To be able to assess whether one must destroy or submit out of necessity, one must have full knowledge of the table’s inner workings and who it ultimately intends to serve because if not you and I, then who?
Who actually sits at the table?
A few years ago, in my previous naivety of the mechanisms of the world, I would have wholeheartedly nodded my head at the definition and mission of the economic system we all know as Capitalism. I would have been more than happy to defend the ideology and give it a place on a pedestal because I’d been reared in all of my economics classes to know that this policy was designed to serve me because I’m a consumer. I was brought up in a black home where hard and honest work was praised above all things so naturally, I was sold on the idea that if I just work hard in school, work hard at my job, I’ll have all the money I’ll ever need and be satisfied which is ultimately the role of the consumer, right?
The biggest issue with both of these ways of thinking is that they seem to numb whoever hears them to the true iniquities that run rampant within the ideology itself.
Through the different manners of growth such as being able to discern the differences between what was in my textbook and whether or not those things applied to people like me in the real world- I was aided in my ability to finally see capitalism and other systems of oppression for what they really are. I have to say that not only do I feel failed by the powers that be, I also feel betrayed by the education system currently in place as well as the market-oriented arrangement that has kept my parents and their parents stagnant in the vicious and detrimental envy of and unattainability of wealth. After seeing both my parents at various stages of my childhood bend over backwards for the firms they worked for, spend weekdays as well as weekends at the office sacrificing spending time with me to make sure I had food on the table, you’d think we’d be swimming in pools of wealth right now but as heart-wrenching as reality, and capitalism often are, they’re still battling and struggling with the same lifestyle and economic strife they had decades ago if not exacerbated by the world recession due to the global pandemic. This betrayal forcibly compels me to question who neoliberalism actually benefits if not my “hardworking” parents. They followed every rule in the book. They individually excelled in their respective disciplines, they found jobs at well established firms and worked their way to the top of their careers.
So why exactly aren’t we drowning in economic wealth?
The answer, while hard to swallow, is pretty simple. The table they took a seat at wasn’t designed for them. Where the menu has been set by the wealthy for the food that satiates the affluent and is infused with the nutrients that revitalise them so that they can go out and attain even more wealth. My parents, people that look like me, people that colour outside the mainly white and cis-het male circle, were always destined to be waiters and waitresses/servers for those that already occupy seats, but never to actually eat at the table.
When learning about the market economy in depth, the concept of the beloved Price Mechanism is taught in conjunction to what I like to call the Darwinism of the market. The essence of this system is that through consumer sovereignty, resources and factors of production are allotted to what the consumers seem to want and need. This mechanism is sustained by forces of demand and supply that are governed by said consumers. In my earlier sentiment, it is expressed that the idea of capitalism can be stomached and even enjoyed if you’re said “consumer” because you’re quite literally being served by your own economy. While that’s the narrative pushed by the forces that yearn to keep those that look and think like me enslaved in this system, let’s think about a scenario where we as a people are the price mechanism. Instead of consumers, we are now the resources that are allocated towards those inside the circle of privilege and inherited profusion. Imagine – everyday you wake up and start your 9-5 which only pays you minimum wage (which sadly, in most African countries across the board is nowhere near enough to meet the current standards of living that are dictated by this same burglar of a system). You have convinced yourself you’re doing this 9-5 minimum wage paying job so you can have a shot at financial freedom in the long run. But this is all a ruse so that you can keep funding and preserving those that sign off on your pay checks with your very own sweat and tears. The good news is you don’t have to imagine anymore because that’s what happens when human beings, more so marginalised and not inherently wealthy people are stripped of their earthborn worth and instead replaced with price tags and barcodes tattooed on their backs. The Darwinism and most detrimental aspect of this idea is that the rest of the people that colour outside of the white and chauvinistic picture are now called and employed to be at the service of those at the top of the economical food chain. Their survival and preservation are valued above all which means wealth and abundance merely circles and accumulates within the “VIP section” of the economy.
