Point of Enough

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Over its 300-plus-year history, capitalism has been credited with improving the material conditions of life for countless people around the globe. In fact, according to Erik Olin Wright, “capitalism has generated sufficient material wealth in the world today so that even with no further economic growth no person would have to be poor in the developed capitalist countries, and basic needs could be met for everyone even in poor third-world countries.” That sounds like a success story. However, this wealth is very unevenly distributed, with enormous poverty adjacent to extreme wealth. When institutions such as property laws, economic policies, imbalances in material wealth, and political and cultural patterns that disadvantage targeted groups of people prevent the reasonable pursuit of self-interest, then the system is not delivering the results it should. Having reached a point of diminishing returns—when the system that fueled intense productivity is no longer doing so—the system has no internal mechanism to slow production and work toward leveling out an equal distribution of its gains. Constant growth is required to avoid internal crises of the system. There is no way for capitalism or any enterprise working within it to reach a point of “enough.” For individuals and enterprises in capitalist societies, constant growth means that constant competition and constant reinvention are necessary to stay solvent, which equates to staying alive.
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