Synopsis: This article defines Capitalism and more specifically context to Late-Capitalism. It explains the ways the features and some examples in which Late-Capitalism shows up in contemporary society. It touches on some of the consequences that Late-Capitalism has had on individuals, communities and the world.
What is Late-Capitalism?
The phrase “Late-Capitalism” is a common word passed around nowadays. But where does it come from and what does it mean? According to Wikipedia’s definition, Capitalism is,“an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.” (Capitalism, 2022) In other words, there is a disconnect between who owns the various elements of society and who does the labor to make society operate smoothly. Such an economic system places a heavy emphasis on profit-making and ownership of material wealth.
The term “Late Capitalism” was credited to Sociologist and Economist Werner Sombart. Sombart describes “Late-Capitalism” to be from Post-World War II to the Present. Karl Marx, describes what is called “Advanced Capitalism” which is a time in which Capitalism has such a strong grip on the people’s lives that the people are simultaneously horrified, terrified and disconnected from themselves, others and the world around them. (Late-Capitalism, 2022)
An example of this would be Food. Every society has some way of producing and distributing food. In an agricultural society, farmers may keep what they produce and feed themselves and their families and then choose to sell or trade any surplus of crops, animals etc. In a Capitalist society, there may be farmers but the farm land is privately owned by either an individual, family or business and that owner will control how many hours the farmers work, what kind of conditions they will have, when they get to take breaks, whether they get to take the extras and how much will they be paid. Late-Capitalism might look like earlier stages but more complex and filled with more intricate and subtle exploitation and deception. For example, a corporation owning the farmland in a country in South America, employing refugees who are struggling to find paid work, paying them less than a livable wage because it is cheaper and the workers are too afraid to complain, the corporations then selling the food in the United States and the workers who produced the labor have to ironically buy expensive groceries off the market to fulfill their basic needs. Both the absurdity of the ways in which Capitalism has had a hold on society and the frustrated working class who finally demand for change is what characterizes Late-Capitalism. (Life and Debt, 2001)
How Does Late-Capitalism Show up?
Contemporary life as we know it is rampant in signs of Late-Capitalism but often there is difficulty in pinpointing a specific example. Instead, Late-Capitalism is in the metaphorical sociological air that we breathe and we can see evidence using our understanding of the Sociological Imagination. The Sociological Imagination is the perspective of connecting personal troubles to larger social and economic phenomenon. The Sociological Imagination is a useful tool in “seeing” Late-Capitalism. Sometimes we can use other associated terms to describe and help us realize that the overall phenomena taking place is actually Late-Capitalism. Some of these terms are Neoliberalism which refers to the process of a society becoming privatized (Neoliberalism, 2022); Global Capitalism which has to do with expanding Capitalism across geographic borders often involving imperialistic and colonialist approaches (A Theory of Global Capitalism, 2004) Moving from individual and family private ownership as to the rise of Corporations and the expansion to a global context is a strong indicator that that Late-Stage Capitalism is in effect.
Examples of Late-Capitalism in Our Society:
The following are examples of Late-Stage Capitalism in Contemporary American Society. Note that some of these examples may have been present in earlier stages of Capitalism. However, what makes these examples of Late-Stage Capitalism is specifically the intensity, frequency and how widespread.
The Center for Disease and Control Prevention defines Gentrification as the, “transformation of neighborhoods from low value to high value” (Health Effects of Gentrification, 2009). In urban areas, this will look like small business closing down and individuals being displaced. Corporations whose goal is to make as much profit as possible in the most efficient way, look for the cheapest property which is often located in lower-income neighborhoods. The result is that people who’ve lived in a particular neighborhood for years can no longer afford to live there due to the value increasing and slowly corporations which are more powerful than any individual or small business, take over and monopolize the neighborhood.
Social and Economic Inequalities:
Capitalism tends to prefer a certain kind of member of society. A member who is productive, compliant and able-bodied. Historically, various identity groups in society have been marginalized and deemed as useless to the Capitalist Society. Such groups include racial, ethnic, religious minorities, immigrants, LGBTQAI+, individuals with disabilities or conditions, women and more. In Late-Capitalism, the lack of dignity to human beings and their needs is so severe that so many people end up in dire financial situations. While homelessness has always been present in society, in Late-Capitalism, the homelessness is so severe that it has become a crisis. While there is a lot of wealth, the gap between the wealthy and poor is so wide and there is barely a middle class anymore. What is now perceived as the middle class is actually a working class that is a little better off than those living in poverty. A quality of Late-Capitalism is that there are programs managed by the State that intervene and stabilize some of the inequalities. Culturally, there is a mentality of “every man for himself” and therefore, those slightly better off financially will often be heard complaining about the poor and homeless people for “taking up free money from the government” whereas in reality, these people may still be suffering with too little welfare to live on.
Hyper-Business and Consumption as Leisure:
In every society, human beings look for ways to work, play and rest. In a Capitalist Society, there is an over-emphasis on work and not enough time or quality of rest and play. During the time of the Industrial Revolution, workers produced labor for long hours each day in the factories. In the Post-Modern Era, with technological advancements there is an even greater blur of boundaries between one’s personal life and work life. People have such little time for themselves and their families that daycares and schools have set up programs in place for early drop off and late pick up. When an individual chronically overworks themselves, the quality of play and rest tend to diminish as well. After a long day of work, many people will choose to “binge watch” Netflix than to learn a new hobby. There is a leaning towards passive consumptive choices of leisure rather than having active lives beyond employment. In fact, people may say they are lucky and do not give themselves permission to complain with a minimizing statement of, “at least I have a job”.
The Capitalist agenda has trickled into various corners of the school system. Similar to the hyperbusiness of adults, children experience a hyper-academic school experience with the most value placed on subjects of Math and Natural ‘Hard’ Sciences which are deemed as “useful”. The Arts and Humanities are seemed least useful and in fact the Arts, Physical Education, unstructured playtime at recess and Cultural Studies have all been greatly reduced in American Public Schools across the nation. Standarized Tests that have been created by corporations, not necessarily educators have been used as a way to measure, track and place students as young as Kindergarten. Additionally, overcrowding in classrooms make it significantly more difficult for children with learning differences to succeed and for a single teacher to reach each student in a personal way. Similar to adults, children are placed in school for long hours and after that are required to complete homework often busy work and for leisure have very little if any non-digital child-led unstructured leisure time. Even recreational activities have become dominated by structured sports, instructor-led art lessons and competitive math clubs that may look good on one’s college application or resume. (Playtime is Over, 2010)
With Late-Stage Capitalism comes increased alienation and disillusionment from one’s self, labor, each other and the social and natural world. Using the sociological imagination, we can see that there is an increase of depression and anxiety as Capitalism advances and there are more ways to exploit people. Late-State Capitalism is both a time of oppression and of social change. Many start to gain awareness and are willing to find better ways to live for themselves and each other.
Black, Stephanie, director. Life and Debt.
“Capitalism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Sept. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitalism.
Elkind, David. “Playtime Is Over.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Mar. 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/27/opinion/27elkind.html.
“Health Effects of Gentrification.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/healthtopics/gentrification.htm.
“Neoliberalism.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Sept. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberalism.
Robinson, William I. “A Theory of Global Capitalism.” Hopkins Press, https://press.jhu.edu/books/title/3242/theory-global-capitalism.