Economics/Class Relations

Why Elites Like Greta Thunberg Hate Capitalism

Free markets have lifted millions out of poverty, liberated women, and protected the environment. Why, then, are so many progressives against them?

Greta Thunberg speaks on stage during the global launch of “The Climate Book” at The Royal Festival Hall on October 30, 2022 in London, England. [Photo by Kate Green/Getty Images]

For the last three years, Greta Thunberg has said that her life’s purpose was to save the world from climate change. But last Sunday, she told an audience in London that climate activists must overthrow “the whole capitalist system,” which she says is responsible for “imperialism, oppression, genocide… racist, oppressive extractionism.” Her talk echoed the World Economic Forum’s calls for a “Great Reset” away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. There is no “back to normal,” she said.

But her claims are absurd. The “whole capitalist system” has, over the last 200 years, allowed for the average life expectancy of humans to rise from 30 to 70 years of age. The “whole capitalist system” produces larger food surpluses than any other system in human history. And the “whole capitalist system” has resulted in declining greenhouse gas emissions in developed nations over the last 50 years.

Capitalism is far from perfect. It worsens inequality by making some people so rich that they can rocket into space on liquified hydrogen while leaving others too poor to afford natural gas. It is characterized by cycles of boom and bust that create frenzies of wealth followed by high unemployment. And it is constantly turning non-market relationships, including intimate ones, such as between parents and caregivers, into exchanges between buyers and sellers.

But capitalism is plainly better than any other system of economic organization yet devised. High levels of inequality are the result of more rich people, not more poor people, who are much better off under capitalism than feudalism or communism. The business cycle of booms and busts provokes manias and depressions, but it is much more efficient, and less oppressive than governments deciding what should be produced, by whom, and at what price. And while it’s true that capitalism undermines non-market relationships, that’s often a good thing, even in the case of childcare, since it allows women and others to be compensated for their labor.


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