It could be argued that as an economic theory and system, capitalism has done more to bring prosperity across the planet than any other system. It could also be said that capitalism is everywhere, ironically, thriving in even so-called Communist countries.
Curious as well is that, apart from theory but in practice, there isn’t a so-called “pure” economic system including capitalism, to be found anywhere but instead, hybrids everywhere.
What’s love got to do with it? So, the song goes. What if love were the real basis of a thriving economy and a reinvented capitalism?
We are called to define capitalism since there are just so many hybrids and I’m proposing yet another right here. So, I’ll make a few distinctions….
The U.S. prides itself on being a nation that thrives because of capitalism, yet has been deploying what are really socialist measures for decades. Subsidies granted to oil companies for instance, or major agricultural or pharmaceutical companies is not Capitalistic at all. If Adam Smith heard that this was considered even a remote part of capitalism, he would likely roll over a few times in his grave.
Yet, fire and police departments, even dog-catchers, are all services for the public good. One does not pay for these services directly but through taxes. Can you imagine if you had to brandish your credit card first when the fire dept. comes to your house to extinguish a fire? There are contexts in which a so-called “pure” Capitalist system looks nothing short of absurd and inhumane.
Another example of this is in healthcare. The government provides subsidies that could be considered government-sponsored—or socialist-style—measures. If they didn’t, a good portion of the population would be in bankruptcy due to the insanely high cost of medicine and what is erroneously called “healthcare”. If medicine were left purely in the hands of the medical industrial complex and capitalistic tendencies, our people would be in debt that could never be paid.
Most European countries, as well as the U.S. and Canada, are hybrid systems, and not pure capitalism or socialism. These are words used by politicians to slander opponents. Neither exists in toto and each relies to some extent on another.
But for purposes of this article, I will refer to our current hybrid as capitalism despite my knowing that it’s a misnomer. The reason is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is who is behind the system, the markets and the enterprises. The man behind the enterprise is what makes all the difference. Is he one of heart and soul, or just a mechanical and calculating, greedy, self-interested individual?
Most people know that Adam Smith in his book, The Wealth of Nations, is credited with the framing of the economic system we call capitalism. Smith was an 18th-century Scottish economist and moral philosopher who believed that good people, guided by moral principles, including the human instinct toward self-preservation, hence (a healthy) self-interest, could build an economy based on the idea of a division of labor and supply and demand would serve societal interests.
According to Smith, an individual fulfilling his self-interest would result in society’s interest also being fulfilled. Competition would drive the quality of goods as well as prices. Uninterrupted by government regulations, the market would regulate itself.
Today’s wealthiest capitalists think that by monopolizing markets and driving competition out of business, enslaving laborers to get the most work by paying the lowest wage is fulfilling a Smithian idea of capitalism. Raping, plundering and pillaging people or the planet, I’m suggesting that thinking is erroneous. Smith, I wager, could never have imagined the abuse and immorality of the system that would benefit so few and hurt so many. He would have called for government intervention with respect to health and safety measures and anti-trust legislation because the barons and pirates of the industry have instituted slavery in so many ways along with the exploitation of nature to serious collective harm and destruction.
Smith’s idea of a free market was not an idea of ‘license to kill’ literally or figuratively, yet that is what has been and is occurring today in the name of capitalism.
Unfortunately, the use of business, or rather abuse, in pursuit of the greatest amount of money at any human or environmental cost speaks of little more than an amoral and pathological perspective that has profoundly injured the soul of humanity. The fate of our species—and many others—as a result of these practices over centuries, leaves us literally hanging in the balance.
When used well, capitalist tenets, principally those of free and fair market trade, open commerce, visionary entrepreneurism and multiple bottom lines, have in fact also allowed those committed to positive outcomes to do financially well, better than any other economic system I know of.
Though the problems are much more numerous than can be addressed here and involve manipulation of the economic and political systems to a particular tribe’s advantage and to the detriment of others. In short, the playing field is anything but even. God forbid one should have a darker skin tone other than a tan or be a woman because then the controlling tribe works directly and indirectly against anyone unlike themselves.
When I speak of re-inventing capitalism, it isn’t really capitalism as a theory or as a system that I think is so vital but rather the ebb and flow of markets as a green economist and futurist, Hazel Henderson has extensively talked about. That is, the support of free and fair trade between individuals and corporations (no more than just a group of individuals) in an ethical and balanced manner.
This means that at the end of all transactions is what we call a ‘win-win’. Everyone leaves feeling good and fairly treated whether it is buying a company at a Board table or a piece of dark chocolate at the corner store. The principle of win-win is the first bottom line of a transaction in a reinvented capitalism for the common good.
In order to re-invent capitalism is to re-vision ourselves, who we are, in the midst of transactions large and small.
Money isn’t God and the actions to generate it don’t comprise a religion. Money is a common denominator, a useful, transactional medium that allows for the exchange of goods and services. If someone has tomatoes and needs lettuce but his neighbor makes only shoes, the common denominator of money allows value to be translated between commodities and services. Unless the neighbor is Charlie Chaplin who makes shoelaces into spaghetti, having a common denominator defining a common value is of very practical use.
The bottom line of an economy says that by serving the individual it also serves the common good, in itself, sadly, ends up being naïve. We have found historically that while most people treat each other fairly and with dignity perhaps even most of the time, there is too large a number who will lie, cheat and steal, exploit people and the planet to any extent to increase their profit and power. It is alarming yet consistent over time.
If people don’t regulate themselves, regulations will be governmentally imposed. The ancient Chinese sage Lao-Tse told us that some 2,600 years ago.
