Capitalism and ‘quality of life’
Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, on “What Work Is Really For“:
Suppose that in 1932, when [Bertrand Russell] wrote his essay [“In Praise of Idleness”], we had followed his advice and converted all gains in productivity into increased leisure. Antibiotics, jet airplanes and digital computers, then just glimmers on the horizon, would likely never have become integral parts of our lives. We can argue about just what constitutes real progress, but it’s clear that Russell’s simple proposal would sometimes mean trading quality of life for more leisure.
But capitalism as such is not interested in quality of life. It is essentially a system for producing things to sell at a profit, the greater the better. If products sell because they improve the quality of our life, well and good, but it doesn’t in the end matter why they sell. The system works at least as well if a product sells not because it is a genuine contribution to human well-being but because people are falsely persuaded that they should have it. Often, in fact, it’s easier to persuade people to buy something that’s inferior than it is to make something that’s superior. This is why stores are filled with products that cater to fads and insecurities but no real human need.