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Capitalism is an immoral system

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/5/2016 Category: Economics
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 627 times Debate No: 97672
Debate Rounds (3)
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Round 1: acceptance/definitions
Round 2: Main argument
Round 3: Rebuttal/conclusion.

Capitalism is defined as the private ownership of the means of production for the purpose of this debate. It is a system where there are business owners and workers beneath the business owner who work for a wage.


I compliment my opponent on posing a complex and enduring topic and accept the topic for debate.

I will agree to the definition of "capitalism" as private ownership of the means of production as opposed to the state ownership of the means of production.

However, there is an issue with defining capitalism as a system characterized by business owners existing "above" workers. I believe the core of the false dichotomy of capitalism/communism (or similar economic systems) is the assumption of "class" and thus the existence of "class struggle."

I hope to show that capitalism is not comprised of rent-seeking "haves" enslaving proletariat "have-nots." Capitalism is a system in which society rewards value via their democratic consumption and is moral in any ethics-system that puts an emphasis on freedom.
Debate Round No. 1


First, I shall point out that in capitalism, hierarchy is basically inevitable. It is something necessary to have for capitalism to exist and do well as an economic system. There has to be someone who owns a business and people who work under that person. One can argue that a person could do all the work themselves, and own the business too, but that is limited to a very, very small business for in order to expand, you need more people to cover different parts of the company. In capitalism, maximizing profit is the primary goal, which in and of itself, may not be wrong. However, to maximize profits, you need people to work under you.

I think I've sufficiently described how capitalism is naturally hierarchical. I believe in order for capitalism to be moral, it needs to have only positions of work which are completely necessary, or else there is someone who is taking money from what other people do or could be doing. If my opponent agrees that taking money from other people who work or could be doing their work is immoral, then I have a solid ground for calling capitalism immoral. The workers themselves can own the company, make the decisions of the company through voting, and share in the profit that a business owner would normally take. The business owner is a completely unnecessary and immoral position of power. Cooperatives, which are democratically-run businesses[1], can get the job done just as well as traditionally-owned businesses. Since we defined capitalism as private-ownership of the means of production, a cooperative is inherently not capitalistic since the cooperative is essentially communally owned since all of the workers own it together. My argument for how cooperatives have the potential to do just as well as or better than capitalistic companies, can be seen here: [2] So first, they do better in economic crises[3], last the first harsh 5 years in business at twice the rate of traditional businesses[1], and have the potential to grow to be enormous like Mondragon corporation has shown. [4]

In my view, since the business owner is an unnecessary position, which I believe cooperatives solidly prove, they are essentially taking money away from what could be going to the workers, and this is immoral.

In addition, I think capitalism can be compared to the government form of an oligarchy or even a monarchy at the lowest level of a single business, which most agree is an immoral system of government since it doesn't give representation or consent to the rest of the people in society. Capitalism is very much the same way. While one can argue that we choose where we work at, and we don't have to choose to work at a specific company, it is still problematic. For example, suppose every government in the world was an oligarchy. You technically have choices to be in one country over the other, but no matter what, you're in an oligarchy. That's what capitalism is: there is not really any choice but to be in a company that is owned by a few or even a single individual. You could start your own company, but then you become the one who is making other people have no choice, rather than the one who doesn't have a choice. Not everyone can be a business owner in capitalism, or else it wouldn't work, since business owners need someone to work under them. Similarly, not everyone can be an oligarch or a monarch of a nation. If everyone was, there would be no nations since the oligarchs and monarchs are not governing over anyone.

However, wouldn't you agree that a republic or a democracy is a moral system of government, more moral than a monarchy or oligarchy? Well, the form that would translate to in the business world, is a democratic business(cooperative), or some company where the workers vote on who to be the business owner(s) and who is on the board of directors. I'm not sure if the latter has a term, but of course a democratic business is known as a cooperative, as I've stated.

Finally, under capitalism, the business is generally there to benefit the business owner(s) and the board of directors the most. While workers get some benefit from the company, as they are paid a wage, they are only given that wage in order so that they do not object to the system at hand. You would have strikes, unions form, etc when workers are not properly compensated. So, in capitalism, the business owner will pay the minimum amount to keep the workers quiet and usually not more, so it primarily benefits the business owner(s) and board of directors. Keep in mind that capitalism was once utilizing slavery at a much greater rate than today, as the plantation owners and others would use slave labor, because it was most profitable. Even today, there are some countries with a significant slave population and child labor population such as India and China, and this is why many companies are naturally going to these countries because it is most profitable to do so [5] If the world was a cooperative economy instead of a capitalistic economy, then those workers would be compensated since they would have a say in the business, but as it stands, those workers(slaves) in those countries have no say in the business, and the business owner(s) and board of directors do.

