Summary: Capitalism forces different cultures to cooperate in a market place of cultural products. But what happens when a culture can not be made to cooperate? What sorts of cultures are excluded from our capitalist society? what cultures are swept under the rug by the social normative qualities of capitalism?

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY! it’s in the News. Ferguson, Missouri is the stage. On display are the cultural and economic tensions of our divided America. how did we become divided? Capitalism. which coincidentally also unities us, it’s a social paradox. Capitalism provides us with choices. Our capitalist economy also produces concentrations of wealth. You may be asking, where in our society does wealth become concentrated? in Banks? Well, our society is made of cultures, and wealth can become concentrated in a culture. The United States, as well as all nations, through normative social practices attempt to equalize a society of MANY different cultures toward a society of ONE culture.  We can see these social normative practices exhibited in a variety of areas. Social institutions such as Education, Consumption, Entertainment, the Political system, and more. Not to mention the fact that, our capitalist money, has a saying inscribed on it, “E Pluribus Unum”, which means “Out of many, One”.

Our economic system creates our consumption practices, our educational and political systems and our entertainment practices, among many other things. Capitalism is the economic structure we have chosen. For a long time the assimilating power of our capitalist economy has brought various cultures in our society together under the normative umbrella of capitalism. However, many cultures slip through the cracks. When cultures do not assimilate many outcomes follow. Social factors such as hate and intolerance, factions and fragments. When cultures do assimilate, social factors follow such as acceptance and tolerance, unity. An example of cultural acceptance in the wider society through social normative practices is gay marriage. Capitalism bought and sold the culture of the gay lifestyle, now this culture is widely accepted in our society.

Our country has struggled with tensions between race and ethnicity but capitalism has brought them under it’s umbrella. That is to say the cultures with the least tension in society agree that capitalist pursuits are job number one. The cultures which exhibit the most tensions are wealth and poverty. Both wealth and poverty are economic states and both exhibit distinct cultures. what sets wealth and poverty apart from the previous example, gay culture and straight culture; is that these cultures are not exclusively economic while wealth and poverty are cultures that exist economically. Therefore, how can capitalism build tolerance among these two cultures?

Capitalism does a great job attempting to build tolerance, among other cultures by selling them in a cultural market place of culturally relative products. However, a culture of poverty with it’s austerity, government assistance and the like is a hard sell for a capitalist. You’d never see a commercial for “Living modestly, within your needs” in a society that has been made culturally equalized by capitalism.

This is my point, cultural tensions exist between poor people and wealthy people because our attempts to create tolerance between them come from social normative practices that work both effectively and ineffectively. Our normative practices are products of our economic structure, Capitalism, which can not bridge the cultures of Poverty with the cultures of Wealth. Intolerance, hate and division is sure to follow.

How the Cultures of Poverty and Wealth, which are distinct and generational will not be equalized under capitalism through normative practices. Economic systems produce cultural normative practices and products, especially capitalism.

Normative practice: Education.                                                                                                                            

Surely education builds tolerance? It would if wealthy and poor people achieved the same educational levels.

Normative practice: Political Structure                                                                                                                

Surely our political system builds tolerance after all, our two party system has very little differences? However the poor participate less often and receive less representation.

Normative practice: Consumption                                                                                                                        

If the wealthy and the poor can agree on anything it’s that we all got to eat!? Consumption habits very widely, from how we consume food to how we consume recreation, entertainment, and our perceptions of value. As far as diet is concerned, the diet of the poor is very different than the diet of the rich.

Normative practice: Entertainment                                                                                                                      

Do we all watch TV, enjoy a nice dinner with friends, like to take the family for a drive or cross country vacation? Do we like to read good books? How the rich and the poor consume entertainment and what they find value in are vastly separated. Wealthy people buy homes, boats, cars and they celebrate them by using them, showing them to others and finding value in them. Poor people, not having the ability to do this define entertainment value and consumer goods consumption value very differently.

For these reasons, Capitalism cannot bridge the gap or mitigate the tension between these two cultures. Capitalism instead moves these two cultures around geographically through segregation, a product of gentrification. Moving these cultures away from one another, Capitalism sustains these cultures by blinding them to one another. It is in the moments when the blindfolds come off that the tensions are felt the deepest.  Ferguson Missouri is one of the eye opening moments.

If Capitalism cannot fix the tension between the rich and the poor, what economic system, which arranges our consumption habits, equalizes our society of cultures and provides for justice and equality. How can we make the world a better place to live in?

Suggested Reading: Handbook of Cultural Geography, The Cultural Paradoxes of Capitalism  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: