Market Forces

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Market Forces

Wealth or Health: How Capitalist Structure has Failed Us
Spring 2001
Market forces, in my belief, have always shaped the relationship between humans and their environment, and I have found it a daunting task to consider the history of such a long and complicated relationship. In all truth, market forces can be considered as anything that drives our means of consumption and our economy as a whole, and from this point of view, they can be seen as existing in some way since the dawn of time. So, instead of starting at the beginning, I will instead focus on the relationship between humans and nature from the start of what I see as the beginning of the end.
The capitalist economy’s history, when viewed in light of mans entire existence, has been rather short and in that span of time, it has managed to catapult much of the world into a very new and destructive relationship with the Earths natural resources. While the changes that capitalism has brought about have been slow to evolve, it is a system that has deeply altered much more than the marketplace and which has forever changed the world. In this paper, I intend to demonstrate how the core concepts of the capitalist economy have lead the world into ecological disaster.
There are many structures on which capitalism is built and a few of the most core principles are the ones that are most destructive. The tenets of individualism, efficiency, profit maximization and consumerism can be found at the heart of many of the most damaging practices of today’s world. Since they are main pillars of the capitalist marketplace, they are very pervasive and have become widespread, standard practices and ways of thinking.
Individualism it is a new development in our social structure and one that has left a very deep impression. While capitalism did not spring up overnight, the period of it’s development is not relevant to this analysis, so I shall consider capitalism from some hypothetical starting point. Up until this starting point, the community was the central unit of sociological structure. Families and communities were tightly knit and gave support to one another. This type of lifestyle provided an accurate sense about how one person’s actions affect everything around them and the relationship that humans had with their environment reflected this awareness. Yet, with the rise of capitalism, individuals and not groups, became the focus. This shift in viewpoint now emphasized the rights of the person over the rights of the community and set up a sociological structure that could condone the overuse of natural resources, the contamination of public goods, such as water, and general disregard for the impacts of ones actions. Communities no longer had the right to control the environment that they lived in, since that environment was now owned, and the law now protected the rights of the businessman and the property owners.
The capitalistic view of efficiency, which in modern times has involved touting the benefits of privatization and self-regulation, is another culprit in the devastation of the world’s natural resources. While efficiency in the market may have been intended to prevent the misuse and overuse of resources, modern corporations have seriously modified it. They have come to use this tenet to protect their interests and to allow them to continue, unchecked, behaviors which are detrimental to all living beings. They claim that their more complete knowledge of the situations at hand empower them to be the best planners and in the name of efficiency, governments have been allowing businesses to self-regulate. Even when a problem is so serious as to demand regulation, corporations have been the authors of the very regulations they are subject to. In The Globalization of Corporate Culture, Karliner sites how “U.S. corporations also helped write laws that use a risk assessment formula to make economic consideration the determining factor over health protection when setting environmental standards…” He also mentions that even the Business Council for Sustainable Development argues self-regulation as the most efficient mechanism for change, and promotes the spread of capitalist free-market systems as the ticket to sustainability in the world. The idea that efficiency can be achieved through the capitalist economy is

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