People are losing a grip on culture and purpose, while projecting the blame on capitalism. Time to set the record straight.
There is an odd trend circulating on the internet. It’s a hashtag called I Don’t Dream of Labor. Google it. A plethora of videos on YouTube pop up.
It appears to be a bunch of middle class college kids and grads protesting the idea of work. Which would otherwise not seem like much except for the fact that its catching on in the same way “The Nothing” did in “Never Ending Story”.
They see the impracticality of not working at all, but they have cast away any sense of ambition. It’s as if they have premature burn-out. They haven’t even been grinding that hard for that long, but already they are suffering a Kafka-esque existential crisis.
I hate to see it. Truly.
While I was never cut out to be an employee, I do know people who have regular jobs who enjoy what they do. They are good at what they do. They’ve found a lot of success and satisfaction in their work.
Do they have bad days and encounter crappy people? Sure. But so do I. It’s more than the occasional bad day, or crappy experience. It’s a dread that this will consume them and make them into wage drones.
That their whole identity will become their job, and they see no point in it.
The Chinese youth are also seeing a similar trend, although I don’t think the impetus is quite the same. While in the US it’s called “I Don’t Dream of Labor”, in China it’s called “Lying Down“.
Chinese youth actually have something to dread. They see the suffering of long hours, high unemployment due to the sanctions imposed by the US, and unaffordable living. Their government is still much more onerous with its Citizen Scoring system.
These testimonials are interesting because they expose some weak links in the argument for freedom and how capitalism facilitates that.
One of the terms that swirls around is “Late Capitalism” or Late-Stage Capitalism”. Wikipedia describes it as:
In recent years, the term has been used in the United States and Canada to refer to perceived absurdities, contradictions, crises, injustices, and inequality created by modern business development.
Even those in this “movement” from countries other than the US and Canada, describe the their angst in these terms of inequality, injustice, and insurmountable hopelessness. I feel the need to course correct these folks, because they seem like the right kind of folks who’d make fantastic entrepreneurs.
No matter what people feel, think, perceive, or insist upon, capitalism is a particular thing. Whether we have it or not is absolutely debatable, but what is not debatable is what it is. The term has been hijacked, and in turn has a lot of people shying away from it.
Capitalism, as defined on Investopedia is:
Capitalism is an economic system in which private individuals or businesses own capital goods. The production of goods and services is based on supply and demand in the general market—known as a market economy—rather than through central planning—known as a planned economy or command economy.
The purest form of capitalism is free market or laissez-faire capitalism. Here, private individuals are unrestrained. They may determine where to invest, what to produce or sell, and at which prices to exchange goods and services.
It goes on to say that true capitalism goes unregulated. That’s not entirely true. It’s not centrally regulated, but certainly it’s regulated by supply and demand and competition.
It’s first and foremost an economic system. It doesn’t command that you or I be one way or another, only that there be no interference from central powers in how we go about our business.
Where conjecture comes into play is when people say, “Capitalism makes you greedy.” I don’t deny that capitalism allows for greed. But so does any other economic system. This is because greed is a particularly individualized sentiment. Ironically, it often finds its breeding grounds in collectives where resources are scarce.
But nothing about capitalism entails that you hoard or amass large amounts of wealth or power. You could, but whether you did or didn’t wouldn’t be antithetical to its definition.
Somewhere in the mix of economic discourse the word “profit” likewise took on a more pejorative insinuation. Profit is just a benefit or gain. You can absolutely operate in a capitalist system and never turn a profit. It often is short-lived and is followed with failure, but it happens!
I realize it’s become “uncool” to subscribe to capitalism. Because to do so, might subject you to competition and meritocracy.
This too has been somewhat demonized. Competition evidently brings out the worst in people. Does it though? Is competition a net negative on society? Or a net benefit? Each time we see an Olympiad beat a record, have we fallen just a little more from grace for it?
Each time an American invented something, and then the Japanese made it smaller, faster, and cheaper the world over benefited.
It’s because we are constantly trying to out-do ourselves that global extreme poverty managed to drop below 10%. What was once something only the rich could have, became commoditized. Everything from plumbing to cell phones to electricity.
Capitalism gets blamed for creating and perpetuating a sort of culture of greed and exclusivity. And while I don’t deny that the very worst in people can be put on display, I’d rather see it decentralized and held at the same level of reproach as everyone and everything else.
I don’t have any illusions that I can end bad behavior. I only ask that behavior not receive political protection through regulatory capture.
Capitalism is an economic system that is predicated on the idea that when it comes to control and regulations: less is more.
A lot of the aspersions cast upon capitalism have to do with the “late stage” symptoms people observe. It’s like someone walking outside and seeing rain and wet sidewalks, however, and positing that wet sidewalks cause rain.
But culture is the culprit. What was once exalted as “hustle culture” is now tantamount to the threat of chores as a child. Why?
It goes back to an earlier point about being “consumed” by ambition. These critics point out how the “hustle culture” has people identifying themselves by their occupation as if that’s all there is to them.
People are burning themselves out to make one more dollar, and it’s the fault of “capitalism”. As if capitalism is a wizarding figure that puts people under trances. Private ownership of property and the means of production, should induce a sense of responsibility, not greed.
