The Capitalism Squeeze (or, No One's Happy)

November 20, 2017

Have you ever heard of a company or startup having more labor resources than they know what to do with? I’ve never heard such a thing. Instead, every employee, every company owner, and every story I hear is riddled with The Great Squeeze: human resources are squeezed far beyond their breaking point, and hiring more is detrimental to the bottom line.

The result of the squeeze is unhappy laborers in every corporation around the world. You must complete eighty hours worth of work in forty (the result is of course eighty hours of work). The emotional cost is unbearably high. A friend of mine complains that in his role as a middle-manager in a billion dollar corporation, his store is perpetually under-resourced, and he is given no budget to bring on help. Every last dollar is squeezed out of every oozing corner by remote executives who view employees as a line item rather than delicate souls.

But this is all by design. For a capitalist to view his labor as a pool of delicate souls would surely harm his bottom line. So, by all accounts, this is working—for the capitalists.

For the laborers, for the employees—the great squeeze pushes them to their absolute limit, far beyond the point of total madness. Yet they are urged to press even further. I recommend no solutions in this short post. I’m only an observer. Capitalism is great for the entrepreneurial-minded, which I tend to resonate with. So I enjoy certain aspects of it. I enjoy that one can build something from scratch, and found an empire around it. That companies exist today with more capital than many world governments combined is a fascinating occurrence.

I don’t enjoy however watching my friends and family torn down every day to their absolute core. My friends in the medical field complain that they are required to be so business-minded, that their incentives forbid them from spending any reasonable time with their patients whatsoever. The system truly benefits no one but the capitalists themselves.

Again, I don’t have any solutions. And it’s all too often we complain today about needing to replace systems without thinking through the consequences or alternatives. Systems are solutions to problems. They are not solutions to every problem. I don’t need to sell you on the fact that there is no such thing as a system that solves all problems. Instead, we need to ask, what is capitalism good at, and what is it bad at? Capitalism excels in growth and wealth creation, and has been a fantastic solution to that problem. Empathy and good will? It’s not so good at that.

To my friends who read this who are affected daily by the Great Squeeze, know that you are not alone. Know that in fact, 99% of the world feels the same pain you do. And know that, unfortunately, no one person or entity is to blame. There is no scapegoat here. This system has produced countless wonders, but again, is not some magical panacea that optimizes for every problem. This system was specifically optimized for growth, and in that direction has produced fantastic results. It wasn’t optimized for your feelings.

At some point, I suspect we will achieve such endless growth at a human cost so high, that we step back and begin to reconsider our cancerous priorities. Whether this happens in our lifetime remains to be seen, but the pillars holding up this system are beginning to show great signs of distress.