[4] (for some reason, this link never wants to work, as it always hyperlinks only a portion of the link, but you should be able to go to it if you go to wikipedia itself and type in the search bar "mondragon corporation")


The attempt to define an economic system as either moral or immoral is a difficult undertaking. For my purposes, I will agree to use my opponent"s proposed basis for determining the ethical nature of an economic system: a system is moral if it only has "positions which are completely necessary" and if it allows egalitarian institutions.

There are potential issues with using the term "necessary" to describe an individual"s contributions to the economy. If we are using necessary to mean required for survival, then the only moral economic system would be no economy at all: trade or specialization of labor is not necessary for survival. Therefore, I believe we can quickly discard such a definition of necessary. Instead, I believe my opponent is using "necessary positions" to mean services that provide value at least equal to their cost.

As such, capitalism is a moral system because it incentivizes the existence of necessary position more than comparable systems, disincentivizes unnecessary positions more than comparable systems, and is the most egalitarian economic system possible.

Through market forces present in capitalistic systems, value is appropriately assigned to products and services. The conjunction of supply and demand ensures products and services are adequately valued via their price. The accuracy of market prices relies upon free entry and exit into or out of specific markets. Attempts to restrict exit and entry via non-private intervention leads to surplus and/or shortage in many cases. To delve into this topic would be to venture into economic analysis at a level I believe unnecessary for my argument. Instead, I will discuss it through the examples used by my opponent.

My opponent posits that the business owner is an unnecessary position: the owner provides no value and instead leeches from the labor of his or her employees. The evidence presented in favor of this is the existence and success of democratic cooperatives. However, if the business owner were unnecessary, we would expect to see most businesses, if not all, run via a democratic cooperative. If the business owner is leeching value from employees, then all competing cooperatives would be able to operate at lower cost due to the absence of the dead-weight owner. The reason we do not see a majority of cooperatives, however, is because the business owner most definitely adds value.

The owner provides many services. These may include management and direction, but almost always includes investment of capital. A business owner provides a valuable service in assessing economic opportunities and using his or her judgement to invest capital in potentially valuable undertakings. This service cannot be compensated for via wage and is instead repaid by the profits of the business. To remove this incentive (perhaps by state seizure of created businesses), would be to create a system in which capital is not assigned accurately to opportunities based on value, and leads to the creation of unnecessary positions (i.e. a "dirt farmer").

Therefore, there are not unnecessary positions inherent to capitalism.

Next is the evaluation of capitalism in its egalitarian nature. My opponent is inaccurate when comparing businesses to governments. Not everyone can be a business owner? In a sense, everyone IS a business owner! Capitalism provides for the ultimate freedom and equality because individuals are unrestricted from participating in economic activities. Every individual is free to make the choice of working or not working. If an individual believes a certain payment is not worth the service they are providing, that individual can choose not to provide the service. An employee in a factory is not forced to be there. He or she is not required to provide their labor for that wage.
To confuse the economic transaction of trading service for a wage with slavery is a deceitful twisting. Slavery is no way inherent to capitalism. Slavery can exist independent of the economic system: a state-owned mine can most definitely make use of slaves.

Possession of freedom does not require possession of omnipotence. Two individuals with unequal personal wealth operating in a capitalist system are not unequal with respect to the fundamental characteristics of egalitarianism. The fact that both are unrestricted by statute to labor in or establish business as they choose makes them equal. Capitalism, as it allows individuals and groups of individuals to own production (rather than the state), thus provides for a free and egalitarian society.
Debate Round No. 2


I agree with my opponent that state-owned companies are immoral, but that is not the form of economy I argue for anyways, and is rather irrelevant. An economy of state-owned companies is called state capitalism, by the way. I would actually consider that a misnomer and I'm sure you would too, since you agreed that capitalism is the private-ownership of the means of production. But, either way, it's called State Capitalism. Similarly, I wouldn't consider National Socialism a form of socialism, and that is a misnomer too. But at any rate, I shall return to addressing my opponent's points:

