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Capitalism

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Question one

Describe the mechanics of capitalism in depth and present the positive and negative aspects of this system while addressing some of the contradictions of capitalism. Predict and describe what you feel the major economic system in the world will be like 200 years from now and explain why you believe that it will be this way.

By the time the 19th century was coming to the end, the laborer and the capitalist, carrying out their activities within the context of rules and laws put in place by a fresh kind of political unit, had set up a “revolutionary system for the production of goods and services that potentially contained the seeds of its own destruction” (Robbins Chapter 1). Towards the end of the 1890s there was massive production of goods to a level that the businessmen as well as the government officials had worries about excessive production. They also had worries about the economic depression that was being experienced in the course of that decade. According to Robbins (Chapter 1), as a result of these worries came out what was referred to by William Leach as “a steady stream of enticement” intended to give encouragement to people to consume. The consumer was vital in saving “industrial capitalism from its own efficiency” (Chapter 1).

In a virtual way, each and every American, at a particular point in his or her life, serves as a laborer, a consumer or a capitalist. In serving as a consumer, the person purchases commodities. On the other hand, in serving as a laborer; he or she engages in working in order to receive wages. More so, in serving as a capitalist; the person engages in investing and expects to get profit in return. People invest in such areas as stocks, education, banks among other business enterprises. The converging point for these three roles is money. Each and every culture carries its own unique elements or styles and rituals that give definition for its affiliates of what is most significant in life.

Those who consume (consumers) have an intention to spend the highest amount of money possible they are able to spend. On the other hand, the laborers have an intention to receive the highest possible amount of money for their labor. More so, the capitalists want to spend the highest amount of money to obtain the highest profit possible. However, there is a possibility to arise conflicts resulting from these arrangements. Every individual serving as a consumer intends to spend as little amount of money as possible, and at the same time, the same individual in serving as a laborer wants to receive the highest amount of money possible. As a result of this, the prices are driven up. On the other hand, the capitalist intends to give out the lowest amount of money possible to the laborer but still, the same capitalist wants the same laborer, now serving as a consumer, to receive enough money to be able to purchase commodities from which profit comes. However, each of these roles as well strengthens the other: The laborer is depended upon by the capitalist to offer services in order to produce commodities. The consumer is depended upon by the capitalist to purchase the goods. More so, the laborer relies on the capitalist to have employment and in turn receive wages. In addition, each of these roles gives discipline to the other and drives it. For instance, the consumer in each and every individual who has a desire to obtain goods as well as the status these goods may convey ends up building up debts. In order to pay back these debts, the consumer must serve as a laborer to obtain money. On the other hand, the same consumer who has accumulated debts, now serving as a capitalist must invest with an intention of obtaining higher returns.

Perhaps the working of the culture of capitalism can be conceptualized in the best way as “sets of relations between capitalists, laborers, and consumers, each depending on the other, yet each placing demands on, and often conflicting with, the others” (Robbins Chapter 1). In this system, the “nation-state” acts a mediator and has the responsibility of managing the creation of money as well as the flow of the money. The nation-state has also the responsibility of putting in place the rules and regulations of the interaction.

According to Robbins, the coming up of capitalism “has been misrepresented by many historians, sociologists, and anthropologists; rather than recognizing it as the emergence of a historically unique culture, they have generally portrayed it as an inevitable historical or evolutionary development” (Robbins Chapter 1). Initially, the capitalist culture was seen to be equivalent to civilization and this gave an implication that anything that was different from this culture was seen to be uncivilized. Later in time, the capitalist culture was regarded as being a part of the “modernization” process, giving an implication that anything different from it was primitive. According to Robbins “the emergence of the culture of capitalism in the third world countries was called “economic development” implying that anything less was “undeveloped or “underdeveloped” (Robbins Chapter 1). If capitalism is considered as a single cultural adaptation out of several of them, the effects it has had on people in the world can be understood and judged in a better way and its spread can be seen; “not as inevitable development, growth, or modernization, but as the displacement, for better or worse, of one way of life by another” (Robbins Chapter 1).

The coming up of the culture of capitalism has greatly affected people’s lives. People’s intellectual, material and spiritual lives have been affected greatly. More so, people’s values have been given a new shape by capitalism and it has also dictated the direction towards which each institution in the society should operate. According to Robbins, capitalism “has produced wave after wave of consumer goods, revolutionized food production, and prompted previously unimagined developments in technology, communications, and medicine” (chapter 1).

