When it comes to debates on how great or terrible capitalism is, I find myself trying to interpret what a meaningful middle path forward would be. Such a path would dutifully acknowledge some of the most egregious facets of capitalism, while also ensuring that some of the great benefits we get out of this system are not thrown out as well. Here I will take a look at some negative aspects of capitalism. I identify these not as a way to bash capitalism and all the individuals operating within this system, but just to bring focus to areas of potential improvement. In a future post I would like to take a look at some of the beneficial aspects of capitalism.
I would also like to add that I do not claim myself to be an expert. Some of the experiences that contribute to my worldview include studying finance at NYU Stern, as well as experiencing the tremendous hurt felt by populations all over the world during the great recession as I studied abroad in London, Shanghai, and Buenos Aires. My first job out of college I reneged a well-paid finance job offer from JP Morgan to instead live with the jungle communities of South India to see how business thinking could be used to improve livelihoods. I have also personally experienced the deadening aspects of modern society by struggling with alcoholism and multiple forms of addiction in my 20s. The past two years I have been involved with a politically progressive community as part of the Philosophy, Cosmology, Consciousness department at CIIS. I have also stayed connected to business and entrepreneurship communities as a marketer and founder.
From my perspective some of the worst aspects of capitalism are:
- Destruction of the natural world which is not completely accountable to any one party
Because the operators of the economy are completely distributed with minimal central oversight by definition, humanity has acted like a marauding army of ants, tearing apart public-domain (and by public I refer to even non-human consciousness) "assets" (pardon the economic term... I do not mean to mitigate the value of ecosystems by reducing it to only financial quantity) for private gain. Worst of all is the reality that our public assets are the fertile soil for countless future generations of humanity and evolution. By claiming assets such as jungles, forests, oceans in an unsustainable way for only a private organization and its customers, the true bounty of planet earth is being robbed not just from the consciousness of the planet, but also future generations. With no central oversight, shared resources are being devoured by disconnected independent intentions at a dramatic rate.
- The belief that continuously growing an economy is fundamental to social health
Social health is often defined by the metric of GDP growth. I perceive this fixation coming from a lot of fear by political incumbents. Often times political parties use GDP growth as a catchall umbrella to define their competence. Even if people are unhappy with the state of affairs of their community and planet, the term GDP growth becomes external reassurance that things are ok. True, there is a benefit to tracking this number. It is like tracking population growth. However, if our success or failure as a society becomes determined by how much growth there was in the economy, as opposed to how well the existing economy has performed, then we will be on a never ending, ever speeding up treadmill. We will find it difficult to appreciate what we do have. The blessings of the legacy left to us by our ancestors. Instead we will focus incessantly on what is missing. This ends up damaging the psychology of individuals and families who are expected to perform within the capitalist economy. It becomes difficult to enjoy the present in every sense of that concept.
- Narrow perspective of the role of business enterprises
One of the reigning models of business is the shareholder theory of corporate governance. This means that the business exists only to benefit the shareholders. This view evolved during a time when the rights of investors was extremely important so that they would not be taken advantage of by scheming executives. That worldview, while important for a certain phase, has now become too narrow for the roots of commerce to continue driving deep into the fertile soil of development. Business has become in a few short centuries the most powerful force organizing society today. Business determines community, livelihood, culture, revenue, and so on. It is said that you can see what institution is the most important to a society by how tall the buildings are. If we look at the past 2 millennia, it used to be the religious buildings which dominated the landscape. Then it was the political buildings. Now it is the office towers which dominate most powerful cities. Until the business community can reflect on and appreciate the power it has to transform civilization and our planet, it will be like a rampaging child that actually has the size and strength of a teenager.
These could be seen as some of the hurtful political (accountability), social (continuous growth), and legal (defining business) elements of the capitalist system.
It pains my heart deeply when I see suffering and pain on any level. Whether that is by the "working class" who are not able to benefit from economic growth, the destruction of ecologies that has taken millions of years to develop, or even blind hatred towards the business community who in my experience comprise of some of humanity's most dedicated and sincere individuals.
The business community is no more corrupt or no more blessed than any other aspect of reality. The wealthy people in our world, the proverbial 1%, are just as concerned, just as loving, and at times just as jealous and cynical.
Only by accepting and embracing the unity of our planet can we begin to heal. And that healing will require each person to swallow their own individual portion of BS. To try to be a "bigger person" means doing the deep clean up of your side of the street first. Regardless of where one's station is in this lifetime. True mobility of a lineage happens over generations.
It is unlikely that we will have a world where everybody is completely equal in material terms. This is because nature herself is not equal. Some people will be stronger physically in sports and military, others will have a talent for meeting and speaking and writing, others still will have an innovative capacity to come up with new ideas and technologies, others will have a deep sense of resonance and connection allowing them to cultivate artistic greatness. Everybody should not be the same. We are not all the same.
However, it is my sincere hope that each being on this Earth will be given the means to live at a basic level within the economic system (including non-human consciousness). So that we are not saying to other humans "oh you are unable to hold a job for whatever reason? Go to the streets and die".
No human will be wise enough to predict what Creation has in store for us. Including the phases of pain and destruction. However, I believe it is in our moral and psychological interest to provide for each other as best as possible while taking into consideration as long a time horizon as possible. If at this day and age in the 21st century, we are counting down the decades to mass extinction through global warming, something is deeply wrong.
The legacy we have inherited comes from previous humans (expressions of creation) who did not know any better. But now we know better. It is up to us to prune away things that no longer serve us, and to nourish that which is best in the business community, human civilization, and planet Earth.