Pop Culture and the Spirit of Capitalism

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber highlights what he views as an inextricable connection between the rise of Protestantism and the rise of capitalism in the Western world. Protestants, particularly Calvinists, viewed their worldly time as an important means of serving God. Their function was to engage and participate in the secular world and promote social changes in accordance with God’s desires. Hardwork and success were evidence of one’s devotion to God, but they were also a sign of his grace and salvation.
Of particular interest to me was the belief that the rich and the poor alike should accept their position in life. As a result individuals were discouraged from seeking improvement for their position was determined by God and was a part of his infallible plan (Edles and Appelrouth 168). This belief system encourages even those who suffer under capitalism to support it, even though it is antithetical to their interests.

I think it is very apparent that the ethos of capitalism has a stronghold in our society and is becoming more prevalent around the world, even in countries that are not traditionally capitalist. This is demonstrated by the fact that corporations are granted personhood rights and the fact that brand names have become common household names. We are increasingly defined by what we own and how much of it we have.

Keeping up with the Jones’ has gotten quite costly in contemporary society.

Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly some amazing benefits associated with a capitalist economy. I really dig the whole idea of meritocracy-you work hard, you do well and are successful. Unfortunately, that isn’t the way things actually work under capitalism. Many people spend their whole lives working hard at a low paying job, but never reap the rewards of theĀ  “American Dream”. Why is that? Because they came from a lower income family and couldn’t afford higher education. Because they lacked the important social connections that would allow them to improve their standing in society. Essentially it boils down to the fact that capitalism tends to favor the wealthy at the expense of the working class and under this system it will remain hard for more than a few success stories to climb the ladder of success.

As you can probably tell, I don’t think that pure capitalism nurtures the development of a healthy or happy human community. While capitalism does allow for a certain amount of specialization and creative expression, it also turns workers into the machines that mass produce these products of capitalist creativity. The exploitation that Marx spoke of in his writings becomes abundantly clear when we look at contemporary sweatshops.

Notice how each woman is wears the same uniform, performs the same menial task-all sense of individual identity is lost in this workplace. Less apparent in this picture is the fact that for long days of hard work these women receive minimal pay that is barely able to sustain their families.

While few would defend the exploitation that occurs in these sweatshops, these practices continue because they provide quickly made and cheap mass produced goods. Inequality and exploitation seem inherent to pure capitalism and I think these consequences negatively affect the quality of life within a society.

One Response to “Pop Culture and the Spirit of Capitalism”

  1. Dr. M says:

    Thoughtful entry, and thorough.