I’ve been writing about the economic and environmental realities of marginalized communities for some time, primarily from the perspective of positive systems that are growing to support disenfranchised people. Many of these alternative economic networks, such as barter and time trade, are born out of necessity. As I explore these economies and some of the new ways communities are fostering and investing in health and growth, I am increasingly met by the same arguments against them — and every single one of these arguments is a myth. Capitalism is, at its core, an entrenched system of addiction, whose very root is the greed of over-consumption, whether it's food, sex, money, mouse clicks, or property.
Here are five myths people continue to promote that we’ll all be better off without.
1. Myth: Jobs will save us!
Permits to pollute and tax breaks are just two of the things corporations receive when they promise jobs to local populations. In a city like Detroit, which has struggled for decades with unemployment and economic decay, oil companies, real estate moguls and sports teams have all offered jobs in exchange for getting something big in return. At the end of the day, the promised jobs aren’t necessarily fulfilled. The rich get richer while the poor fund corporate projects, die from corporate pollution or end up on welfare because they never got the jobs promised in the first place.
Yet politicians love to promise jobs — Trump ran on a jobs platform. But there’s a problem with that: People are infantilized to the point of not being able to support themselves or their families any other way but having a job. It creates a paternalistic mentality that everyone needs a big corporation to take care of them.
If you could hunt, fish, grow your own food, build your own house and have your own clean water source, would you really need a job to go to every day? Today, the basics of sustenance are heavily regulated and placed out of reach, even for the indigenous societies that relied on their way of life for thousands of years.
In our society, jobs are important. How else does one pay for gas, electricity, water, sewerage, and internet? And certainly there are lots of amazing jobs that support society that we absolutely do need. But when a politician pledges to bring jobs back to coal country, and the masses applaud and the coastal elites sneer when the jobs go undelivered, we have a problem.
The truth is, jobs will not save coal country. But what can save the people and places with mass numbers of unemployed are new systems that build people up rather than breaking them down: Educating people to be be self-sufficient and contribute to community and offset taxes would be a better use of taxpayer dollars than a new arena or factories polluting with impunity.
What we need aren't jobs, but opportunities to identify what we can contribute to our communities, and learn and develop those skills to the best of our abilities, not just for our communities, but for ourselves and our families. A job that a machine can do isn’t the future. The future is in developing human potential. Every minute and dollar spent on the jobs myth is a minute wasted and stolen from that much-needed development.
2. Myth: Brand loyalty over small businesses
You know it when you see it: Nike, Adidas, Apple, Polo. People identify by the logos they wear, and they’ll pay top dollar for that logo. But why pay top dollar to advertise a company you have no connection to? Brands should pay you for your loyalty, but unless you’re Instafamous, they don't. For the hundreds you spend on a label, you could pay a local tailor or seamstress to make something tailored just for you. Retail doesn’t want you to do that, but why not give it a try? You might be surprised to find what replacing brand loyalty with real-world community loyalty can bring you.
3. Myth: Trickledown economics works
We’ve been talking about this issue as long as I can remember, and it still doesn’t work. Just because the rich received a special tax break that will make them exponentially richer does not mean they will spend any money on you, or contribute anything healthy or beneficial to any community other than their own. Isn’t that what "A Christmas Carol" was all about? That the only way the wealthy will ever share their wealth is if they are terrorized by ghosts? Believing in the benevolent goodness of the super-rich is one of the most perverse things we do in the U.S., and perhaps it’s rooted in the myth that you, too, can one day be wealthy.
4. Myth: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps
The myth that if you just work hard enough you will one day be rich is a pervasive idea in the United States. This myth relies on the absence of inherited wealth and ignores the grievous injustices often committed in creating that wealth, and denies racism, marginalization and generational disenfranchisement. Yet people continue to preach it as gospel. The exceptions are held up as rules, without a close examination of how those folks got to where they are. No one in this world makes it to the top alone, and the lower one is on the ladder, the harder it is to get to the top — especially when the structure is the ladder of capitalism. Make the system a jungle gym, and have the community work together to navigate it, and see how much more successful and happy everyone can be.
5. Myth: Everyone is free in a capitalist society
In an age of clicks, sponsored content and fake news, it’s sometimes hard to tell capitalism from freedom. After all, capitalism is marketed to you every day as freedom, on television, social media and even NPR. But capitalism doesn’t equate freedom. Look at the prison industrial complex or the number of people going to debtors prison for unaffordable and unpaid civil infractions. Look at the nearly 20,000 households in Detroit that had their water shut off just this year as a result of unpaid water bills. Look at the homelessness created by bad mortgages from which lenders continue to profit. Capitalism in each of these cases isn’t promoting freedom, but robbing freedom from millions of Americans who could, in another time and under a humane system of economic governance, might prosper in communities they are able to contribute to and benefit from.
Capitalism is fueled by many more myths than just these. But these five might be nice places to start disassembling the dominant economic system that is causing too many Americans pain.