The culture of capitalism is spreading to all parts of the world. However, a very small number of people have awareness about how this culture operates and the way it affects people’s lives all over the world. For instance, how the patterns in the American investment, consumption as well as the labor patterns are related to wages that are paid to female laborers in India, the rainforests destruction in Indonesia, among other issues. This is not essentially a mistake of an individual person because; the capitalist culture decisively “masks from its members the problems that result from its maintenance” (Robbins chapter 1). However, two hundred years from now, the world’s economic system will have developed to a level that the economies of the nations in the wolrd world have come almost to the same level. A large number of people would have come to know and understand how the culture of capitalism operates and how it affects people’s lives.  

Question two

Discuss the traditional role of the nation state in the global culture of capitalism as well as the changing nature of the nation state during the past seventy-five years while highlighting threats to the power of nation states during this recent period. Also discuss how democracy has fared within the global culture of capitalism and how different types of democracy might function in a global capitalist situation

According to Robbins (Chapter 4), the nation-state together with the “capitalist, laborer and consumer” consists of the vital elements of the capitalism culture. According to Robbins, as suggested by Erick Wolf, “it is the nation-state that guarantees the ownership of private property and the means of production and provides support for disciplining the work force”.  It is also the responsibility of the state to provide as well as ensure maintenance of the “economic infrastructure” that is needed by the “capitalist production”. The economic infrastructure includes communication, education, transportations and the judicial systems among others. The nation-state must ensure regulation of the conflicts arising between the local capitalists as well as the capitalists abroad in a diplomatic way whenever it is possible and sometimes by war if it is deemed necessary.

The nation-state’s role is to bring about conditions that prevent or boost consumption, to take control of legislation that cause people to migrate to other areas to look for wage labor, to control the operations of corporations, regulates supply of money, puts in place appropriate policies (social, economic and political) to ensure attraction of capital. The nation-state also controls the legal utilization of force. In the absence of the regulation of commerce as well as trade by the nation-state within its borders, effective economic integration could not be realized.

In a virtual manner, each and every person in this world considers him or herself as being a member of a particular nation-state. According to Robbins, it was said by Geller Earnest that the idea of an individual without a nation “strains the imagination; a person must have a nationality as he or she must have a nose and two ears” (chapter 4). It is generally considered by people of the country to which they belong, regardless of which country it might be, as filled with traditions and has a history that gives glory to the founding heroes of the nation. Robbins (Chapter 4) puts it that “symbols of the nation – flags, buildings, monuments – take on the aura of sacred relics”.  

Achieving “nationhood”, by mid 20th century, had turned out to be an indication of “progress and modernity”. Robbins puts it that “to be less than a nation, a tribe, an ethnic group, a regional bloc, was a sign of backwardness” (Chapter 4). However, less than a third of the present states are over thirty years old and just a few among them go back to the 1800s; and in a virtual way, no state dates back beyond this period in their current form. Earlier on, Individuals identified themselves as belonging to particular kinship groups, cities, villages and sometimes, regions but they were not members of nations. In most cases, the state agents were hated by people and feared and they were also resented. This was for the reason that these agents demanded taxes, tribute or army transcripts from the people.

States were there and they have been there for many years; more than five thousand years. However, the nation-state idea of having people sharing a common territory, people brought together with a similar culture, having a common language or having a common race was brought about by the “19th century Europe”. According to Robbins, a large number of historians regard the French Revolution which occurred in 1789 as being the starting point for the epoch of the idea of nation-state. However, despite the “historical newness” of the idea of nation-state, for a large number of people, nationality is a crucial component of their identity (personal identity).

Among some of the most important questions that are asked is the question in regard to the reasons as to why, the nation-state kill as often it does. This question is of great importance for the reason that, in the current days most violence and killing is authorized or done by the nation-state. This is not surprising; according to Robbins (Chapter four), a number of definitions of nation-state “revolve around its claim to a monopoly on the instruments of death and service”. Robbins further puts it that, according to Elman service, identification of “stateness” can simply be carried out by the location of “the power of force in addition to the power of authority” (chapter 4). However, employing force is not the only feature that is emphasized by anthropologists in making identification of the state; what is also of great significance is social stratification. This is, dividing societies in groups with varying access to wealth. Even in this, the state is seen to serve as a control instrument in order to ensure maintenance of the privileges of the ruling class and this as well calls for a monopoly on employing force. Therefore, to have completion in describing the main features of the culture of capitalism, there is need to carry out the examination of the origin as well as the history of the state and the nation-state; what came after it.

