The Making of a Capitalist
I need to start this by saying that economics is messy. It is a discipline of wildly varying opinions, many of which are never implemented into practice, but are heavily relied upon in the court of public opinion. In 2019, Modern Monetary Theory was a popular concept that was a fantastic example of this. Developed by economists, it entered the mainstream vernacular as political and financial commenters debated on how Central Banks worldwide could stimulate economies, similar to how they implemented quantitative easing. Some believed that MMT could eradicate student debt in places like the US, where higher education loans are reaching fever pitch. Personally, I do not agree with such sentiment, as it discounts the diligence and work done by students who have dedicated the time and financial resources to reduce their loan obligations. But this is not really about that. This is about how I became a capitalist.
Being the youngest in my immediate and extended families, I spent a lot of my childhood around people older than me. My parents never made a concerted effort to shield me from the realities of the world. I like to think that this laissez-faire approach to parenting was born out of trust, but it was also out of necessity. This is the reality when you are a relatively younger third child. I spent a lot of time playing with dolls, going to school, using the computer, and watching TV. I will say that the 1990s and early 2000s were an interesting time to be a kid watching TV every day. Many children’s shows had questionable themes and messages (Angela Anaconda was particularly concerning in hindsight). Back in those days, big corporations like Mattel and McDonald’s were allowed to advertise directly to children during the normal air-times of children’s TV shows. Music video shows were incredibly popular, exposing my young eyes to the likes of 50 Cent, Shakira and Nelly. There was a lot of skin, many suggestive lyrics, and questionable ‘dancing’. Amongst all this seemingly useless media frying my brain, I was also constantly bombarded with information and imagery of wars fought against strange, non-State actors like the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIS. This lead my younger self to an interesting place psychologically. Though I adored my American Barbie dolls, had a weird obsession with 9/11 (still do), and loved listening to American music from artists like Beyonce, I also felt like a lot of the death and destruction in the world was being caused by the Americans. Conversations at home around global politics lead me to believe that the Western forces shown on TV, whether it be Americans, Brits or Australians, were not necessarily the ‘good guys’ in these combative situations. I must admit, I am grateful for the freedom afforded to me in the media I consumed as I learnt a lot about the world. As a six-year-old, I watched the movie ‘Heartbreakers’ and saw Sigourney Weaver sing an excellent rendition of ‘Way Back in the USSR’. When my eldest sister was learning about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in high school geography class, I enjoyed reading about it in the pages of her atlas. When my Mum bought us Singstar 80’s, I started asking questions about the meaning behind the song ‘99 Luftballons’. And so began my staunch interest in the way the world used to be, and a strange fascination with communism.
This ticked along for a few years, but ramped up significantly later in high school. I studied Global Politics in VCE and learnt more about the mechanics of Statehood, Ping Pong Diplomacy, the emergence of the Taliban, 9/11, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the many adventures had under the eye of Bush Jr. I was, and continue to be, absolutely amazed at how the Western world was so fearful of what lay behind the Iron Curtain. The reality of the likes of the USSR, Mao’s China, and North Korea (even today), was a world of no choices or freedom, poverty, corruption and militaristic idealism. How could a great superpower like America ever be threatened by these countries, and tricked by their false facades? Alas, this plays into the fact that the world was a very different place back then as it is now, or even 10 years ago. The abundance of information on the internet from places across the globe makes it difficult to comprehend how things used to be, when there was a greater disconnect between us, fear mongering, and less automatic empathy. Admittedly, I must say that a large part of this teenage communism phase was driven by self interest. In many ways, it was a manifestation of the much dreaded teenage superiority complex that we all have (and hopefully, all grow out of). My intellectual and hip friends and I would read Karl Marx, chat about global political events, and buy old books from dingy second-hand stores. I remember live streaming the 2012 US election via someone’s laptop during a long lunchtime at school. I still have books with titles like ‘Communist States at the Crossroads’ and ‘Managing Non-Proliferation Regimes in the 1990s’ on my bookshelf. Talking about communism was a way for us all to flex our intellectual muscles. Personally, it was also a small embodiment of teenage rebellion against my capitalist forefathers, who staunchly tied their identities to the fact that they had lived on the ‘Greek side’ of the Greco-Macedonian border. Some consider themselves true Macedonians, which made for even more confusion. God forbid they were from the true Yugoslavia, where females were seen as equals and education was widespread, state-sanctioned. To this day, conversations about heritage are messy for me to have, as I lay in limbo between two worlds – one Greek, one Slavic. I digress.
Studying economics at university opened my eyes to concepts like demand and supply, the impact of price floors and price ceilings, dead weight losses, wage gaps, tariffs, competitive and comparative advantage, and trade not being a zero-sum game. Again, these are only theories, and economics in practice is a very different story. Does my knowledge of the impact of subsidisation mean I do not believe in systems like Medicare? Of course not. Do you think Donald Trump’s Chief Economic Adviser is unaware of the fact that tariffs are destructive? Of course not. I guess this comes back to my original point - that the success of some economic concepts relies on an economy being in a vacuum, and that economic theories are frequently politicised. Studying finance at university emphasised the importance of trade, floating exchange rates and freedom in the global economy. Working in financial markets only reiterates the importance of these things in my mind.
Capitalism has become a dirty word, especially in the current political landscape. I believe a lot of the discourse comes down to the fact that we all see capitalism differently. I see capitalism as a means of freedom. Freedom to buy what you want, freedom to trade, freedom to innovate and produce. Freedom to make money the way you like (within the rules of the law, which should be written in a way that promotes said innovation and production), and freedom to spend your money the way you like (again, within the rules of the law). Would you argue that freedom to make money on your own terms is a bad thing? Unfortunately, I know there are some people out there who would. Of course, the system is not perfect, and there are people who fall through the cracks, and the reality is that there are many who are without freedom of choice due to poverty. I have not even mentioned taxes, though they are something I believe in and support (to an extent – because taxing people upwards of 50% of their income starts to erode on that concept of economic freedom). But the crux of capitalism is that you are the economic decision-maker, not some third party who may not have your best interests in mind. I am unsettled by communism, as I do not trust my government enough, ANY government enough, with every aspect of my life. How could I, when I have grown up in an era of fruitless wars, resource mismanagement, political blame-games and revolving-door Prime Ministership? When I watch question time in Parliament, and see politicians screaming at each other like babies, I am hardly inspired to entrust them with control over more aspects of my life. By this point, you may argue that I am a capitalist out of necessity, because there is no other viable option. In some ways this is true. But believing in capitalism does not have to mean believing in what any one particular country does (e.g. the US). It does not mean believing in Donald Trump. It does not have to mean denouncing social security. I mean, you could argue that American capitalism is not true capitalism anyway. Alas, this is THE MAKING OF A CAPITALIST, and I am still being made.