Can Capitalism really be Benevolent?
We’ve chosen to embrace the philosophy of Benevolent Capitalism in our life and our business for a few years now. We travel the word working with top society changing companies and entrepreneurs to invite them to look at more generative and sustainable ways to create and operate their businesses. It never takes long before someone starts asking “Can capitalism really be benevolent?”
A lot of people have many points of view about capitalism that they are not even aware they have. Capitalism is regarded with some contempt by the general public. Many people have very strong points of view about what they think capitalism is and what it means to be a capitalist. Some people condemn capitalism for embodying greed. "Evil capitalist pigs", they cry. They judge capitalism as a terrible thing that oppresses the masses and believe that capitalists take advantage of the poor and less fortunate. They declare that there is no way that anyone could be both benevolent and also a capitalist.
Well, that wasn’t what capitalism was supposed to be. When capitalism was first created back in the 1700's, it was supposed to serve the masses, to create more for all of us. In fact, capitalism is really about how to create more money and more possibility in our life. Capitalism has improved the quality of our lives in countless ways, it has enabled us to progress at a rate unprecedented in history. And, if we look from the point of view of more possibilities and more choices, it is a different world.
Everything we have to say about benevolent capitalism starts with understanding the true nature of capitalism and why now is the time for all of us to recognize the power of capitalism and how it can be a catalyst for change and for different possibilities.
The capitalism came from the word "capita," which used to mean "head of cattle." In the mid 1800',s when the whole capitalist system was starting to be created, the first people that started developing up the idea of capitalism defined capitalism as being about choice, growth and the individual. Capitalism originally meant where you are able to organically grow what it is that you had. Grow doesn't necessarily mean in the earth, grow means with the earth.
This original view of capitalism persisted until the 1960’s and 1970’s when economists hijacked the term to prove their own points of view. Historically, however, capitalism has always been about individual choice and individual growth, which includes money but also does not exclude anything else. Yet most people now see capitalism as something aligned with rape, pillage, large corporate structures. This is a fundamentally misguided view.
This way of thinking about capitalism limits us. It leads us to think of capitalism as bad and evil. Perhaps the most misunderstood words in the English language are the words “Capitalist” and “Capitalism”. There seems to be a common debate occurring in the general population globally, about whether capitalism is good or bad. In the current environment, capitalism is widely perceived as greedy, selfish, exploitative, uncaring, and interested only in maximizing profits. This point of view doesn’t accurately reflect capitalism’s intrinsic value and the contribution it has been to the economic progress in our society.
Indeed, a different type of capitalism is truly possible. Many years ago, we began asking "What else is possible?" and "What can capitalism be and do different to create a different reality and sustainable future on the planet?" Together with Gary Douglas, we illuminated the idea of Benevolent Capitalism - a different possibility for capitalism that could lead to the creation of a world not governed primarily by scarcity and by greed.
When we actually start to look at the energy behind benevolent capitalism, benevolent comes from the Latin word "bene" and "volent,"…. "bene" means wishing well, "volen" means creating this for everyone around us. So wishing well for everyone is actually what "benevolent" means. But it's being changed over the years to mean "charity," which is not what we are talking about here. Benevolent is about wishing well for all.
Benevolent capitalism provides both a new narrative and a more conscious perspective, one that accurately reflects the intrinsic value, vision, and practicality of the term 'capitalism'.