Anyone who’s driven across the American landscape knows that there will be a familiar string of fast-food chains, gas stations and box stores along the expressways. You could virtually eat the same meal as you drive from one coastline of America to the other. Michael Matheson Miller, Research Fellow and Director of PovertyCure at the Acton Institute, takes up this issue, asking, “Does capitalism destroy culture?”
[S]ince the cultural critique comes from political observers at almost every point on the political spectrum, and since the bureaucratic-capitalist economies of the world really are cultures in crisis, the criticism is worth attending to seriously.
If we are going to analyze the cultural effects of market economies then I think the one of the first things we need to do is distinguish between those things Peter Berger called “intrinsic” to capitalism and those “extrinsic” to it. We need to distinguish among at least three things:
- the cultural effects caused by capitalism,
- effects aided and abetted by capitalism,
- and those things that exist alongside capitalism and are often conflated with capitalism, but that are distinct from it.
I will say from the outset that I support open, competitive economies that allow for free exchange, but I would not call myself a “capitalist.” Capitalism is generally a Marxist term that implies a mechanistic view of the economy and a false dichotomy between “capital” and “labor.” Capitalism also comes in a variety of forms and can mean many things. There is corporate capitalism, oligarchic capitalism, crony capitalism, and managerial-bureaucratic capitalism, such as we have in the United States. However, cultural critics of capitalism usually don’t make those distinctions and, even if they did, many would still be critical of an authentically free market. So without trying to tease apart all of these strands at the outset and so risk never getting anywhere let me use the term “capitalism” and ask and answer the question with the broadest of brushstrokes. Does capitalism corrode culture? I think the answer is yes and no.