Because No One is Perfect – Why We (Should) Love Capitalism – Part 1

When the Cold War ended with the defeat of the Soviet communists, capitalism emerged as the heralding beacon of international political and economic success. Just a few decades down the road however, the frequency of capitalism-related happy dances continuously dwindles. With American approval of the word ‘capitalism’ routinely decreasing in research polls and countries such as Argentina turning toward protectionist policies for development – the validity of capitalism and the integrity of the capitalist economic system come into question. It appears global, and more narrowly American, infatuation with the capitalist economic system is slowly diminishing… and we need to snap out of it.

Despite hardships with the capitalist economic system, there is a reason why, despite all odds, capitalism has persevered for over three hundred years. There is a reason why the majority of Americans can’t help but coin the term as a positive. And there is a reason why capitalism still spreads today. Capitalism is the first shared system of international trade with which every country in the world largely comprehends the terms and can choose to play the economic game. The world sees off millions of exports, purchases an array of goods for import, pays workers for labor, and guarantees very basic rights. We can claim that capitalism increases disparity, which is partially true, but saying capitalism does not increase wealth is an injustice to the accomplishments of the system. Capitalism’s greatest contributions to global growth involve the growing prevalence of economies of scale, increasing need for interdependence, and declining transportation costs. The compounding of these three factors amount to what Hans Rosling showcases in his short video, “200 countries, 200 years, in 4 minutes.” Capitalism, as Rosling illustrates, results in unbridled and unparalleled, universal global development. If you thought capitalism killed Africa, this video will show you otherwise (notice his pauses after the first industrial revolution, post-world-wars, and the great depression).

WARNING: Here comes a brief example of capitalism/segue into containerization

But why is an economy of scale important? Why is interdependence and cheap transportation so life changing? A global phenomenon, which grew out of capitalism and globalization, really helps illustrate why these three factors matter on a broad scale. The phenomenon is known as containerization. It starts catching on with containerships in the 1970s. Small countries around the world like Ghana, Brazil, and Malaysia made products and distributed them regionally due to high transportation costs to ship abroad. Most of the time, imports, manufactured and shipped from far away places, were hard to purchase with the weak, local currency of developing nations. Thus, countries like Ghana made efforts to stay as independent and self-sufficient as possible. When container ships began growing in size in the mid 1970s, all of a sudden, shipping products became vastly cheaper and faster. Where as shipping used to take up large sums of businesses’ budgets, the more containers we managed to squeeze on ships, the more shipping costs decreased. More than lowering shipping and transportation costs, businesses woke up and smelled the coffee. Companies realized that not only were products cheaper to ship, the parts were now cheaper to manufacture abroad, and eventually, it was also cheaper to assemble products abroad as well. This development knocked down numerous barriers to entry for the developing world.

Whereas countries before containerization needed the technology, labor, and resources to design, build, and ship their products, an expensive endeavor, countries post-containerization now specialize in producing a single or few product/s. China could not afford to build a computer from scratch (patents and all) and it, initially, barred them from the high-tech industry. China, with the aid of containerization and lowered transportation costs, built manufacturing facilities to produce just one or two pieces of a laptop, and offered cheap labor for assembly. China’s ability to make large profits without full-scale industry helped them rapidly develop to the manufacturing giant they are today. Without containerization leading to economies of scale, countries such as China, would not experience such rapid growth.

While wealth remains clustered in the West, development is slowly spreading in Africa, Asia, and South America. The containership allows developing countries to daydream, a little more realistically, about the riches of economic success. While computer parts may not bring home as much money as the final computer product, it allows new countries to dive into specialized production, allowing for previously unattainable rates of economic growth as their markets for product sales widen. We can thank capitalism for containerization and many other success-producing phenomena around the world – so it’s time we stopped casting it aside. All hail capitalism – even with its flaws.

In the following parts of this series I will do two broad case studies of capitalism, one in Africa and one in South America, to help illustrate the positive power of capitalism and the fragility of non-capitalist initiatives.

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Dealing with Different Teaching Styles

As students at the University of Denver, we are rather used to a certain teaching style and being held to the highest of standards. Coming abroad, I have quickly learned not every school is like that, and it has taken quite some time for me to adjust.

I can remember a time when I was completely in awe at how relaxed abroad professors are. I was sitting in class taking notes on a lecture, and another student stopped the professor to ask her a question. Before she began to answer, I asked her to flip back to the previous slide. She looked at me and said “Don’t worry about taking notes in class, I will post the slides online.” I was amazed! I’ve never had a professor encourage myself and the class to NOT take notes. What?! I know I don’t learn anything if I just sit there and listen, because in reality I’m not engaged and I’m not listening at all! So I continued on taking notes, and I will continue to do so- because that is what’s best for MY learning.

When you find yourself abroad, and in a classroom setting that you are not used to, I have compiled a list of my best tips to help you through.

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1. Avoid taking your computer to class. We all know how easy it is to get distracted in the classroom when you have your laptop wide open, especially when your teacher barely speaks English and doesn’t really care if you are engaged or not. Instead, try to bring a notebook and pen and take notes the old fashion way. Really focus on engaging and listening to what your professor has to say.

2. Ask questions. Sometimes, it can be rather hard to understand the professor, both for language barrier reasons and because sometimes they really just don’t make sense. Engage, ask questions, and make sure you know what they are trying to convey to you.

3. Go to class. I know. You’re abroad. All you want to do is relax and travel and enjoy whatever beautiful city you are in. Trust me, I know. I all too often find myself sitting in a classroom thinking that it is just a sin to be spending so much of my time in class when there is a beautiful city around me just waiting to be explored and experienced. But let’s not forget- this is STUDY abroad. Get to class! You never know what kind of important information you could miss when you are in class.

4. Don’t let yourself get behind. I have learned that here abroad, there isn’t much in the grade book. Your grade is essentially attendance and your performance on a project or tests. Staying on top of your work is crucial to getting that passing grade you want and need. Do your work and do not, whatever you do, let yourself get behind.

5. Write it down. Because assignments are so rare, it can be easy to let them slip through the cracks and forget about them all together. When you are assigned something, be sure to write down what you have to do, and when it is due. This will help you to remember to get it done, and it will be one more small thing to help boost your grade.

 

Being in a new and unusual learning atmosphere is strange and often times stressful, but with a few tips and tricks, I’m confident you will triumph with passing grades.