We can’t end capitalism, but we can change

By Benjamin Clabault

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Catholic Church England and Wales/Flickr

(Catholic Church (England and Wales)/Flickr)

Pope Francis’s visit to the United States has brought forth plenty of discussion, with his views on capitalism especially controversial. His stance has been interpreted as leftist and even Marxist. Just last July, he called unbridled capitalistic endeavor the “dung of the Earth” and described the current global economic system as “intolerable.”

His viewpoint is certainly understandable, given his position as a spiritual leader with a moralist worldview. He sees evil in the world, whether it be communities denied sovereignty or ecological damage, and recognizes capitalism as the root cause.

But even if the current system is morally abhorrent, promoting greed and self-interest at the expense of social responsibility, capitalism’s hegemonic, global dominance makes sudden transition away from the free-market system impossible. The mechanisms of capitalism are too deeply embedded to be ripped up in a sudden revolutionary spirit, no matter how much better a hypothetical socialist system could be.

Even if we cannot destroy the system that brings about so many injustices, however, we have a moral obligation to make the system more fair. Our focus must be on creating at the bare minimum equality of opportunity.

While in theory, anyone in our country is capable of obtaining the “American dream,” capitalism and its wealth-building opportunities combines viciously with historical oppression to make social mobility increasingly difficult. According to a 2013 New York Times blog post by Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, social mobility in the U.S. is lower than “most of Europe and all of Scandinavia” despite the fact that the Pew Research Center says 90 percent of Americans think the government should “do everything it can to ensure equality of opportunity.”

So if we want a more egalitarian society, let’s create it. Stiglitz lays out a number of fairly obvious progressive policies that would significantly help, including giving more money to poorer school districts and lowering the cost of higher education.

So where should the money to fund these programs come from? I think one obvious source of income would be an increase in the federal estate tax. The current tax only targets estates worth more than $5.43 million, which ends up affecting only .2 percent of estates, and most pay less than one-sixth of their total value.

I understand the argument that the government has no business saying people cannot pass on their wealth to their kids, but a paradigm shift is necessary on a societal scale. A decision made by the electorate in a democratic society to redistribute wealth and create a fairer system is not a case of the big bad government sticking its hand where it does not belong; it is simply a conscious decision made by a sovereign people to make a morally progressive change.

As a capitalist country we’ve long defended our beloved system on the grounds that it provides opportunity to all. People who work hard, we say, deserve the success they rightfully earn. Then let’s put our money where our mouths are and demand a leveling of the playing field so that the brightest really do get to shine.

Benjamin Clabault is a collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]