Conscious Capitalism and the Power of Choice

With the soon to be released documentary Capitalism: A Love Story by Michael Moore, and the recent labeling of John Mackey, the Chairman and CEO of Whole Foods, as a ‘right wing libertarian’, I think it’s time I speak up and lend my voice to the zeitgeist.

Within our culture, capitalism is typically likened to a philosophy where people and the companies/corporations they form operate in ways to only benefit themselves, at the expense of our greater environmental and humanitarian well being. Capitalism is usually associated with greed, corruption, and amoral activities. To those of a ‘liberal’ mindset, capitalism is a reprehensible philosophy, and the free market the capitalists defend is just a concept introduced so that the capitalists may keep their “exploitive” power.

There is however a new version of this concept known as Conscious Capitalism. This isn’t the type of ‘capitalism’ that you may have been conditioned to hold as the target of your anger. This is the type of philosophy that recognizes the freedom and efficiency of the free market, while understanding that our egoic tendencies to ignore the long term effects of our actions is a common pitfall within our society. To a conscious capitalist, taking an action which results in a short term gain, but creates a long term problem for everyone, is not an action worth taking. The idea is for your customers to help you, while you help them, a win-win relationship.

To those which support it, the free market is respected for the choice and responsibility it affords us. It is also seen that some of the issues we face with free market systems, such as the health care system, may not be caused by the greed which exists within the free market, but the regulations which the government has placed on that market. From my point of view it is very frustrating to hear people such as Michael Moore say that the free market has failed, when it wasn’t really free due to such regulations.

Scrooge McDuck

Scrooge McDuck swimming in his money, while poor people starve…Or does he spend it, or invest it in other companies, which creates new jobs?

People are made to think of corporations as large organizations which do extremely immoral things, which we have no control over, and thus we must use the government to put a stop to their actions. At times we even believe it is justified to apply higher taxes to these organizations, if only to further “equalize” the inequality we believe they have introduced to our society.

I invite those of you which hold this premise regarding corporations and capitalism to please be aware that at times you may inappropriately apply these concepts or ideas to individuals or groups of individuals (corporations), such as John Mackey. Yes, there are individuals across all cultures which operate from a materialistic point of view, and this point of view causes them to exhibit greedy tendencies. I don’t doubt that immoral practices occur frequently in large bureaucratic organizations, but please do not believe that our government is excluded. Please wake up and realize that this is a normal state of human development. We all have been greedy at some point in our lives, and we just need to wake up and realize that no matter how much we get, it won’t satisfy us like we believe it will. Aren’t we only greedy because we feel insecure? Don’t many of us think that having more money will finally make us feel secure? How innocent it is for us to yearn for such security. Perhaps we should find out for ourselves what brings us security, love, and happiness, and recommend what we find to others.

Even though we understand why greed exists, we should not condone such behavior which is to the detriment of others. Individuals or companies which commit criminal offenses should be prosecuted to the full extent by the existing laws which cover fraud or force. When they act immorally however, I’ve often heard people conclude that this is when (and why) the government should step in further. This is a grave mistake.

Moral action is heavily dependent upon context, and we should be afforded the freedom to consider this context ourselves. Right now when a company does something immoral, I have the choice to not support that company. “Well, that won’t make much difference”, some may say, but what is the alternative you suggest to make the change necessary? Voting for more government power? Please remember, our influence as a culture is just as powerful in it’s financial influence as it is in it’s voting power. If you have 51% of the country supporting legislation to stop a company from immoral actions, thus making them “illegal”, how could this not make a difference compared to 51% of the country boycotting a private company? I’m sure any large corporation that sees a 51% shift in demand by its patrons (realistically, even less of a shift would be necessary), will make a change to the way it does business.

For instance, companies are constantly responding to demand for more environmentally friendly operations, or products. Most of the major grocery suppliers (Walmart, Publix, Safeway) began offering organic produce once the demand caught on for a large portion of our culture. You could ask, Would Walmart take such initiatives on it’s own? Or is this only because it would affect it’s profits? Why create such a split? It’s not up to them. It’s up to you! Businesses cater to demand, which we the people control.

As soon as you no longer approve, you stop sanctioning these companies with your dollars. The companies go belly up as soon as everyone stops buying from them. Half of the customers of Walmart might care about the environmental impact being made by the products it sells, while the other customers do not care. Who knows what the ratio is? It doesn’t matter. It’s up to you. All the controllers of these companies, the executive and investors who hold stock, which do or do not agree on various topics, have no power over the demand of the public. When a company faces a choice of continuing or loosing business, the automatic decision is to continue based on consumer demand, regardless of impact. It’s all up to you.

Really, we’re scapegoating these companies when they only exist to satisfy our own demands. I used to hate MTV for switching from an alternative rock format in the late 90’s to a teen pop format. After a while I realized that it is not MTV I should blame, but our culture.

What is the difference when working with a privately controlled industry, versus a government controlled industry? Rate of choice. Today I can choose McDonalds, tomorrow I can become more health conscious and choose Whole Foods. Further than this, I can decide how much money to spend visiting either establishment for food. I might support a company for a few products they offer, but decide to go to a competitor for another type of product, due to price and quality concerns. The freedom of choice is extremely powerful in a free market, but we often take it for granted.

Compare this to a government controlled industry. How often do we get to choose? Not very often, and without any certainty. Once the government controls an industry, you pretty much get what you’re given. If you don’t like it, you can vote for another representative to manage it differently, but even then you’re not completely sure. Sure, the government will give some choice, and it does bend to pressures from it’s citizens, but the real factor regarding government is that they will not go out of business. They can’t. They have the guns and the allowance to tax you for the services they provide, by the wishes of the majority, and they do not necessarily have pressures to out perform any specific competitor because of this. Efficiency is not something the government excels at.

Ask yourself, in what scenarios will greed thrive. Does it thrive in private companies which must stay in constant competition with their competitors? Or does it thrive more in situations where competition is no longer an issue, because profits are promised by government contracts?

I really wish there was not all the static between all the divided groups of people - liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. What are the truths both groups have to offer, and what view do these truths form when combined. I think that if our culture wasn’t so materialistic, we could have the free market, and thus free choice, to make changes dynamically as a culture, with much quicker responses to our situation as we become more aware of our true environmental and cultural impact (without bias due egoic interests). Conscious Capitalism requires those which have not developed to be in harmony with the productive needs of our society to adapt, not become forever dependent on a system of government coerced charity. If we had more choice, there would be more prosperity, and through social consciousness we could support private charity with much more efficiency (private charities compete as well).

There would also no longer be an attitude of me versus you. You can continue eating McDonalds, while I eat Whole Foods. You can have health insurance which covers cosmetic surgery, while choose a provider which does not. We don’t have to fight or vote against each other in the free market. We can both have what we want, and make change on a cultural level, instead of the dangerous path of government intervention.

The government has ultimate power, and creates monopolies through the regulation and subsidization of certain companies that call to it for favors. We do not want to loose our choice. The more the government involves itself in sectors of the free market, the more waste is introduced. I truly fear that the government is a giant machine with high overhead, increasing deficits, and such complexity that all the corrupt favors that go on are easily masked and ignored. Be careful what you wish for, because it may truly not be the “change” you hoped it would be.