In fact, capitalism identifies more with the Austrian school of economics over the Keynesian school. Keynesian economics drives people to spend, not save, making consumption tantamount to a form of civic duty. And inflation is the untenable mechanism by which this is made possible.
Austrian economics drives people to save. Of course “saving” then gets spun into “hoarding”. Even if that were an accurate take, the scarcity created by hoarding would inevitably cause deflation rather than push inflation, meaning your currency is worth more.
Still, the idea that “capitalism” makes people hyper-competitive, greedy, hoarding, workaholics, is not actually true. The belief that wealth is a zero-sum game actually does that. The lack of self-discipline or a plan or a clear goal does that. But living in a capitalist society would not and could not inherently do that.
This is a mentality brought on not so much by scarcity but by uncertainty. Uncertainty is brought on by things outside your control, but also things within your control like lack of knowledge and poor planning. People think you need security to plan, when in fact it’s the plan that provides security.
But a plan is rooted in an objective, or purpose. And what happens when you feel like you have no purpose?
I listened to an hour and a half YouTube from someone called “For Harriet“. One of her criticisms of capitalism comes from Max Weber’s book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism“. It’s a sociological read, taking an objective view of the impact Protestant Separatists had on capitalism.
Obviously capitalism predates Protestantism. But her take away from the book was that religion kicked aggressive competition into high gear. She couldn’t be more inaccurate. What Protestantism in particular did was kick the individualism into high gear.
I’m not a religious person, but it doesn’t take one to understand or appreciate how the roots of American capitalism came to be. Even those who were not particularly pious would one day introduce adages such as:
A stitch in time saves nine
A penny saved is a penny earned
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
Idle hands are the devil’s playground
These are the artifacts and evidence of the ethic. You can easily remove the religious aspect from this and understand the truisms within them.
Protestantism was the advent of having an individual relationship with God without hierarchies in the church. That’s kind of a big deal for 17th century Western Civilization.
With that individualized religion came something else. Something the Church of England and Catholicism did not and to this day still do not have: the idea of “a calling”. That is to say, a purpose for what you will do.
People began to pursue what made them happy. The pursuit of happiness became codified in a new country, that’s how indelible this historic lead up was.
So what is anyone’s purpose? Mike Rowe suggests that it’s not necessarily something you are passionate about, but rather something you are talented at. And that makes sense. It becomes a cycle of edification that if you do well at something, you feel good about it, and you keep doing it, then you get better and keep doing it, then you see greater success and keep doing it.
Rowe has a great point: Being passionate about something doesn’t mean you have an aptitude for it or that you’ll be any good at it.
The fact that people struggle to find purpose is normal. That they give up looking for it is failure. It costs nothing to seek. In this day and age, it rarely costs anything to learn something. So to suggest that there is nothing you feel driven to do, therefore you are just dropping out, is pathetic.
I can appreciate people not wanting a boss or to be an employee in the traditional sense. I feel the same way on a mitochondrial level. But perhaps it’s worth visiting how to look at one’s purpose.
I didn’t wake up one morning with this insatiable desire to create corporate structures. There was no yearning in my soul to start LLCs for people. It was something I was introduced to, that I felt I could do well. And I do.
My purpose has more to do with being an entrepreneur. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing in that space, only that I’m coming up with an idea and going for it. Assembling bikes? Sure. Offshore trusts? Absolutely. Virtual mailboxes? Yup.
I love starting a business, building it up, and running it from whatever country I want to be in. My purpose is to start businesses and be a citizen of the world. When people ask me to describe myself, I don’t say, “Guy who helps people with corporate structures.” I say, “Location Independent Entrepreneur”. And that is me.
I’m also a dad, husband, friend, and snarky libertarian. But those are things that happened on my journey to being this location independent entrepreneur.
I find a tremendous amount of satisfaction in all those things combined. But had you asked me at 10, 15, or even 30 years old where I see myself in 2021, I never would’ve thought to say living several months in Mexico and starting a virtual mailbox company. But if you told me that’s what I’d be doing, I wouldn’t have been surprised either, because it fits right into my general purpose of being a location independent entrepreneur.
Rather than think in terms of what sort of weeds you’ll be in, think about where the field of weeds is and what you’ll be doing in them.
Decide whether you’re going to be an employee or an entrepreneur.
Decide where you’d like to be in three, five, and ten years.
Decide if you can do what you’re doing well enough to get you to your thresholds.
Take the wins. Build on them.
Three, five, and ten years will be here no matter what you choose to do. You’ll either be closer to those goals, or further. But at some point each person has to make a commitment to a greater ambition than just a job. It’s a commitment to yourself to be where you want to be or on your way.
No job too small. No lesson beneath you. And no judgment on how you go about improving your life or the lives of others.
I think something the younger generations feel encumbered with is the onus to “fix” things on a very large scale. And if they don’t do that, then they’ve failed at life. I think it’s important to understand that four base hits is the same as one home run.
People do make a difference when they pursue their happiness. Their happiness is contagious and inspiring. It gives the greatest gift to humanity one can give: hope.
Find your place, irrespective of others, and you will help others find their place. I don’t dream of labor, either. I pursue my own happiness. It’s not trite. It’s an ethic. It’s the spirit of capitalism.
I’ll leave you with a passage from Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.