Does Capitalism Need to be Healed?
I was recently swindled.
I was overpaying a contractor for a service that was actually being performed by a grossly under-paid subcontractor.
We Americans have a unique reaction to situations like this. Because when it comes to business, our ultimate creed is caveat emptor: “let the buyer beware.”
In fact, the U.S. is arguably founded as much on that pithy little Latin phrase as on the Constitution itself.
All of this got me wondering about the relationship between entrepreneurialism, capitalism and compassion.
I’ve lived and worked in Europe, and I can tell you that it’s a lot harder to set up shop in the Eurozone countries. Employment law strongly favors the worker, and that tends to create a society that’s more compassionate, but less entrepreneurial. The U.S. is the opposite.
You can hang your proverbial shingle without much effort, and flex up and down as you see fit. Not only is my swindle experience seen as caveat emptor, there’s even a quiet admiration. Even I thought, “Well, you’ve got to admire the chutzpah … ”
So does “pro-business” mean “anti-compassion”?
I’ve worked in both socialist-leaning and cutthroat capitalist cultures, and I have plenty of good things to say about both. But can capitalism and compassion coexist?
I think we need to defend and protect capitalism, because small business entrepreneurialism creates opportunity for everyone (this ain’t happening in Europe, and that’s one big reason why we’re driving the economic recovery).
But I also believe that our version of capitalism is broken;
That caveat emptor is a poor foundation for the long term, and that we shouldn’t have to choose between an entrepreneurial culture and a compassionate one.
Capitalism needs healing in two key ways:
- Capitalist ventures need to be sustainable. Operating on a “Ha! I screwed you, a deal’s a deal!” principle can’t last. Sorry Gordon Gekko, greed isn’t good.
- Capitalist ventures need to be an active part of the communities that nurture them, creating intelligent feedback loops that improve infrastructure, education and other core elements of society.
Some people say an entrepreneur’s only responsibility is to maximize profits.
But did you really choose the business you’re in solely for the money? Capitalism and compassion don’t have to be at odds.
“Profit” means financial gain, but it also has a more general meaning: “to be beneficial to.”
As innovators and creators of wealth, wouldn’t we all profit from using that second definition a little more often?
About the Author: Tanya Korpi Macleod is the founder of Minneapolis-based Macleod & Co. After more than 25 years of marketing and advertising experience in the U.S. and Europe, Tanya noticed that chasm that often exists between an organization’s theoretical marketing “plan” and its realistic ability to execute it. This led her to pioneer in the concept of “holistic marketing,” which redefines marketing as the complete process of bringing a product, service or company from inception to maximum ongoing profitability. Her mission is to show organizational leaders that a holistic mindset not only promotes a healthier culture, but a more profitable business.