Question three

While giving examples, explain the typical experience of indigenous people in the culture of capitalism and describe how particular forms of social protest can be understood as a reaction to the expansion of the culture of capitalism. Discuss how fundamentalist religious movements are different from other types of social protest and describe how they are a somewhat unique threat to the expansion of capitalist culture.

According to Robbins, “one of the casualties of the growth of the culture of capitalism is cultural diversity”(chapter 9). One of the roles played by the nation-state is to bring together either by diplomacy or by force if need be, its people in a common culture. In most cases, the minority cultures are integrated in larger cultures. Unfortunately, the policies set by the nation-state may result in the destruction of cultures or the destruction of the people. .

The dilemma that is faced by the minority in the current nation-state can be seen well in Indonesia for the reason that this country “officially recognizes and celebrates diversity but this does not stop the nation-state from systematically destroying the culture of indigenous peoples” (Robbins chapter 9). In this country, there are more than a million people that are referred to by the government as “isolated populations”. Most of these people, like the Meratus, stay in small settlements on the mountains which  are scattered. In order to change these societies to take forms that are acceptable by the government; the Indonesian government set a program referred to as “Management of Isolated People”. This program serves to give direction to these people’s arrangements (economic, social, religious and cultural) in line with the norms that work for the citizens of Indonesia. To ensure this program meets its objectives, the government came up with some strategies to seek to bring together this people and incorporate them in the control of the government. Among these strategies is resettlement. The government sets up housing that are clustered and ensures these people moves in to these houses. This kind of housing is justified by the government by it stating that the housing is modern but the truth is that the housing makes every person visible, it keeps this people in a single place, facilitates the control by government and in particular instances it creates settlements set up for military securities in particular. The Meratus rapidly adapted to the government’s game and set up clustered housing in their villages in order for them to look good just in case the government officials come to pay a visit.

In addition, the government put in place nutrition programs in order to change the feeding habits of the isolated people. More so, the government as well exercised control over these people by coming up with family planning programs. This program was set up basically as an effort by the nation-state “to discipline the population in to following state-mandated views of family form and productive practices” (Robbins Chapter 9). In setting up relocation programs, as well as family and nutrition programs, the main objective of the nation-state, in essence, is setting up standards of social structure as well as family power. However, the world view of these people and that of the nation-state were not similar. The dilemma encountered by the indigenous people is whether or not it is possible for a person to be inside the nation-state and outside at the same time.

According to Robbins (chapter 12), “while the peasant, labor, feminist, indigenous, and environmental protests and rebellions did not seek to change the basic tenets of the culture of capitalism, there were and are movements to overthrow and replace it”. A large number of these movements are religious in nature. Using “spiritual agency” as a means, these groups look for a way to remove or destroy anything about which they have a belief it is a culture that is immoral, seek to withdraw from it, or as well seek to adopt a new lifestyle; either in a forceful or voluntary manner.

In the course of time, religion has always carried with it a rebellion element. A large number of religions came up as a rebellion against a particular organized order. For instance, Christianity came up as a rebellion against the behaviors and beliefs of the Jewish in which those who protested had a feeling there were violations of the word of God. However, the idea that religion usually is a source of “antisystemic protest” is not supposed to block the religion’s role in making some of the fundamental premises of capitalism legitimate. There was much cooperation between the state and the church in the initial “expansion of the world system”. The missionaries walked in the company of the explorers as well as the conquerors, and assisted in pacifying and converting people to Christianity as well as transforming these people in to workers of the global economy. The missionaries played the role of “vanguard of capitalism” and they did this through introducing the converted people to “Western concept of time, space, and person embedded in the culture of capitalism (Robbins chapter 12).

