Free-Riding off Capitalism

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One of the greatest things about capitalism is that even people who hate it benefit from it. There was a bit of internet activity recently over the Freegan movement, a movement composed primarily of grad-school educated children of upper-middle class professionals who feel guilty about having never been hungry as children.

It’s (very, very, very,) easy to ridicule these people, much as the New York Press and others do, but I’ve been forced to conclude that there is nothing wrong with what the Freegans do, per se, yet the philosophy behind their dumpster-diving is so very, very wrong.

Simply observed, one might conclude that the Fregans are merely thrifty. Afterall, I have relatives who live off garage sales and pull things out of the trash on a regular basis. And believe me, these people can afford to buy pretty much anything they want.

However, once the Freegans start talking, once wonders how they can possibly be so lacking in self-awareness. Summed up simply: The Freegans think that salvaging televisions, and ipods, and canned goods, and othe mass produced goods, somehow means that they are rejecting capitalism and not taking part in it. As others have already pointed out, this is an utterly ridiculous assertion. All they are really doing is benefiting from the vast amounts of surplus goods produced by capitalism. Essentially, these people are just cheap.

The Freegans don’t really deserve any more of our attention, but their habits did cause me to think of others who benefit from capitalism even while claiming to not take part in it.

Adherents of various religious vows, for example, or any religious order that lives off alms also benefits from the surplus of capitalism. Consider tithing. 10% of an income from a highly productive, specialized worker, is much, much more than 10% of the income from a subsistence farmer. Thus, the Church benefits.

All non-profit organizations benefit likewise.

Unfortunately, many involved with such organizations loathe capitalism. They are very unwise to do so.

Eduard Bernstein, a socialist and vehement critic of Marx, saw early on that capitalism obviously benefitted the workers, since their standards of living had been continually increasing since the start of the industrial revolution. He thought the workers should use capitalism to their advantage to take control of the political system. Berstein was a socialist, but unlike so many anti-capitalists of today, he was at least intellectually honest about it.

P.S. Here’s a picture form the NYT piece on Freegans. Gee, what a fun crowd.

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8:07 am on July 1, 2007