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Essay: Effects of the Culture of Capitalism

Jeanice Banttari

Professor Alex Zukas

Integration Paper Unit 2 - HIS320

March 23, 2001

                           Effects of the Culture of Capitalism

      There are many effects that the culture of capitalism has had on people

around the world. Certainly, some effects have been more significant than

others. Three of the most significant effects that the culture of capitalism has

had on people around the world since 1400 are the rise in population, the

devastating impact on our environment due to increased consumption, and the

spread of disease. These effects have had dramatic impacts from their inception

and will continue to impact the future generations that have yet to come.

      The culture of capitalism has had a significant effect upon the rise in

population. According to Robbins, "In the early twentieth century, colonial

governments in Africa worried about the low population and subsequent lack

of laborers and did everything they could to increase the birth rate" (page 161).

The population surge however was not only happening in Africa. Everywhere

that colonization was happening, populations were growing. Women actually

increased their fertility rates in some places by weaning their children earlier so

that they could become pregnant again sooner. Other ways that women altered

their own fertility rates was by marrying earlier and weaning their children

sooner. All of this was in response to the demand for labor. In earlier times, it

was common for children as young as eight years old to start working and

contribute to the family unit. Obviously, the more people that were working in

the family, the more income the unit would have. An increasing labor force was

also necessary to produce commodities for export. This was essential to the

colonies' economic growth. As long as there was a profit to be made -

especially a net profit which was more than the cost to maintain a colony - then

the policy was upheld to increase the number of people in the colony in order

to expand the labor force.

      In his book, Robbins explains that in Ireland the "population increased not

because of improvements in health, but as a consequence of the economic

demands of the English Landlords" (Robbins, pg 121). Back then, all of the

land and farms were owned by British Landlords who charged rents for their

land. The Landlords wealth was increased significantly after subdividing made

possible more farms for the Landlords to collect rent from. After, there was an

increased demand for more food due to a higher population. So more people

meant more demand, which in turn meant more labor and more production.

Ultimately meaning more capital for the capitalist. These examples are but a

few that show that the culture of capitalism had had an influence upon the

change in population and reproductive behaviors of people.

      The second most important effect of the culture of capitalism around the

world since 1400 is the destruction that has been done to our environment due

to increased consumption. Commercial capitalism was supplanted by industrial

capitalism in the process of the great industrial revolution that began after 1750.

Once the Industrial Revolution began, the consumption rates rose. A good

example of the damage that has been done to our environment as a direct result

of an increase in consumption can be seen with example of sugar.

      In order to refine sugar, we must use a lot of land, exploit laborers, and

pollute our environment with the burning of the cane fields in the refining

process. It used to be that sugar was considered a luxury and was used by only

the rich. Eventually, with the help of politicians, the reduction of tariffs on

importing sugar, capitalism, and governments, sugar has become a commodity

that everyone uses. It is found in almost everything you consume. Michael

Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, spoke at a conference with regard to

sugar consumption: "Sugar consumption has been going through the roof. It has

increased by 28 percent since 1983, fueling soaring obesity rates and other

health problems" (America: Drowning in Sugar). Even though sugar in such

amounts is unhealthy, each person in the United States consumes 66 pounds of

sugar a year.

      The increase of sugar production brings about a great change in our

environment. Forests are leveled in order to plant sugar, the burning process of

the cane fields utilizes fossil fuels or wood, thereby contributing to the depletion

of natural resources. Even more fuel is burned when refining sugar, and waste

water is produced when extracting sucrose from the cane. To date, we have

destroyed forests, marine environments and in Florida, where the sugar industry

is called "Big Sugar," it is responsible for contributing to the pollution and the

destruction of the Florida everglades. "Sugar is the biggest industry in the

Everglades, producing more raw sugar than California or Hawaii and

employing almost 20,000 people. In the Everglades Agricultural Area, sugar

cane covers 400,000 of 700,000 acres and is the leading cause of phosphorus

pollution" (The Florida Everglades - The Sugarcane Industry).

      The third most important effect of the culture of capitalism on people

around the world since 1400 is disease. The world is filled with infectious

diseases. These diseases and organisms can prove deadly when we come in

contact with them and we can contract these diseases in many different ways.

While some are sexually transmitted, others are airborne. Some diseases are

transmitted from person to person and still some require a host such as a

mosquito or tick to be transmitted to humans. With the onset of the culture of

capitalism after 1500, and the onset of the Industrial Revolution, people were

driven from their land and rural areas to large cities in search of work and

wages. Consequently, people found out the hard way how much easier it

became to pass infectious diseases on to one another. With the building of

roads and the explosion of the travel industry, this also helped to bring people

into new areas that they have never been in before. This helped to increase the

susceptibility of new diseases that are carried into the new environments that

people traveled into as well as their home environments in which they would

return to.

      Today's signature disease AIDS is a worldwide epidemic. Originally

thought to be a homosexual disease, we now have mostly women and children

infected with the disease. Haiti and Thailand both played an important role in

thespread of AIDS as they were targeted by the tourism industry as having "sex

tours." Labor migration has also played an important part in spreading disease

and is considered to be the major cause of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

According to Robbins, "Malawi may have the highest rate of infection in the

world, with over 30 percent of the adult population infected. The highway

between Malawi and Durban, South Africa is know as the 'Highway of Death,'

truckers having an infection rate of 90 percent." (Robbins, 89). This scary

statement shows that commercial and business travel also plays an important

role in the contraction of AIDS.

      It is important to learn about what has helped to shape the world and our

society into what it is today. Certainly,the culture of capitalism has had

significant impacts upon our world. The culture of capitalism has had a direct

impact on our world as a whole in areas such as a rise in the population, the

devastating impact it has had on our environment due to increased

consumption, and in the area of diseases.

Works Cited

"America: Drowning in Sugar". Center for Science in the Public Interest. 3 Aug

      1999. 3 June, 2003. <http://www.cspinet.org/new/sugar.html>.

The Florida Everglades. "The Sugarcane Industry". 5 May 2003.

      <http://www.beachbrowser.com/Archives/Environment/July-

      2000/EVERGLADES-Sugarcane-Industry.htm>.

Robbins, Richard. "Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism". Allyn &

      Bacon Publishers. 2001.

 

 

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Jeanice Banttari, Global Studies Program, National University, La Jolla, Ca.