Cab-ride to Capitalism: Servitude For the Majority
It only takes a cab ride in a city to see which class has the most power and influence in capitalist society
Everyday taxicab rides may appear to be lacklustre experiences that are quickly forgotten. However, this might not always be the case. Sometimes our views of events may become clouded and we cannot see things for what they really are. However, after taking many cab-rides in an urban city, I began to see things in a different way. On one of my jaunts in a taxicab I decided to investigate what it is that made people come to developed capitalist countries from less developed parts of the world.
In speaking to a cab driver, who left Ethiopia to come to Canada, I found my answer. I asked, “do people tend to be more happy in Western societies than in Ethiopia?” He answered that, “Ethiopia was a poor country.” In his words I could see the influence capitalism now had on his life: he equated how much money one has to how happy they are in life. This is reminiscent of one of the trademark idioms of capitalism that money can buy happiness. This is now disputed even by some who are otherwise supporters of capitalism, but if it were wholly refuted then this could undermine the entire capitalist system. Unfortunately, many people do believe that money can buy happiness in the owning class and force those who do not make as much money into the service industry, which in its very nature seeks to serve the owning class.
Your life is influenced by where you are born
Your life is partly determined by where you are born. For example, if you are born in Ethiopia then your life will be determined by Ethiopian standards and culture. In the United States, Canada or the UK your life is determined by a more developed capitalist system. Someone may come from Ethiopia to experience the “freedoms” countries like these employ, but there is another factor at work here: class. It is easy to show that the system boasts of false promises: Sally wishes to go to university, but Sally’s parents cannot afford to pay for it because in the capitalist system one must pay for everything. Sally’s life path has now been influenced by what class she was born into. Therefore, what the Ethiopian will notice is that “freedoms” have a price and are largely determined by what class one is born into.
Along the same lines, immigrants often receive low paying work in the service industry once they enter the developed capitalist system and they can never afford the education to gain higher paying jobs. As a result they stay in the service industry their entire lives, being some of the most lowly-paid members of the working class of wage and salary earners. It is education and money that allows one to move up in a capitalist society but even if one is to move up the ‘social ladder’, it is only usually to a less badly paid section of the same subservient class.
Finding and maintaining a job is difficult enough for people in poor countries and therefore receiving an education is but a luxury. In fact, the cab driver I spoke to said that he was working to make sure that his daughter would be able to go to university. He has to spend his years driving a car all day long so that his daughter will not have to do the same job and will have a better future. If someone cannot improve their station in life because they have no money to begin with, they also cannot afford to improve their station through higher education. This means that they are left work for the class that owns and controls society. This is because capitalism is not really based on merit, but on how much money one has. This is irrational as merit should never have a price, it should be free and depend on nothing but itself.
The capitalist system is marketed on its promises of equality and freedoms through purchasing power. Prospective immigrants are given rhetoric about how capitalism makes anything possible – if one has money. However, nothing appears possible, let alone free and equal about the owning class being served daily by an exploited working class, who are actually the majority and whose freedom is rationed and limited by their pay packets and salary cheques.
Moreover, how successful you will be in life is largely determined by what class you are born into, and is out of your control. The cab driver from Ethiopia realised that he, or his daughter, would not be able to influence society in a poor country because all of the rich capitalist countries such as those in the G8 are the most influential and have the highest standards of living. However, even though he came to one of these developed capitalist countries, he will almost inevitably remain in the service industry for the rest of his life. This is because capitalism is not based on talent or merit like a truly equal system would be such as socialism where everyone would have an equal opportunity to pursue their true interests in life. In capitalism, your success typically still depends on how rich a family or area you are born into and what kind of a reputation it has. If you are unlucky and are born into the majority, the working class, it is likely that you will remain there to serve the upper class for the duration of your life.
Capitalism Promises Freedoms, But for Who?
It is taught in school that capitalist countries are mosaic countries, small units of various cultures existing within a larger schema or government. This view is marketed so that potential immigrants will not have to leave their customs behind and still be able to reap the so-called rewards of capitalist society. In reality, what exists is a melting pot where these cultures are eventually assimilated. The opposite of a mosaic, melting pot, a term with a negative connotation, is often used to describe societies experiencing large-scale immigration from many different countries that seem to “melt” into the existing society. For example, Muslims are being assimilated into Western culture by way of developed capitalism. Only those who assimilate into the capitalist system are able to experience the “freedoms” it promises, but at often cost to their culture. It follows that people who come to developed capitalist countries work to serve the needs of the majority, who are of a different culture, often by forgoing their own so that they might fit in the prevailing market-driven norms.
Two of the most prominent examples of the melting-pot theory are the African Americans who were enslaved by white people through trade and the Native Americans who were wiped out, enslaved or displaced during European colonization. Though these cultures, mainly the African Americans, regained somewhat of their dignity many years later, they still lost the connection to their homeland, lost their culture and were forced to “melt” into the capitalist system.
The natives of North America are an example of not only assimilation to benefit the capitalist class but of the deception of such a system. The natives did not have money or a use for money until the European settlers arrived. These initiated trade and the natives would work hard to gather furs. They would sell their furs, specifically beaver pelts, which were very expensive items in European society at the time. In return they would receive trinkets such as forks as well detrimental items like firearms and liquor. Further, the economy that was run during colonization was one that the Europeans implemented and operated themselves, i.e. capitalism. Also, when the natives finally became wary of the situation, they lost their land. Treaties for land exchange were deceitfully created in a language foreign to them so that they could not have possibly known that they were signing away their land. They were taken advantage of and most importantly, lost their autonomy and freedom. Additionally, the native clans that do remain in North America are being assimilated, or waiting to be assimilated, into society. One way where this can be seen is through the media impact on younger generations who are lured into Western society with its market-driven imperatives and away from their cultural heritage.
It seems almost unbelievable to think that servitude exists today in a society that is supposed to be ‘meritocratic’. This is because it is unnecessary that there should even be a servant class in society at all, even if the modern form of slavery is wage slavery.
There is no doubt that if one were to ask the Ethiopian cab driver if he would drive a cab all day if he didn’t have to, he would say no. The majority of people work unsatisfying and unchallenging jobs in the service industry and this is not necessary. It is socially demeaning and it is servitude, plain and simple. Capitalism has wrought its negative influences on the African Americans and North American natives. These people were exploited and subordinate classes until they melted into the capitalist society causing social alienation and loss of cultural identity. Further, those that work in the service industry today are not far off from these fates. Their lives may be better now that they can purchase “freedom” but it is at a great cost to their dignity as they spend their lives in servitude based on the amount of money they (do not) have instead of what talents they possess. Moreover, it only takes a cab ride in a city to see which class has the most power and influence in a capitalist society and chances are it isn’t the class of the Ethiopian behind the wheel.
JESSICA FORDHAM (Socialist Party of Canada)