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Is capitalism the root of all evil?

by Ayman1 min read15th May 202115 comments

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Policy changeSystemic changeEconomics
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Isn’t it better to spend money and time in changing the capitalist system rather than donate it to charities?

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When I used to give introductory EA talks I got this question now and then, from people who mean well and ask because this is something they are honestly wondering about. I can imagine people downvote because the question gives the impression that you didn‘t spend much time thinking before asking (e.g. what’s meant with capitalist system, what changes seem promising to you). Have you searched for „capitalism“ or „systemic change“ in the forum and didn‘t find any useful discussion that helps specifying your answer? If yes, you could mention that so people know that you invested some of your time already and are really interested in improving your understanding. E.g. this article seems related: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ktEfsoGfBFGsaiY46/overview-of-capitalism-and-socialism-for-effective-altruism

Thanks for your response. Yes, I did look at the systematic change area, albeit quite quickly. I also read Singer's response in the live you can save, I thought that his response wasn’t convincing. So I thought I wonder what people think in this forum. Thank you for the Capitalism article, I’ll have a read.

4meerpirat1moI think a paragraph on why you didn't find Singer's response convincing would've improved this question considerably, as it would've allowed people to see where you are coming from and what kind of concrete answer would be useful for you.

Also this downvoting made me question whether I understand what is the purpose of the forum? Isn’t it for people to discuss issues related to EA? Or is it only to agree on what the EA say? I don’t see how my question gave the impression that I haven’t thought about the question? You the topic of capitalism a bit sensitive here?

4meerpirat1moThere's a popular guide on asking good questions to a technical community, which I found useful (though it's pretty biting): http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html [http://www.catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html] I think asking "Is capitalism the root of all evil?" without much context gives the strong impression of a less useful question, as it's very unspecific and in my experience value-laden and requires a tonne of unpacking (the article I linked discusses this a bit).
1Ayman1moThanks again for your response. I didn’t know that only volunteers in EA respond to these questions. I did not ask the question to get a clear answer, I asked it to see what people think (as in a form of discussion). I thought anyone can see these question not only volunteers. So I apologies for wasting anyone’s time.
4willbradshaw1moTo clarify, when meerpirat say that people on the EA Forum are volunteers, they don't (I assume) mean that there is some dedicated team of volunteers whose job it is to answer Forum questions. Rather, they simply mean that most users of the Forum are not paid to use it. (I'm not sure if you were in fact confused about this, but I thought your comment above potentially implied that you were, so I wanted to make this clear just in case.)
1Ayman1moThank you for this clarification. I certainly thought that there are dedicated volnuteers.

Please let me know how to delete my question so other volunteers don’t have to respond. And just to clarify my question was’t whether capitalism is the root of all evil, this was just the title. But anyway thank you for your time and directions. I will read around in the EA about this topic and make up my own mind. Thanks again.

Many EAs, me included, are pretty sympathetic to capitalism as an economic system – certainly much more so than many other communities that place a strong emphasis on helping others.

This certainly isn't universal within EA, but it is common. Personally, I think this has become a bit of a tribal signal within EA, such that people are a bit too ready to downvote anti-capitalist content. That said, given this context, it's probably a good idea to ask questions like this in a somewhat more measured style, and provide some concrete arguments that people can engage with.

(One thing that would significantly update me in an anti-capitalist direction, for example, would be to provide evidence that capitalism leads to significantly more factory farming than other economic systems, even accounting for differences in wealth.)

Thank you very much for this! I certainly got the impression that this topic is a bit sensitive here.

You are right, I could have given an argument or asked the question in a different way- although I did write under the title the question that I really wanted to ask, don’t know if that showed up to people. If it did, I am surprised why no one focused on that rather than the title. For me Capitalism is the cause or one of the biggest contributors or the maintainer to many of the issues we are facing, Global poverty and climate change to name a few. To not ... (read more)

2willbradshaw1moI can certainly see a story where capitalism was the genesis and remains the driver of factory farming. But the more fundamental problem is that most people don't see animals as morally important, and that applies across nearly all economic systems. There's a complicating factor here, which is that capitalism makes countries rich, and rich people want to eat more meat, so it's possible that that is most of the driver here. One could respond to that that in that case making countries rich is bad on net, but I think any path to a good world is going to involve making everyone in the world a lot richer, so if factory farming is near-inevitable in rich countries (in the absence of good technological alternatives) then I'm reluctant to blame capitalism, as opposed to humans in general. I would be interested in seeing data on factory farming in less capitalist countries (e.g. the Soviet Union), compared to more free-market countries of similar wealth (if one can find any).
2willbradshaw1moI might give you climate change – though I would note that e.g. communist states also have very bad environmental records (see e.g. the Aral Sea), so there is still some work to be done to strengthen that case. I don't agree with global poverty – I currently think capitalism has historically been, and will continue to be, one of the most important forces bringing people out of poverty. People say a lot of silly things regarding the connection between capitalism and poverty. There might be a more sensible case for a link between the two, but I haven't heard it yet.

I think we should be open to the idea that our current societal structures are far from perfect. It's a good habit to question the premises of our society that are typically taken for granted.

I think you can make a case for it if you truly think capitalism is the root of all evil. I stubbed my toe earlier today and I must admit I'm not sure how to pin that on capitalism. Capitalism certainly is the root of some evil, but I think it's a stretch to say it's the root of all evil.

Thanks for your response. Of course Capitalism is not the root of all evil! I was just being dramatic in my title, I didn’t think people will take literary. It seems like this topic is a bit sensitive.