Could we live without capitalism?

Ten pressures that capitalism throws at us

“Capitalism is a monster that has been painstakingly tied up in labor disputes over centuries, that eats people and shits gold,” says the kangaroo in Marc-Uwe Klings Kangaroo Chronicles. It's just one of the myriad of derogatory definitions of capitalism. It would be more value-free like this: Capitalism is an economic system that is geared towards profit, not human needs - the word capital means money, companies, production facilities.

If you believe critics and scientists, Western capitalism makes us either depressive, narcissistic or anti-social. There are other voices who do not criticize capitalism. But what is undisputed: capitalism has enormous power over us. It is to be understood as a social order that guides our thoughts and actions from birth.

These illustrations show what capitalism makes of us

And so this system also imposes orders, structures, and constraints on us that determine our lives. Here are ten of them:

1. Work for money

In order to be rewarded, we have to work under capitalism. Today's contract-based wage labor became a mass phenomenon in Germany from the 1860s onwards. From then on, working relationships became capitalist, linked to success, large companies were founded, employees had to subordinate themselves - the prelude to our wage labor today.

And something else began, as the Federal Agency for Civic Education (BpB) writes: “There were winners and losers, the income was distributed very unevenly, experiences of progress and relegation mixed. All of this contributed to the unpopularity of the new economic system for many, especially in the major, recurring crises such as 1873 (and even more later, for example 1929 and 2008). With industrialization, capitalism became industrial capitalism and thus a mass acting power. "

2. Identity through work

Wage labor is at the center of our lives. Anyone who does not work and earns money with it quickly ends up in social marginalization. Work is no longer just a means to earn money: it becomes part of our personality, it creates identity. It is a topic in a large part of the conversations we have on a day-to-day basis.

Our career determines how we are perceived by others: Are we successful in working life? Or less? Much more than personal attitudes and values, our career path is an indicator of our human quality. In capitalism we are what we work.

3. We work comfortably and stressed

Working has never been more comfortable than it is today, thanks to technological progress. And yet over 40 percent of employees complain of increasing pressure and stress.

This is no coincidence: the economy should grow incessantly, it is a basic pillar of capitalism. And so there are more and more tasks, they are more complex and interlinked more than ever before. We have to think and switch faster. We are permanently available, not just physically, but through countless channels - and therefore more distracting. This leads to an omnipresent feeling of rushedness. But we are victims and perpetrators at the same time: We let ourselves be distracted and drifted through life by work. It is not uncommon for us to charge ourselves more or to continue working after official working hours by reading e-mails or answering messages - because we think we have to.

But not all people are made for this speed. The consequences are illnesses such as depression or burnout. Which leads to another problem: if you get seriously ill, you can no longer work.

4. Efficient work = efficient leisure time

The concept of leisure time in its current definition is a consequence of capitalism, like the ubiquitous perceived stress, the analyzed Southgerman newspaperfor an extensive contribution. The five-day week caught on and is now the rule, just like the 40-hour week with compulsory attendance in the company. Most employed people in Germany therefore have less free time than working hours. This has a significant impact on our behavior during this time.

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We also want everything in our free time, preferably at the same time: during the break in the theater, book the sports training the next day via an app, on the way to the pub with friends in the S-Bahn with parents on the phone to find out about new ones Discussing Netflix series. We feel increasingly stressed. Our leisure time behavior is becoming rushed, the idea of ​​efficiency in the world of work spilled over into leisure time. The author Dirk Kurbjuweit, who himself conducted studies on the subject, writes in his book Our efficient life, the nervousness of the stock market would have found its way into our private lives.

5. We have lost the great nothing

The oversupply of leisure activities is also influenced by capitalism. The entertainment and leisure industries have become big business. This leads to a phenomenon: we have more and more options, but not more time.

The sociologist Hartmut Rosa speaks of a kind of social compression as a result: Because everything takes place at the same time, we are nowhere real. The free time is lost in the free time, in which nothing is planned and the unexpected happens. Spontaneous meetings and the big void of an unplanned day were lost.

