How Capitalism Stole Our Happiness

Apr 15th, 2014 | By | Category: Economics and GDP

By Anjie Cai, guest youth blogger for

Capitalism as we know it today came into force around the early 1700s when Adam Smith laid the groundwork for the free market system in his famous book The Wealth of Nations. It quickly gave power to corporations, allowing them to control much of our lives.

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In his 2014 State of the Union Speech, President Obama declared, “We need to grow our economies even faster.” In America, expanding the economy is the panacea for social issues. It is alarming to know that every single day the average person sees around 3,000 advertisements. That’s over a million a year. Advertising is on product labels, books, posters, newspapers, cereal, television, radio… everything.

I’ve come to realize that corporations are omnipresent. Banks manipulate our money and own our houses until loans are paid. Search engine sites Google and Yahoo monopolize our private information through their email servers and control almost everything you can find on the internet. Companies like Target keep track of our spending habits and predict what we “need” to purchase. With the recent Supreme Court cases regarding campaign finance, corporations can now pump unlimited amounts of money into the government. Big Business effectively controls everything. We allow corporations to decide our lives, telling us what to buy, when to buy it, where to go, and how to travel, all the while hiding the damages from us. It is a scary thought.

The Price of Consumption

The promotion of consumerism is taking its toll on Mother Earth. Despite increasing environmental degradation, a GlobeScan poll found that the levels of public concern for environmental issues like global warming, air pollution, and species extinction “had dropped to its lowest level in two decades.” Forty-nine percent of people said climate change was a very serious concern. It may sound like a high percentage, but imagine a company where only 49 percent of employees accomplished their assigned tasks – the company would quickly disappear.

It is everyone’s responsibility to protect the safety of the planet. Ecologist Gretchen Daily of Stanford University said “the physical pressure that human activities put on the environment can’t possibly be sustained” since corporations run off a model of infinite resources. Scientists have estimated that fisheries will be exhausted within the lifetime of the current youth generation.

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Power to the People

What we can do as consumers is to become aware.

We’re consuming more than ever without even realizing its effect on us. Globalization has made luxury items cheap and easy to produce. Televisions, computers, cell phones, and cars have all become necessities. In the United States, there are more cars on the road than licensed drivers. What reason is there for an individual to own more than one car? The streets of China used to be populated by bikes, but now more and more cars exist on the road. These cars pollute the air and congest the road.

Diets are another example. Meat used to be a luxury, but now it is almost a necessity in many people’s meals. The livestock industry has moved to factory farming to provide enough beef, chicken, and pork to meet the demand. This creates instances of animal abuse, health concerns, and harmful environmental impacts.  Crowded and inhumane livestock conditions are leading to widespread use of antibiotics, and according to the World Health Organization, this is helping to create super antibiotic-resistant microbes that endanger our health. The manure produced at factory farms becomes toxic waste rather than fertilizer. Overall, our diets are not healthy; America has the highest teenage obesity rate in the world and an estimated 65 percent of adults are overweight. Do we really need these products and services? The answer is no.


Soil to Sky: Agroecology vs Industrial Agriculture Infographic

Overcoming the Big Bamboozle

The solution to the complicated question of corporate power is greater consumer power. We have the final deciding power that corporations have to listen to. It is important that we begin to take charge of our lives and have corporations serve us instead of the other way around. We are pressed with the endless market ploys telling us to buy more, more, and more. To truly care about ourselves, we have to take the initiative and learn about the world around us. Capitalism and consumerism are truly robbing us of everything.

As Carl Sagan said, “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.”

I think it’s time to become wise.


Anjie Cai is a student at Irvington High School in Fremont, CA and is interested in studying political science and economics.

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