Alyssa Ahlgren: Capitalism Doesn’t Create Poverty

The rising disdain for free-market capitalism has inundated public discourse with erroneous beliefs.

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The rising disdain for free market capitalism has inundated public discourse with erroneous beliefs that have consistently found their way into my messages on social media; statements that parrot those of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren such as, “poverty exists because of capitalism and greed.” 

Creating this false relationship of the rich and the poor in an economic system that allows for voluntary transactions and decision-making is intellectually lazy at best and intentionally divisive at worst. The aforementioned statement of poverty and capitalism assumes that somehow money was stolen out of the pockets of the poor and that greed and capitalism are indisputably synonymous. 

First, monetary value in a capitalist system is generated, not forcibly distributed. Google executives did not rob the family on food stamps to achieve their success. Second, capitalism is not the precursor to greed. Greed is a human emotion brought about by human flaws. If anything, socialism fosters greed. The individuals in a socialist “paradise” that hold all of the wealth are the ones put in charge of distributing it. How else do you think Maduro owns millions while the Venezuelan people starve in the streets? Socialism is the system where the wealthy rob the people. 

Revisionist history along with a misunderstanding of economics dangerously plagues those of us who should be our intellectual leaders but seem to fall exceedingly short of such a title. The Democratic candidate running for the 7th District of Illinois Anthony Clark recently tweeted out a logically obtuse yet popular sentiment among the left. Clark tweeted, “If billionaires didn’t exist poverty wouldn’t either!” 

With this type of rationale, we can assume that if physically fit people didn’t exist neither would obesity, if students who got A’s didn’t exist neither would F students, or if professional athletes didn’t exist then neither would the athletically challenged. The opposite of something does not make it the consequence. However, facts and consistent logic don’t seem to fare well in the war on capitalism. 

What these Democratic politicians seem to ignore is that being impoverished in America is the exception, not the rule. Only 12% of our population lives below the poverty line, a line that starts extraordinarily higher than the global average. A vast majority of these poverty-stricken families still have air conditioning, a car, and a television. Do you know what percent of those people stay in poverty for more than a decade – 3%. 

I always advocate for helping the least of us, but we can want to help the poor while also recognizing that fortune and relative prosperity touches the lives of nearly our entire country at one point or another in our lives. Yet, the left insists on blaming unfortunate shortfalls of the impoverished minority on unrelated external factors, i.e. the wealth of others. Greed isn’t being successful. Greed is looking at the success of others and feeling contempt while simultaneously living in a free market society where your decisions determine your life. 

In many regards, capitalism isn’t a formal system but rather the allowance of freedom to flourish; it’s an environment. The ideals of Capitalism are simple and purist in nature – voluntary transactions make up the market, and you own the fruits of your labor. Of course, some level of governmental interference such as property rights protection is necessary. Therefore, capitalism is not the direct causation of wealth, it is the environment needed for individuals to create wealth. 

Another way of looking at capitalism is through energy creation. We as individuals are simply potential energy in need of an igniting source. Without that source, we are stored energy, unable to release our potential. The relationship between an individual’s ability to create wealth and a capitalistic environment is that of potential energy and the energy needed to manifest it. An environment of centralized government control in contrast, renders individual energy dormant. 

Capitalism doesn’t create poverty just like spoons don’t make people eat more. It’s a tool at your disposal if you want to take advantage of it or it’s something you know exists but proceed to ignore. You determine how much energy you want to release, because you are in charge of the decisions you make and the path you take. An environment based on freedom, liberty and consensual dealings means that adverse outcomes are not a systematic result of theft, forcible decisions, governmental coercion, or those that are successful, but are a product of individual decisions paired partially with the cards you were dealt. But capitalism itself doesn’t deal you rotten cards, it allows you to change your hand.  

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