Reinventing self leads to the reinventing of sound and healthy economic practices. Let’s look at a few current assumptions that underlie our current, broken, pathological system that is based on destruction instead of creation and then we’ll look at healthy and positive assumptions.
- We live in a world of scarcity. There isn’t enough food or water to go around. We need to grab what we can for ourselves.
- People can’t be trusted and it’s a dog-eat-dog world.
- Poverty, hunger and war have always been with us and will always be.
- It is either me or you bub, not me and you. Survival of the fittest.
We see how the above assumptions/belief systems/mindset have led us to our current dilemma. Worldwide war, famine, violence and a world in which 1.1% of people own and control nearly 50% of the world’s wealth.The distribution of money, of assets, of wealth is so uneven, so unnatural, that the minds of so many have also been so skewed.
Even many of the wealthiest live in fear of losing their wealth. What kind of wealth is that? A win-lose scenario, except in sport, causes needless suffering and harm. Individuals who prioritize money over people and the planet may have material wealth but their wealth often owns them and they may actually be spiritually impoverished.
The more we have of it, it seems, the more money wears off. Indeed, research by Nobel laureates Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton suggests that the happiness benefits of increased income diminish around $75,000--in part because increases beyond that point likely don't exert as large an impact on people's ability to live comfortably.
A healthy economy is based on holistically healthy humans
What is the healthy psychology behind a healthy economy? Mind-body-spirit, all healthy and flourishing, matter and spirit both prospering.
What assumptions need to be made to create a healthy economy, a reinvented capitalism? Our actions and attitudes are based on assumptions and beliefs. A healthy economic life emerges from a healthy attitude toward life itself.
- Nature is abundant. When we take care of Mother Nature she takes care of us.
- Humans survive through bonding, loving and caring for each other, not by killing each other off.
- Commitment to use our higher brains, one of which is the heart, in our economic transactions.
- Enlightened Self-Interest has us want to take care of each other. That includes offering a fishing rod and sometimes a fish as necessary.
- Food and water security can be for all when creative and resourceful, inspired minds prevail.
- Zero waste as a principle in nature, provides even more for all: bio-mimetic economics.
Enlightened self-interest means that it is in my interest that others feel satisfied and happy. As a fractal of the whole, that means that I too feel satisfied and happy. It is a broader perspective than it seems Smith spoke of. He didn’t think that capitalists had to think about the well-being of others, just one's self, and that was sufficient to sustain a workable economy, but history has shown us that this is clearly not the case.
Enlightened self-interest is undergirded by the law of interdependence, the unified field and the connectedness of all things. I care for your well-being and you care for mine. Cooperatively, we look out for each other as family members do. We’re expanding the paradigm to all sentient being members.
The law of interdependence found in Buddhist psychology, the Oneness was spoken of in all wisdom traditions east and west, the always present bond of love between all sentient life, experienced by those who are quiet enough in mind and heart to sense it and tap into it, breeds economic, political and social practices which allow communities to live peacefully with each other, with the Earth and to prosper.
When everyone lives harmoniously in a community, whether that is in a country or city, moderate profit can prevail because everyone wants everyone to be able to afford the most of everything. People find that they actually don’t even need much so shopping ceases to be a religious practice or compensation for inner emptiness. Everyone has an entirely different relationship with each other and to the Earth.
It is much more in common with the native people of Turtle Island and other indigenous communities around the world.
Today, there are new business practices in the world using tokenization and crypto-currencies, some of which seek to create regenerative economies that are not about max profit to some resulting in loss to others but creating win-win scenarios over and again.
One example of this is the growing Seeds Community. Once established—the seeds are still germinating—one can gain profit from the coin, but it’s not about profit though that will be one of the good results. The point of it is to provide seeds—tokens—to rebuild our planet from the soil up and make the resources to do so availably for those committed to this goal.
There are organizations such as Council for Inclusive Capitalism that provide opportunities for people to learn about social enterprise, social impact investing and ESG. There are organizations such as Infinity Point CDFI which help companies democratize ownership through ESOPS, a business structure that allows all employees to have an equity share in a company they work for.
These are examples of reinventing capitalism for the common good. The number of examples of innovative companies that are highly profitable yet put people and planet before profit are proliferating.
Zoetic Refrigerants and Zoetic Global are examples of this kind of purview. They are providing services that significantly reduce the carbon footprint with an eco-friendly, non-polluting refrigerant, otherwise considered by environmental activist, teacher author, Paul Hawken, to be the most harmful of all things to our environment in his book Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan to Reverse Global Warming.
Zoetic supports minority hiring and looks to establish its facilities in economic opportunity zones to help employ people in economically-depressed areas while providing extraordinary, energy-saving services. Another example is the Cohere Network, a new paradigm in real estate, time-share-style home ownership, and creating self-sufficient, eco-friendly, sustainable culturally-rich communities all over the world. One of its principals, Dakotah Apostolou, has tokenized the social enterprise so that people can either invest money or invest their skills and talents into the community and earn tokens which go to serve their membership and community participation.
If companies were run by holistically integrated individuals bearing in mind a systems approach to everything, that we are all part of a vital, planetary eco-system, let alone universal, one could not harm others or the planet but would work cooperatively. A competitor becomes a collaborator.
In a reinvented capitalism for the common good, there are multiple bottom lines, from profit yes, to the well-being of all stakeholders and the planet.
It is not actually hard to bring love into the economy—it should never have left and if it didn’t, if fearful individuals didn’t ‘chase it out' we’d have a different and better world today. This is just the beginning of reinventing capitalism but any step in this direction is a gain for people and the planet.