According to Robbins (chapter 12) it was suggested by Max Weber that “the Protestant Reformation provided an ideological basis for capitalism as a motivation for making a profit by equating material success with a personal salvation and a sign of God’s blessing”. It has been seen by the historians in the religion of the 1800s of a substitution of the moral chains which had been offered by the community as well as the family but demolished by the rapid expansion of cities and labor mobility. Robbins further points out that Anthony Wallace observed the way Irish immigrants in Pennsylvania dealt with the substitution for behavior restraints in the Local Catholic Church which had been offered by the families in Ireland; “a moral restraint that had been welcomed by mine owners, business people, and others” (Robbins Chapter 12).  

Question four

In general discuss the manner in which positive changes to the culture of capitalism can be made. Then discuss the particular issues associated with hunger, poverty, and population growth, and propose specific actions that have or will address these problems in a positive manner.

After the Second World War coming to an end, scientists together with public officials in the whole world made forecasts. They forecasted that, with the advancing technology, there was a possibility that by the end of the century, poverty could have been done away with as well as endemic hunger and famine in the entire world. The countries in which poverty dominated such as those of Africa, Asia and Latin America, having the help of such institutions as the United Nations and the World Bank, were predicted to prosper. However, presently, such forecast that initially brought in optimism have been substituted with pessimism and hopelessness because, a fifth of the world population is living in abject poverty, having an annual income of less than seven hundred dollars (Robbins Chapter 6).  

The most vulnerable group is the children. It is estimated by FAO that on average, about a quarter a million people die per week following insufficient food and the diseases that are related to malnutrition. However, the hunger problem is not just a problem that is facing the poor countries. It was estimated that the number of the American people went up to thirty million in the year 1992 from twenty million in the year 1985. There is a possibility that this number may even increase further. Therefore, there is need to have a clear understanding of the hunger problem among the countries.

The hunger problem in the whole world does not come from inadequate production of food. There is adequate food in to feed more than one hundred percent of the total number of people in the world on a vegetarian diet, even if possibly not sufficient to feed people on the diet of the core nations.  Even in those nations in which people are experiencing hunger, there is either adequate food to feed every person or there is adequate capacity to produce this food (Robbins Chapter 6).

More over, famine is not the main cause of hunger. As on one hand, the famines like those experienced in such countries as Somalia, Sudan, and Chad among other nations were widely covered by the media, on the other hand, the day to day lack of food is quite common. In addition, in rare cases, famine is brought in by food inadequacies. For instance, at a time when a large number of people died from starvation in Bangladesh in the year 1974, this did not result from food insufficiencies. In that year, there was more food than it had been there in the preceding years and even in the years that followed. Starvation came about as a result of high food prices and people could not afford to buy the food. The high prices resulted from high unemployment rate and floods that swept the farms bringing fears of food shortage in the near future (Robbins Chapter 6).

Lastly but not the least, hunger is not brought by the high population. As on one hand the increasing population may call for the need to have more food, on the other hand, no evidence exists which indicates that there is no possibility to produce more food and bringing to the market for people to buy it. However, this does not imply that the population increase and availability of food does not play a significant role in the hunger of the world and the relationship between the two is more complicated than it may appear (Robbins Chapter 6).  

According to Robbins (Chapter 5), the rapid increase in the population growth has brought in concerns about the danger of the world experiencing disaster in terms of lack of enough food as well as poverty, environmental degradation and social instability. More so, it is argued that economic development in those countries that are poor is not possible as long as the population of these countries goes on to increase. This is for the reason that any rise in economic output must be made use of in order to maintain the increased population rather than being invested to bring about new jobs as well as to create wealth. These concerns have resulted in international agencies as well as governments to carry out some joint efforts in order to control the population increase and mostly in the countries where the population is very high.

However, some people have seriously questioned as to whether or not the population growth is a problem. Among the economists, there are those who present arguments that an increase in population is a positive factor in regard to economic development. More so, the environmentalists have presented arguments that the destruction of the environment results from “industrialization and capitalist consumption patterns, not population growth” (Robbins Chapter 5). In addition, some of the religions do not support birth control.

In seeking to come up with solutions to the problem of population growth, some assumptions were made and these assumptions consist of the ideology of the culture of capitalism. This ideology assumes that “the problem of population growth is a problem of the periphery” (Robbins chapter 5). This ideology does not just influence the perception of the public but it as well influenced by the government policies a as well as the policies of the international agencies. Basing on this ideology, the problem of population growth is a problem in Africa, Asia and Latin America and if this problem has to be gotten over, then it is the responsibilities of these countries to solve this problem. 

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