In this paper I will examine how Karl Marx views capitalism and, more specifically, the criticisms he has regarding capitalism. In the first part of the paper I will reconstruct and explain the philosopher’s argument. In the second part of the paper I will offer my critical evaluation where I will demonstrate how these critiques are still appropriate in today’s society by providing examples of how capitalism is affecting the lives of American workers even today. However, I will first explain the definition and structure of capitalism.
Capitalism is an economic system that is most common in the United States and much of Western Europe today. It is represented by privatization of companies for production of goods or services for a profit, competitive markets, and wage labor (“Capitalism”). These individual skills were initially developed from skills that grew out of the economic time period known as feudalism and has evolved into individuals who possess certain skills that can demand payment.
Although this may seem like it would be an ideal situation for workers and provide a platform to provide a service in return for payment of some sort, it soon became evident that there were people who would use this new system of economics to their advantage. Instead of doing the work themselves, they would find skilled workers to provide the service or product under the umbrella of their organization to which they would market and sell the goods for profit. The business owner would make a profit and, in turn, pay the worker a portion for his services provided. Unfortunately, there were others who were unable to make the system work for them in such an advantageous manner.
Karl Marx had two basic criticisms of capitalism – especially in his lifetime of the beginning of the industrial revolution and the formation of factories. His first was the thought that the worker suffered from alienation on several different levels. As a capitalistic society succeeds by gaining profit for the companies and business owners, the overall cost of goods needed to live also increases. If the wages earned by workers went up consistently with the profits of society and, thus, the increase in the cost of living, all would be good and balanced. However, that is not the case in most circumstances, in fact, as Marx points out, “the worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more goods he creates” (Johnson 261). In other words, as the production increases the cost to produce is lowered. The business owner sees those profits in the gross profit obtained by the sale of goods; however, the worker is generally not compensated in a fair and equitable manner. This turns a skill which may or may not have been a passion at one time into something that the worker is forced to do whether they desire to do so or not. Even if a worker enjoyed his occupation, chances are, he or she is being forced to comply with guidelines or standards set by someone else. As a worker you are still not truly free to produce your work according to your standards so you are, in essence, alienating yourself from the product of your work. According to Marx, capitalism has also produced an alienation from nature. He states that the capitalistic society conceals this alienation because it does not examine the direct relationship between the worker and production (Johnson 263). Essentially, the labor of the worker may produce wonderful and beautiful things for the wealthy individuals but oftentimes the working class population may never get to experience the beauty for themselves. Furthermore, the workers identity is often lost within their job and they do not have the means to express their individuality. This is identified by Marx as being alienated from yourself and from your labor. Most people do not proclaim their uniqueness in ways that focus around their occupation. Even in a highly sought after job you may, for a time, feel as if that encompasses who you truly...
Cited: “Capitalism.” Wikipedia.com. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 25 Nov 2011. Web. 25 Nov 2011.
Johnson, Oliver A., Andrews Reath. Ethics: Selections from Classical and Contemporary Writers. Eleventh Edition. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012. Print.
Thoreau, Henry David; in cooperation with the Walden Woods Project. Walden, or, A life in the woods. 150th anniversary illustrated ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.
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