by Virginia Johnson
Are all Americans created equal – or are some more equal than others. Despite our nation’s deeply-held ideals of egalitarianism, people are still subject to sharp class distinctions and often insurmountable inequalities of opportunity. United States is considered a "capitalist" nation, a term coined by Karl Marx to describe a system in which a small group of people who control large amounts of money, make the most important economic decisions.
Capitalism is an economic system in which natural resources and the means of producing goods and services are privately owned. A capitalist economy has four distinctive feature:
1. Private ownership of property
2. Pursuit of personal profit
3. Competition and
4. Lack of government intervention
In a capitalist economy, individuals can own almost anything. This society seeks to create profit and wealth; the profit motive is the reason people take new jobs or open new businesses. Additionally, a purely capitalist economy is a free-market system with no government interference. In the capitalist United States, the economy generates inequality and class conflict, “Selections from the Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx, illustrates how class struggles and the exploitation of the lower class are the motivating factors behind capitalism. Although the industrial revolution promised humanity a society free from want, yet during Marx’s lifetime, the capitalist economy had done little to improve the lives of most people. Marx set out to explain a glaring contradiction. How, in a society so rich, so many could be so poor.
In the “Selections from the Communist Manifesto”, Marx explains how capitalism benefits some people and disadvantage others by stating that “But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few”(Marx). Marx’s explained that social stratification is rooted in people’s relationship to the means of production; people either own productive property or sell their labor to others. Marx explained that under industrial capitalism, the aristocracy was replaced by capitalists (sometimes called the Bourgeoisie) while the peasants became the proletarians. The proletarians consists of people who sell their labor for wages. Capitalists and proletarians have opposing interests and are separated by a vast gulf of wealth and power, making class conflict inevitable.
Marx believed that under capitalism work produces only alienation, the experience of isolation and misery resulting from powerlessness. To replace capitalism, Marx imagined a socialist system that would meet the needs of all rather than just needs of the elite few. In time, Marx claims that the working majority would overthrow the capitalists once and for all. Despite Marx’s prediction, capitalism is still thriving today, tens of millions of stockholders, rather than single families, own most large companies. Social inequality in the United States creates poverty; in our nation families go hungry, sleep in parked cars or on the streets, and suffer from poor health simply because they are poor. In 2006, the government classified 36 million men, women and children-12.3 percent of the U.S population-as poor. Capitalism makes workers poorer and gives them little control over what they make or how they make it. Capitalism also creates economic disparity which diminishes the possibility for social mobility, thereby constricting people to certain classes, environments and opportunities. Through the years, the most serious environmental hazards have been located in poor neighborhood. Factories that spew pollution have stood near neighborhoods housing the poor and people of color. Environmental problems threaten us all but most environmental issues harm some people more than others.
All forms of oppression are rooted in the capitalist system, the unequal wealth distribution in the United States are crushing the American dream. Persistent inequality undermines modern society promise of individual freedom. For some people, modernity serves up great privilege, but for many others, everyday life means coping with economic uncertainty and a gnawing sense of powerlessness. For racial and ethnic minorities, the problem of relative disadvantage looms even larger. Similarly although women participate more broadly in modern societies, they continue to run up against traditional barriers of sexism, our society still denies a majority of people full participation in social life.