If capitalism was left completely unchecked, life saving medical procedures would cost literally everything you have. After all, what would you pay a heart surgeon if you were dying? It’s not like at that moment you can shop around for the best deal.
So capitalism needs to be tempered with certain social and legal mechanisms to ensure fair play. And when those mechanisms aren’t in place, or fail, we end up with well documented instances of people being absolutely fleeced in the name of profit. Take for example, the case of the lightbulb conspiracy.
Collusion on a Global Scale
In the early 1900’s, top lighting producers formed an oligopoly engaged in price fixing, market manipulation, and planned obsolescence.
The cartel conveniently lowered operational costs and worked to standardize the life expectancy of light bulbs at 1,000 hours (down from 2,500 hours), and raised prices without fear of competition.(1)
Competition is Key
In a properly functioning capitalist system:
The owners of resources compete with one another over consumers, who in turn compete with other consumers over goods and services. All of this activity is built into the price system, which balances supply and demand to coordinate the distribution of resources. (2)
Why Bring This Up?
Well, I studied economics in school. Most people studied other things. So sometimes it’s useful to get a different perspective on what seem to be “common knowledge” subjects. “Capitalism is good”, for example.
As with all things, capitalism – in a free market with rules to ensure everyone plays fair – can indeed be good. But as with any idea, it can also be corrupted by people wishing to manipulate the system for their own personal gain. Just like politics, religion, or anything else…
One More Thing
If you want to explore the concept that consumerism may be manipulating Americans, and the world, into actually harming ourselves, check out the book The Wastemakers by Vance Packard, circa 1960! It’s available on Amazon, or you can download a PDF version of it here or here.