My opponent argues that most businesses would be cooperatives if the business owner was unnecessary, however this is an unsupported claim and ignores some key facts. The reason we see mostly traditional businesses is because we have an economy that favors capitalism. Banks almost never lend out to cooperatives[1] and the government only ever bails out and subsidizes traditional businesses(I'm sure a source for this claim is not necessary since we've all lived through the period of the bail outs, and we know first-hand from news and such that they were big corporations that were built up in the traditional business sense who were bailed out). In addition, cooperatives aren't set up to out-compete other businesses, while traditional businesses are.[1] Cooperatives are set up to benefit the people involved in the cooperative. Also, most people don't even know about cooperatives [2], so how can a business that most people don't even know exist compete against businesses that everyone has known about since they were a kid? The system is generally rigged in favor of traditional businesses and capitalism. People are taught from a young age how our system works, and that they need to go shop at a traditional business to get products. In fact, I don't even know HOW to find out about cooperatives. I've searched on the internet for some, but the ones I've found are simply too far away for me to shop at. I would personally shop at cooperatives if I knew where to find them, and I would never shop at a traditional business again. I will continue my search for them though.

As for all of the things that my opponent argued that a business owner provides, again, all of the workers can provide all of this themselves. They can provide capital, and they do in cooperatives.

My opponent claimed that "Capitalism provides for the ultimate freedom and equality because individuals are unrestricted from participating in economic activities." However, this is not true. We have historical evidence to disprove this, since the south used to discriminate against black people. Black people WERE restricted from participating in economic activities. Under capitalism, anyone can refuse to serve anyone, and if every business owner is refusing to serve a minority group, then that minority group is restricted from participating in economy activity.

My opponent also claimed that "Every individual is free to make the choice of working or not working." This is not really true. It's either you work or you die. Seriously, if someone were to choose not to work, they wouldn't be able to buy any food or shelter, and would die within a few weeks. You could argue that they could create their own shelter and acquire their own food, however, eventually that won't be the case anymore. Under capitalism, business owners buy out more and more land over time, eventually they may buy the land that you're on. If you don't participate in the capitalist economy, you get screwed over. If you go settle unsettled land, and don't buy the land and claim it for yourself legally under a capitalist system, anyone can come and steal that land from you and use it for their business since it's not "technically" your land. If all the valuable land is bought(and by that, I mean land that is habitable, with the ability to grow your own food, etc), which it pretty much is in this day and age, you have no choice but to participate in the capitalist system and have to work for a wage.



I will first point out that our very definition of capitalism has changed since the first round. I had agreed that capitalism denotes the private ownership of means of production as opposed to state ownership of the means of production, which is the most common usage of the term (1)(2). Capitalism does not preclude certain types of private ownership, such as cooperatives, from existing.

This debate hinges upon the value added by a business owner. If the business owner does not add enough value to be equal to or greater than his or her share of profit, then the business owner is unnecessary. If there are unnecessary positions within an economic system, the system is immoral. I have demonstrated the manner, however, in which the business owner already adds value equal to his or her share of the profit by outlining the service they provide.

My opponent would still claim the services of an individual can still be met by a collective of the workers (whether the workers differ in their skills, training, or knowledge is unknown). The reason there are not more, they claim, is because a capitalist economy inherently disfavors democratic cooperatives.

The key point that my opponent concedes is that cooperatives are disfavored because cooperatives are not set up to out-compete other businesses.

The efficiency and success of capitalism lies in direct competition (3). As I stated previously, market forces ensure value is appropriately assigned to goods and services via price points. A divergence from free market competition would result in inaccurately priced goods. If the value of goods and services are disconnected from their prices, then we will see a plethora of "unnecessary positions" in which the value a person adds is not adequate to their wage. Therefore, the market forces and competition of capitalism are the keystones of it moral nature. Attempts to promote uncompetitive business are immoral.

(3) Gregory and Stuart, Paul and Robert (28 February 2013). The Global Economy and its Economic Systems. South-Western College Pub. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-285-05535-0.
"Capitalism is characterized by private ownership of the factors of production. Decision making is decentralized and rests with the owners of the factors of production. Their decision making is coordinated by the market, which provides the necessary information. Material incentives are used to motivate participants."
Debate Round No. 3
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