No Such Thing as Ethical Consumption Under Capitalism?
The zoo is quite a fascinating place. Animals of all kinds from around the globe can be witnessed, from the vibrant flamingos to the lethargic hippopotamus. One would start to think how amazing it is that humans are so much more advanced than these primitive animals. This would be true until you look at the far left.
Like a cat bringing home a dead animal, these far left socialists and communists have delivered to us their new saying that’s being used in left wing circles. This saying has even inspired memes, although we all know the left can’t really meme, and one google search just go to show this objective fact.
It’s the communist version of ‘taxation is theft’, except doesn’t work on logic but instead marxist theory. It is ‘there is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism’. Let’s take a look at this phrase that communists all over the internet have typed using phones that they have consumed under capitalism, which has technically broken their ethical code.
Let’s first deal with what the communists and far left mean when they say such a thing. According to marxist theory, capitalism exploits the working class or proletariat by paying them wages below their labor value. This exploitation is then fueled when someone buys a product or consumes goods in a capitalist economy, because it allows the business to continue to exploit the workers by allowing the business owners to collect the surplus value of the workers. Therefore, according to marxist theory, there can be no ethical consumption under capitalism.
First let’s consider the problems with this and then show how consumption under capitalism can instead be ethical. For starters, value is determined not by the amount of labor put into something, but rather by the subjective perspective of each and every unique consumer. If this were true, then there would be things like an objectively best movie, or an objectively best type of candy.
Indie films are in many instances, in my subjective opinion, much better than big-budget movie productions that require a lot of labor. Now value does not equal price, but there is still a disconnect that those on the left must deal with in regards to labor and price. Go into a grocery store and look at the ice cream area. If you’re looking at the same brand and same size, there are dozens of different flavors requiring different amounts of labor, yet the price is the same. Ice cream birthday cake obviously requires more labor than plain vanilla ice cream, but if that’s the case why are they similarly priced? According to the labor theory of value, wouldn’t you just choose the ice cream that has the most labor put into it? The fact of the matter is labor is subjective, and this idea can best be represented the next time you and some others visit an ice cream shop. This means that there is no objective value of one’s labor. Therefore we don’t know if they are being exploited or not because their labor value is subjective.
The far left would retort that they should be able to buy back the product of their labor without having the business owners collect the surplus value, and that this is the real cause of their exploitation. If this is the case, why are they being exploited voluntarily? No one forces anyone to work unless it’s slavery, which ironically was used in the Soviet Union. Capitalism revolves around voluntary exchanges in which we agree to certain transactions without the threat of force.
If it’s a voluntary exchange, it’s not exploitation. If I sign a consent form and make it clear that I want to die, is the doctor who grants my wish and euthanizes me a murderer (by an ethical perspective not one based on US law)? Again, the left retorts that the laborer is forced into this transaction or else they starve to death. The idea of working to live is not one that we can apply a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to, it’s a law of nature. Consider a Robinson Crusoe scenario in which one is stranded on an island. It’s not enough that we wish for food to come down from the sky, we would need to put in the work to collect coconuts, bananas, or whatever else we find in our island solitude. On top of this, just because the other option is not appealing does not mean you are forced into an option (unless one of the options involves coercion from another entity but as I’ve explained the other option is a natural consequence).
Let’s also note that the marxist idea of ‘exploitation’ finds its way within socialism as well. When the Khmer Rouge forced millions of Cambodians to undertake agriculture jobs by gunpoint, actual exploitation, these workers really weren’t given much for their labor. Millions of Cambodians accustomed to city life were now forced into slave labor in Pol Pot’s “killing fields” where they soon began dying from overwork, malnutrition and disease, on a diet of one tin of rice (180 grams) per person every two days.
“Workdays in the fields began around 4 a.m. and lasted until 10 p.m., with only two rest periods allowed during the 18 hour day, all under the armed supervision of young Khmer Rouge soldiers eager to kill anyone for the slightest infraction. Starving people were forbidden to eat the fruits and rice they were harvesting. After the rice crop was harvested, Khmer Rouge trucks would arrive and confiscate the entire crop.” (The History Place, 1999)
Now that we’ve debunked the notion that there cannot be any ethical consumption under capitalism, let’s make the argument that consumption under capitalism can actually be ethical. There’s a lot to be said empirically on the subject, showing how global capitalism has greatly increased the standards of living almost everywhere, as well as life expectancy, but let’s focus on Say’s Law. Jean-Baptiste Say was an 18th century French economist who recognized that supply fuels demand. This can be seen a priori, since people get paid for producing or being productive in a capitalist economy and they use the money that they earned to demand certain goods or services. It’s not enough that I want a pepperoni pizza, I need to work in order to meet that demand. What follows then is that supply fuels consumption (and this is all assuming the money is earned through the private sector and not through government welfare). Therefore all consumption in a purely capitalist economy is fueled by the productive activities of that consumer, regardless of what that consumer purchases or who that money goes to. Consumption, fueled by production, therefore is ethical in the sense that in order for an individual to meet their consumption needs, they must be a productive member of society, and in the process, improve society. This results in the standard of living increases that we are seeing worldwide.
To conclude, I ask a simple question to you, the reader, personally. Given the accounts of the Cambodian Genocide, would you feel more exploited working in that environment as opposed to the United States or another western mixed economy? Exploitation is a funny word, and like all words, many on the far left have played around with definitions to fit their ideology. So remember, it’s not the Venezuelan who has to eat zoo animals to survive that’s being exploited, it’s those of us living in countries with high standards of livings thanks to the evil that is capitalism.
The History Place – Genocide in the 20th Century: Pol Pot in Cambodia 1975-1979. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 July 2017.
Staff, Investopedia. “Say’s Law Of Markets.” Investopedia. N.p., 25 June 2010. Web. 19 July 2017.