It seems to me that the difference between capitalism, as expressed in the market system, and culture have a great deal in common, and their respective effects on society are often confused, even by very smart people. Many times economists and philosophers have attributed societal ills to the market system. When it would be more correct to say it is the culture that causes these effects.
They are similar in that they both are basically sets of rules of how to act in such and such a situation. The market system rules economic intercourse and culture rules all personal interactions. They overlap in market transactions and can be confused easily. When people interact in a market situation they have two sets of rules they play by, one are the cultural rules of the society, and two, market rules.
Cultural rules may or may not be conducive to market interactions or they may be, but the effects of culture are independent, (because they predate the market in all but the newest societies), of the market and the effects on society of market actions and market rules. Market rules are similar, they are independent of cultural rules, (because they are almost universal), but if they rub culture wrong market rules are broken by the Elite in that society.
Often, that is the very reason some departments of government exist, simply to force rules on market interactions so that they comport better with cultural rules. Regulations that exist merely to protect some self determined cultural norm are examples. Many regulations that aim at enacting some system of fairness in a society as in Welfare State Capitalism are other examples. These things are means that Elite in government use to enforce a cultural morality on society.
Lets examine a few examples of, social scientists that have expressed their thoughts about the effects of capitalism on society, where they were confusing capitalism’s effects with cultural effects. One that springs to mind is the perennial claim that capitalism causes imperialism. This was a common way to decry the market system in the nineteenth century. It appeared at the time to have some truth to it. The European countries were divvying up the globe like a roast turkey.
But the negative effects during the nineteenth century that anti capitalist attributed to capitalism were in fact a throwback to the feudal system capitalism had recently emerged from. The feudal system saw the world as land to be divided by the aristocracy. The bigger the fiefs the more important the lord or baron. Moreover the claims that the capitalists were seeking a dump for their extra capital has proven to be foolishness. The colonies were merely a gift to the egos of the last European aristocrats.
Marcuse claim that capitalism engages in psychological warfare not the least of which is manipulation of the sexual drives. Clearly we can see that this is as much a critique on his times as on capitalism. The sexual revolution was not a capitalist thing it was an anti capitalist thing. It wasn’t women who were busy at work or tending their children who were burning their bras, it was the upper middle class youth who had been inculcated to hate anything Western, capitalism, sexual control and so on.
Even a cursory examination of history shows that capitalism existed a long time before the sexual revolution without creating one before. From this we can lean to culture as the culprit in the sexual revolution. If we also look into the movies and other cultural medium of the day we see that they reflected a sexually promiscuous society. But lastly any sociologist knows that sexual mores are an effect of cultural mores. So we can confidently conclude, that Marcuse was confusing the effect of capitalism with the effect of culture, at least where sexuality is concerned.
Anyone can confuse the effects of similar forces on society. But when the theories of anti capitalists have been proven wrong over and over. Not the least of which because, they have confused the effects of capitalism with culture, then intentionally influencing culture to have negative effects on society, proves they are not people who should ever be let near power. There is no better proof than that.
Saint Augustine said “People get the government they deserve.” That has never been more true, at any time or in any place than in the US today and anyplace that has universal suffrage and people choose their leaders.