Privilege and Opportunity: Generational Issues in Capitalism

I spent the lunch hour in debate with a friend over my growing disdain towards capitalism. He is highly influenced by Ayn Rand and argued for the benefits of a free market system including pure capitalism and egoism. My thoughts are pretty jumbled these days so I didn’t argue much of anything, but I do know that something just doesn’t feel right about capitalism – the welfare capitalism the US practices today, or the potentially pure capitalism he was advocating for. Eventually we got stuck on a certain point: privilege and opportunity. We posted round and round it until the debate got stuck. So here I am, trying to figure out how to move forward with my ideas regarding privilege and opportunity.

My main concern was with inheritance, except that when I say inheritance I do not mean only what someone gets upon the death of their parents. I mean everything that an individual receives, at birth and on, without earning it. How I see it that capitalism, combined with our current system of nuclear families, sets some people up with way more opportunities than other people. My friend argued that the opportunities were the same, only the starting points had changed. Basically, even though it is easier for someone who has time to study, belongs to a higher social class, and has money to become a CEO, someone who doesn’t have those privileges still has the OPPORTUNITY to become a CEO, just not an advantage. I see it as a marathon. You set up someone 10km from the finish line and someone else 100km. You give the one 10k away access to race support such as water and food. The one 100k away has to carry and forage for all supplements. Yes, they have the same opportunity to cross the finish line, but, unless the 10k guy decides he has NO interest in the finish line he will get there first, and in better shape, and he will be able to use limited resources such as massage therapists or food at the finish line that just wont be there by the time the person 100k away makes it there.

My main concern was education. In a capitalist society there is nothing that encourages equal education opportunities. Schools would become businesses (having no other way to fund them) and only children who could afford to go would gain marketable skills. My friend argued that everyone has marketable skills. Manual labor does not require an education. To me it sounds like slavery- where the people who are born into privilege will always get positions of power and those who aren’t are expected to not complain because there are no laws preventing them from refusing to work at whatever prices the families in power set and finding another way to contribute to the market. What capitalism fails to account for is that opportunity is not based on the freedom to do something, but the set of circumstances that create possibilities. Yes, a poor boy who can not read and right has the freedom to become a multimillionaire, but he has much less opportunity than the son of a millionaire. My question then becomes- what makes some people more deserving of opportunities from the moment of birth than others?

The problem with capitalism is that people favor their families and so there is no equality of opportunity. There is privilege and inequality. My friend argued that you can’t make people equal. Some people are born smarter than others, more creative etc. Why should they suffer or be held back because the rest of the world can’t keep up with them? Well, they shouldn’t, but why should they start out 90km ahead just because their parents were smarter? He asked if I was jealous. Yes. I am jealous. I am jealous of people who did not have to turn down their first choice university because they couldn’t afford it. I am jealous of people who own a house. I am jealous of people who are able to take internships in university because they don’t have to work at the cafeteria to make ends meet. I am jealous of people who have never had to wonder where their next meal is coming from while they were a child. I am jealous of people who feel comfortable in museums and business meetings because they were raised in those environments. And I wonder- what did they do to deserve that experience, and what did I do to deserve mine? (Honestly, not a bad experience, comparatively, but not as privileged as some).

The more I look at it capitalism, as a long-term solution, is a system that is based on favoritism, privilege and competition. It has very little to do with merit or ability.  I would prefer a system that advocated for cooperation over competition. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *