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Living in Capitalism: The Fat of the Land

Some of capitalism’s critics like to depict a market economy as a ruthless system in which making a living and paying expenses is inherently (or even intentionally) difficult for anyone not born into a wealthy family. Worse yet, jobs are often depicted as an all-or-nothing prospect, with anyone not able to secure a full-time position being left out of economic opportunity entirely.

But the wealth creation made possible in a free economy actually allows an endless series of incremental and supplemental income streams—so much so, in fact, that there’s a flourishing cottage industry just in describing and promoting them.

There is nothing revolutionary about having a part-time job, of course, but modern Internet platforms and services have made it easier then ever for someone without a lot of money, education, or training to turn a few free hours a week into a second (or third or fourth) income stream. And not all of these opportunities are even what we would normally think of as jobs.

For instance, in any household, there are two ways to make ends meet: increase your income or reduce your expenses. If your side hustle is extreme couponing—like YouTube shopping legend Star Smith—that volume of discounts can lower your expenses as much as some part-time jobs would increase it.

The competitive nature of markets makes these incremental income steams possible. When retailers have to compete for customers, they offer all different kinds of discounts and offers to get customers to buy. For many middle-class people, those discounts are relatively small and incidental, but for lower-income people dedicated to optimizing these offers, the returns can be large.

For example, many Americans will remember the weekly adrenaline rush of watching ordinary shoppers get hundreds of dollars of…

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