There’s a constellation of political concepts that revolve around capitalism. There are many ways individuals have come to understand capitalism. Some will tell you that it’s the economic transcription of the “American Dream.” Yet, others will also tell you that it’s what is single-handedly destroying America. At the end of the day, these are just interpretations of what is nothing more or less than privatization.
Capitalism grants power to the people by allowing for individuals and organizations to have control of their financial prosperity rather than a system, which would rely on state intervention, such as socialism. It is because of that “power of the people” dynamic that many Americans (mostly financial conservatives) have come to parallel capitalism and democracy. After all, democracy relies on the idea that people can come together and vote to determine who has the power.
In the same regard, people can come together and buy certain corporations into dominance – take for example, Apple Inc.
When you walk into a lecture hall, a resounding majority of white, glowing apples will take up your field of view. Still, the formula for dismantling these institutions of power should be the same as well. If we vote for one president over another, a voice will forever be silenced by the megaphone we’ll have handed to whoever was elected.
Or, in an extreme circumstance, if no one votes, the political system can crash in on itself – it would be a wide scale political boycott. And so, in relying on Apple to solely provide us with our MP3 players, laptops, etc., we drown out the attempts of other competing companies. And following with the formula, in order to remove power, we need only stop buying Apple products. But what’s the point?
Those in power tend to be the ones who make the decisions for everyone else, but the concept that gets lost along the way is that people have the power to shift power compositions. This is not only the case on a national level, however. As previously stated, capitalism is simply an exercise of economic privatization.
Because individuals have power over finances as opposed to the states, there is more room for exploitation with the intent of maximizing profits. On a global level, neoliberalism takes the place of capitalism in that it attempts to maximize profits but also allow for equal opportunities through its ability to be stopped by people.
Now, Apple aside, let’s look at another major household name like Nike. For as long as I can remember, there’s always been a dissonance among the American people regarding Nike. On the one hand, Nike has been accused of using sweatshops in order to maximize its profits by distributing paychecks to laborers that fall well under what would be considered to be living wages.
On the other hand, Nike makes awesome sneakers that are stylish and recognizable from a mile way through their signature “swoosh” logo. Therefore, when consumers are staring at the newest Air Jordan’s on the shelf, contemplating their ethical obligations, they tend to “Just Do It” and sign a petition or something to compensate for their misdeed. But the question we really have to ask ourselves is: “Is it really a misdeed?”
When a company seeks to skyrocket its profit potential, it hunts down the cheapest sources of labor. At first, factories in the United States relied on American citizens. Prior to legislation catching up with the speed of the industrial revolution, these factories relied on child labor and payment outside the parameters of minimum wages. Then, once labor laws were made, corporations sought out alternatives, such as dependence on illegal immigration.
Therefore, any instance in which laws cannot come to the aid of a labor source will result in what some may refer to as exploitation. When it comes to the complexities of corporate affairs and international law, there are enough gray areas to allow for ethical considerations to slip under the radar, hence the tendency for companies to now search overseas for their work force. Seeing the potential negative implications of this, Americans tend to protest vehemently against sweatshops, but in reality, sweatshops aren’t that bad.
At the end of the day, foreign countries that permit sweatshops to exist and contribute to the American economy tend to be less focused on reaching the ethical standards of angry, Nike-wearing kids. As pointed out by Walter Williams, an economics professor at George Mason University, the alternatives to sweatshops tend to be much worse.
Really, why should Nike choose not to maximize its profits? And more importantly, how could the U.S. even attempt to push for positive change? It’s worth noting that in 1993, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin attempted to stop imports from countries that employed children in sweatshops. The result of this action was far from positive. In one instance, a factory in Bangladesh had to lay off 50,000 children and in doing so, not only was money no longer made available to feed the families of these children but also the alternative ended up being to rely on prostitution.
One thing democracy and instances of global capitalization (or, neoliberal economics) will always have in common is that they rely on choosing the lesser of two evils. Never will there be a situation in which a presidential candidate boasts all of the qualities we look for in a leader. Similarly, there will seldom be scenarios in which neoliberalism produces entirely agreeable circumstances. Call me selfish, but if you were to ask me, I will always vote for the candidate that has my interests in mind. And if it were between sweatshops and child prostitution, I would have to go with the opportunity to feed families through labor conditions that are less than perfect than leaving children to suffer fates that include starvation and forced sexual encounters.
There’s nothing really wrong with a corporation maximizing its profits and giving labor opportunities to countries that would not otherwise provide for their citizens. Clearly, if you boycott companies that utilize sweatshops, you’re not only taking power from them but you’re also redistributing it to tyrants.
Matthew R. Lowe is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.