The “Bigger” Picture
Matala Matala in their captivating piece on being worn and torn by the ways of the capitalist world reflects on their personal experience of being told to work towards the “bigger picture” so to speak and to always consider it [the bigger picture] when they are faced with economic adversity in the working realm. The idea is incredibly apposite when dealing with matters of the table of neoliberalism because while we all know what the bigger picture [ being the reinforced idea that we are working and sacrificing towards a future for ourselves that includes economic freedom] is, we must force ourselves to selfishly ask where we fit in within this elaborate depiction of financial durability. To be able to garner up the courage to step away from this harmful and exclusionary institution it is imperative that each and every one of us ask ourselves whether we too, like those before us, want to spend lifetimes and generational lifespans stuck in the all too familiar abstraction that necessitates that I must consider myself privileged and economically gratified because I can cater to my basic needs, and I don’t fall below the poverty line. The internalisation of this concept allows people like you and me to be taken advantage of and used so that those that find themselves on the greater end of the wage and wealth gap can feast on the fruits of our labour.
The Opportunity Cost and De facto Cost of Economic Freedom
Opportunity cost with regards to the economy is understood as the best alternative forgone when an economic choice is made. When we apply this same concept to the subject matter, the question of the price of freedom needs to be tabled. The theme “The cost of freedom” begs us at an intimate level to all ponder on what freedom means to all of us. To me, freedom means unbridled possibilities.
With that definition, it’s clear as day to me that the cost of financial and economic freedom is ironically, freedom itself. The best alternative forgone when we choose to pull up a seat at this table is at the crux of it, our very own liberation and independence at a personal level. What happens when the price of freedom for communities in danger of being cast out of the system built by our proverbial enemies becomes too much to bear? In the event that the de facto result of the apparent economic emancipation and submitting to capitalism is in fact, economic slavery and never ending heteronomy, must we then still subject ourselves to thinking that there are only two methods of escape? Those being that we either have are to stomach and submit or dismantle and destroy. Both of which have been implanted generationally by the powers that be that aim to keep us in a box trapped in the ever recrudesced rhetoric “That’s just the way it is”? At the risk of sounding idealistic and messianic, to me when the situation unravels and presents itself this way, the answer to the question: Smashing the capitalist table or pulling up a seat, is to do neither but instead, form our own.
The Third Option
It’s also important at a personal level to nurture the idea that things don’t have to be this way.
When tabling this particular topic, the quote by Nina Simone that reads:
“You’ve got to learn to leave the table
When love’s no longer being served.”
Struck a chord with me and inspired the idea that instead of wasting energy and resources in trying to explain to the powers that be that the system in place serves to harm and debilitate us or trying to conjure up ways to dismantle the foundation that was built off the backs of all of those that died fighting for our freedom, we can channel all of that into, at the very least, entertaining the thought that we too can make and form our own table. Admittedly of course, this is all easier said than done in the sense that one does not simply wake up to a brand new table. It’s no secret that for this idea to be realised and achieved, extensive efforts from both an individual and collective level needs to be in the form of proverbially putting the table together.
On the former level which is often neglected, the table would necessitate that we begin to unlearn the harmful ideas that keep all of us mentally enslaved to the ways of neoliberalism. Through this, we are able to challenge the powers that enslave us and steadily but effectively unchain ourselves from the walls that shape the current economic inequalities. It’s also important at a personal level to nurture the idea that things don’t have to be this way. The rhetoric that “it’s just the way things are” trumps and keeps revolutionary ideas like this from coming to fruition. So much momentum for change is lost within the webs that are intrinsically woven in the forms of fear of what the future could be moulded to be and it’s all but imperative that we strive to shift the focus of not only our energies but our mindsets.
Without negating or invalidating the fears or issues that would be incurred throughout the seemingly endless journey that is change, it is of paramount importance that we understand and know that above all things, each and everyone of us deserve a seat at a table. A table that ensures our health and wealth. One that serves us in the ways we deserve and require. One that is built on core and caring values that exude love, even in the midst of adversity and it is up to us to summon the courage to construct it.