What is capitalism in simple terms? How is it related to the "White Mans Burden."

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Rudyard Kipling poem “The White Man’s Burden” is actually about imperialism, not capitalism.  Capitalism is, to some people, connected to imperialism, but Kipling does not really reference capitalism in his poem.

Capitalism is an economic system in which the market rules.  Economic decisions are made by the market and not by government.  For example, the government does not decide whether to allow imports.  It allows the people to decide this based on the price and quality of imports relative to domestic goods.  As another example, the government does not set up companies and give them monopolies.  Instead, companies compete in a given market and whichever company satisfies customers most effectively makes more profit and gains greater market share.  Firms and individuals own the means of production and their choices end up determining what the economy will look like.  Most importantly, everyone tries to make profit for themselves and their collective efforts make the economy strong.

We do not see any reference to this in “The White Man’s Burden.”  Kipling does mention creating ports, which could help create a capitalist economy, but he only mentions it in order to say that he white man will work hard to build the ports but will not get to use them.  He does mention profit and gain, which are important drivers of capitalism, but he only mentions them to point out that the white man will have to work to help others, not himself.  This is a poem that discusses the burdens of imperialism, not one that discusses capitalism.

Of course, many scholars say there is a connection between capitalism and imperialism.  They say that capitalist economies need to expand into new markets to make new profits.  They say that capitalist countries pursued imperialism so as to find these new markets.  However, this idea is not discussed in “The White Man’s Burden.”  For these reasons, I would argue that it is not possible to find references to capitalism in this poem and so it is hard to describe capitalism specifically in reference to “The White Man’s Burden.”

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