6. More competition, more ego

We are in permanent competitive situations with other people. It starts with the job market, where we have to sell ourselves with our applications. It continues with the search for living space, in which more and more the workplace and the account balance decide who gets an apartment or who can take out a loan for a house. “We are always taught that there is value in hitting other people. It starts at school, where you are considered good if you get better grades than others, ”says Peter Thiel, PayPal founder.

This is not only a breeding ground for competitive pressure, but also for sexism, racism, hostility to the disabled and exclusion of all kinds, because: We want to preserve what we have achieved and what brings us advantages. Quite a few believe that capitalism attracts egocentrics.

7. More self-optimization, more adaptation

The competitive pressure from the world of work found its way into our private lives. Be the most beautiful and you will achieve anything - get help from the beauty industry. Be the most relaxed and you'll be doing everything right - if you can't, buy self-help books about meditation.

There is a boom in self-optimization, fueled by industries - and social media. Our lives are more transparent today than they were a few decades ago, we show our lives on Instagram and Facebook. But not only relatives and friends can follow our trail online, but also strangers and employers. And because we know that, the following principle also applies to our public online presence: behave appropriately common sense accordingly - and in such a way that current or potential employers are not scared off.

8. Money as a yardstick for evaluation

The system of money for performance has its origins in the Middle Ages. The goal was a simpler method of payment than exchanging goods for goods. We have adopted the system of finance and today we live it largely unchallenged. Other ideas have no space or are just not capitalist at first glance. Also the system of shared economy, with projects such as ride-sharing portals or bicycle sharing, works according to capitalist standards - only those who have the necessary money can participate.

We measure the value of things and services in terms of money. In almost every business we do, the first and most important question is: What does it cost? The market has a great deal of power over our thinking. Namely, it determines which monetary value has which good. The motto in our heads is often: If it is expensive, the quality has to be good.

That this does not correspond to reality is proven not only by tests from the food industry, but also by a look at the technology sector. The most expensive smartphone is not necessarily the best, it may just have been marketed better. The more expensive car is not necessarily safer or better quality, it simply enjoys the reputation of a high quality status symbol. In addition, a thought develops: possession makes you happy.

9. Power imbalances determine our (work) everyday life

In the majority of all companies there are hierarchies - you usually start at the bottom and have to work your way up. In business this means that these people, managers, bosses, have power over those who work under them. Physically - they determine where we should work and when. Emotional - they can make us feel like we're worth a lot or, conversely, we're not worth anything. This is how power relationships arise in capitalism, what feels like winners and losers.

These power imbalances do not only exist in working life. Parental upbringing is also determined by capitalist pressure to perform. Awareness-raising often begins in childhood: you have to achieve something, write good grades so that you can get a good job, so that you have enough money, so that you are fine and you have no problems. It is not uncommon for parents to raise their children according to the principle: "Groin, then you will get love."

10. Fear of social decline through unemployment

Without wage labor, we don't earn the money we need for our lives and participation in society. Eating, living, culture, and even the quality of education, health care and insurance are all linked to money. With the level of our income, our opportunities for participation and the ability to consume increase proportionally.

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At the same time, the fear of being socially marginalized increases. Many people are very afraid of unemployment because it could result in social decline. In Germany, people who are dependent on unemployment benefits can clearly see where they stand (PDF), they are discriminated against. Sometimes they get so little money that a book is only in there every nine months.

Alternatives? In short supply

Although the charges are numerous, capitalism has brought high levels of prosperity to a large part of humanity. But it also creates injustices - for example, that rich people keep getting richer and the social gap is getting bigger and bigger.

Even if many people do not agree with this system, everyone has to follow it if they do not want to be socially marginalized. There are alternatives to capitalism, for example socialism. This is a form of society in which companies belong to the state and people are not supposed to rule over people. A functioning socialist society would be led by all people together and democratically. Concepts such as a post-growth society and so-called stock market socialism are also discussed.

But as long as people have not finally had enough of capitalism, this social order will continue to determine us. Even if some hope that capitalism in its current form could be saved, others are less willing to compromise. The critical kangaroo should speak to these people from the soul when it says: “What we have seen in the last few decades is how the people who shit gold broke the chains of the monster so that more people could be returned eats and shits even more gold and one can only hope that these people will someday be killed by the falling gold nuggets. "