As I See It
The reason capitalism has proven to be the most successful economic system devised by man is that it follows the laws of nature.
All living things in nature are in constant competition for their share of an environment which provides the resources needed for their survival. These resources include a reliable supply of food and water and suitable physical characteristics such as temperature, sun or shade, and protection from predators. In addition, survival requires that life-forms possess the ability to adapt to changing conditions both in their environment and in their interaction with other life-forms on which they depend for food or with which they are in competition. Those which fail in this struggle are doomed to become extinct – “the survival of the fittest.”
We find that in this struggle for survival, plants and animals have filled every niche in nature, finding some environment in which they not only can survive, but actually thrive. Many have even adapted to living off the waste products of other species, and in recent years we have discovered organisms living in environments which we had previously considered to be so inhospitable that we were sure no form of life could tolerate them.
The capitalist system is driven by the same forces that regulate nature, the main difference being that under capitalism, competition is more about markets for its products and services than over availability of the resources needed to feed it. But that may be about to change, as we will discuss a little later.
And the same as in nature, capitalist enterprises which do not meet the challenges of their competition or fail to adapt to changes in market conditions will go out of existence. We also find that the competitive ingenuity of capitalist enterprise enables entrepreneurs to find and successfully fill every niche in the system, no matter how obscure it may be.
Other economic systems, such as communism and socialism, have been nowhere near as successful as capitalism, because they have suppressed the competitive force that drives capitalism. The altruistic approach of those economic systems is counter to nature, and especially to human nature.
But there is one major difference between capitalism and nature. Nature has a way of imposing a balance among its varied life-forms. If a predator begins to outnumber its prey, creating an imbalance, starvation will reduce predator numbers, allowing the faster-reproducing prey to restore the balance.
Capitalism, on the other hand, is a system created by man, and as such must be controlled by man. Without controls, capitalism will ultimately pyramid resources, wealth, and power in the hands of a very few, thereby sowing the seeds of revolution and its own destruction. Any economic or political system which fails to serve the needs of the people is destined to fail.
Concerning the resources which support capitalism, there has always been competition for the control of those resources, but so long as the resources seemed inexhaustible, the feeling was that there was enough somewhere for everybody – all you had to do was go out and look for them. But today the world has become so heavily dependent on abundant and cheap energy, largely oil and gas which we are beginning to realize are not inexhaustible, that competition for the supplies of those energy resources is becoming increasingly intense. Capitalism as we know it will be hard-pressed to survive in the face of shrinking availability of cheap energy. The result will be a major worldwide struggle among capitalist nations to secure for themselves as much of the remaining energy resources as possible, ultimately leading to wars of survival. We may already be on the threshold of this next phase in world history. As in nature, overspecialization leads to an overdependence and increased vulnerability. If it is to survive, capitalism must adapt to the inevitable depletion of oil and gas supplies by developing alternative energy sources, and improving the efficiency of energy use.
And as the struggle for resources intensifies, so will the conflict between capitalism and nature itself. When push comes to shove, the environment and wildlife will undoubtedly be sacrificed, and the world will be the poorer for it. In the meantime we can do our best to stave off the inevitable for as long as possible so that our grandchildren will be able to witness some remnants of the world we have known and enjoyed.
Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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