle for commercialization every year. People also use gift giving during the holiday season to show others their level of financial status by giving out ostentatious and expensive gifts.

Constant consumption gets in the way of people’s understanding and realization of the real meaning of Christmas because in people only thinking about themselves, they forget to think about those who are less fortunate during the holidays and fail to remember that Christmas is a time of giving. People get so caught up in thinking about themselves and comparing themselves to what other material goods people in society have that they forget to realize there are families who cannot even afford to put food on the table each day.  The time available to volunteer at hospitals or soup kitchens during the holidays is also conflicted with and put last on people’ s lists of priorities because they are busy figuring out what presents to buy or making sure that the annual Christmas party they are hosting has everything  supplied for and taken care of. In the Aristotelian view, the reasoning and thoughts people have during the holiday season are deterred and forgotten about because of the hype of commercialization of the holiday in spotlighting the aspect of consumption.

If Aristotle were living today he would agree that an intervention in the capitalist economy would be needed or a politician heavily focused on improving the lives of people living in poverty would need to come in office to reform the system. He would say this because the only way for the state to be in line with trying to achieve a good life for its citizens is if the government is concerned with the ability of those living in poverty receiving an adequate income and the capacity for those people to consume with the rest of the citizens. The importance of those living in poverty being able to afford the products available on the market is just as equal to that of the importance of those who can afford to buy the products.

With people not having enough money to support themselves, they don’t have the financial means to put themselves through education. This poses a hindrance for people to gain more reason and intellect because they aren’t able to receive the education needed to participate in society. This hinders those people from discovering their purpose in life, thus getting in their way of achieving a “good life.” Using reason and intellect are ways in which Aristotle believed people accomplish their final happiness. If capitalism isn’t helping those living in poverty reach their reason and intellect, then the polis is not doing its job in Aristotle’s view.

The tag of any number of products says “Made in China.” The United States holds much of its employment offshore to Asian countries such as China. This way, corporate companies do not have to pay workers as much money in order to make their product which in return gives those corporate companies a bigger profit and gives them no reason for them to lower the prices to make it more affordable for people living in poverty to purchase those products. That said, the people living in the country with the capitalist economy aren’t  the only ones who suffer because of the capitalist system. In China and in several other Asian countries, people work in sweatshop factories under harsh conditions to earn even the lowest of wages.  This is one example of how capitalism not only affects people living in the United States, but also affects those workers in foreign countries because they have to work in unfavorable conditions.

In the words of Bastiat, “He would easily understand that labor is not an end in itself, but a means, and that it would be absurd to reject the end for fear of doing injury to the means. He would, understand, too, that if he devotes two hours of the day to providing for his needs, any circumstance (machinery, the fertility of the soil, a gratuitous gift, no matter what) that saves him an hour of this labor, so long as the product is as great, plus that hour at his disposal, and that he can devote it to improving his well being.”  If those people working in the sweatshops in China and other Asian countries are having to devote extensive long hours to their work because the pay is so little and it gets in the way of spending time with their family or getting in the way of their well being, then Aristotle would again say that capitalism is posing a hindrance to the happiness of masses amounts of people. Bastiat even says, “In society, with the division of labor that it entails, the production and the consumption of the object are not performed by same individual.” This supports the idea that those who work aimlessly in subordinate conditions and underpaid wages to support a capitalist economy are being oppressed by capitalism.

             

When talking about the interests of the producer and the consumer, Bastiat states, “Since these two interests are mutually incompatible, one of them must necessarily coincide with the social or general interest, and the other must be hostile.” Today, Aristotle would argue that an intervention would be needed to increase the interest in which businesses have for their workers because the masses of the workers have just as much of a natural right to have a good life and prosperous life through their employment as those who consume those products. Although written several hundred years later, this argument could be used to defend the idea that in an Aristotelian ideology, capitalism gets in the way of happiness or a good life.

               

In essence, I believe that if Aristotle were alive today or if he were to become familiar with the capitalist system currently held, he would believe it would conflict and serve as an obstacle for achieving his idea of the “good life.” The constant competition of business and never-ending developments in technology create greediness and selfishness in society which has made the individual see more value in one’s own aggregate supply of material goods, than the value of the overall health of the population. Capitalism draws people to think about their individual well being and in contrast, Aristotle believed in a system that worked towards the improvement of the whole community, not just one aspect of it. Capitalism would not qualify as a successful state structure for achieving a “good life” in the Aristotelian sense because it leads to individualism and straying away from the capacity of full intellectual reasoning.

 

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