In formulating a Philosophy of Capitalism appropriate for our time now and the challenges and opportunities we face, let’s start out by looking at this time in the context of the long view of our history.
Throughout the entire history of life on Earth, evolution has always been a process of diversification followed by unification, leading to further diversification, followed by subsequent unification. One celled organisms found ways to agglomerate to function better as multi-celled organisms and so on up the evolutionary scale.
For a moment, take a look at the slime mold, a transitional example in this evolutionary process. According to Wikipedia: “When food is abundant, a slime mold exists as a single-celled organism, but when food is in short supply,” certain slime mold cells send out a chemical signal and then collections of slime mold cells “congregate and start moving as a single body. In this state they are sensitive to airborne chemicals and can detect food sources. They can readily change the shape and function of their parts and may form stalks that produce fruiting bodies, releasing countless spores, light enough to be carried on the wind or hitching a ride on passing animals.” When these spores land they become slime mold cells and begin the process all over again.
Slime molds, living at the intersection of the plant and the animal worlds and at the intersection of the single celled organism and the multi-celled organism, enact the transformation from unity to diversity and back. Humans do this as well, when a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell and a human organism begins the journey from the single cell to the multi-celled organism.
According to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, external agglomeration (unification) is accompanied by a correlative ‘interiorization’ – essentially an advance in consciousness. The evolution of ever more complex multi-celled organisms eventually moved out of the ocean onto land and thence through the age of reptiles to the age of mammals and eventually to the age of humanity. This process produced ever more complex external agglomerations and ever more complex interior consciousnesses. Philosophy of Consciousness
This diversification/unification dynamic continued through the various stages of human evolution. Hunter/gatherers evolved into villages, which became city states and subsequently empires. The empires broke up into kingdoms, which became nations, and now, virtually every portion of the entire Earth is encompassed in one or another nation.
However this diversification of nations has reached its limit and it is time for a correlative phase of unification. That doesn’t mean that the various nations have to be eliminated. The single cells continue in multi-celled organisms. Rather we need a philosophical, social, political, economic, and cultural unification movement, a Planetary Movement, that can show us how to cooperate across national borders to operate within the tolerances established by the Earth’s ecosystem that allow for the continuation and advancement of human life.
Freedom and Responsibility
Some will say that this means we have to give up our freedom. That is most certainly true for certain freedoms. In fact it has already happened for certain freedoms. Humanity has given up the freedom to explode nuclear devices. We recognized that the fate of the whole human species was seriously threatened by continuing to explode nuclear devices, so we voluntarily gave up that freedom.
Humanity gave up the freedom to utilize chlorofluorocarbons in refrigeration when it became clear that they were destroying the ozone layer of the atmosphere, which is essential for the continuation of human life.
The U.S. Constitution establishes a balance between freedoms and rules. What it means to be an American citizen is to exercise our freedom in the context of the laws enacted by the institutions established by the Constitution. Through the process of elections, we have even established what amount to rules for revolutions, whereby we choose to continue or to change governments without resorting to killing each other.
If we want to express our freedom by driving to someplace at a distance from where we live and work, we use the roads and follow the traffic laws to do this. Our freedom to travel requires exercising our responsibility to follow the rules of the road. Most great artists learn their artistic crafts before using those crafts to express freely their unique visions. All crafts, all professions balance freedom of expression with the disciplines that underlie the particular craft or profession.
Freedom is one half of the equation. The other half is responsibility. Unlimited freedom is a license to destroy people and the planet for personal gain. Unlimited responsibility stifles the growth and evolving change that is essential to all life. True creativity, true innovation, and, in fact, true capitalism comes from the balance of freedom to try the new and the bold with responsibility to protect the social and environmental foundation that allows us to live together in peace with each other and peace with the Earth. By now, the best business leaders in the world recognize that the best businesses are those that are not only profitable financially, but also those that benefit society and the environment.
A New Planetary System
It is time for us to give up our freedom to continue with the highly unstable human system that we currently have. We need a new Planetary System. Planetary Philosophy suggests that the creation of this new Planetary System should be our One Purpose right now and that this One Purpose should be guided by the fact that we are One People and that we share One Planet. The time for unification has arrived. Let’s take a look at what this means for our economic system.
A New Capitalism
At the Davos World Economic Forum in January 2008, Bill Gates challenged business leaders throughout the world to utilize their best innovative thinkers to address the big issues facing our planet. He called this Creative Capitalism. He joins others pursuing new forms of capitalism like Paul Hawken’s Natural Capitalism, John Mackey’s Conscious Capitalism, and Professor Michael Porter’s Shared Value Capitalism. Each of these leaders realizes that the time for business as usual is over. The time for capitalism as usual is also over. The way we have practiced capitalism over the past 200 years has created great wealth and a high standard of living for many in the U.S. and western world, yet it has left out a large portion of humanity and threatens the planetary eco-system.
The old capitalism has produced huge budget and balance of payments deficits; an extreme and widening gap between the very rich and the rest of the population; dependence on high cost dangerous foreign oil; very serious air, land, and water pollution; and climate change. Business and society have come to a fork in the road early in the 21st century. The path business people take will play an essential role in determining the future of our businesses as well as the future of the U.S. and the world for many generations to come.
It’s time for a new capitalism. Whether it’s called Natural, Creative, Conscious, Shared Value, or New is not the issue. The issue is to determine the particulars— the principles, the values, the strategies, the policies, and the practices that become deeply embedded in the culture of what let’s call a Planetary Capitalism, guided by the triple bottom line values of people, planet, and profits, which are quite close to the Planetary Philosophy principles of One Planet, One People, One Purpose. At its core, a Planetary Capitalism has to recognize that business cannot prosper in an unhealthy world. Healthy business and a healthy society require each other for long term prosperity.