Like it or Not, You're a Capitalist. But Are You a Conscious One? Part 1: From Adam Smith to Whole Foods
December 23, 2009 13:27

Like it or Not, You're a Capitalist. But Are You a Conscious One?

with Bert Parlee and Ken Wilber

If you shop, have a job, or own any investments, you're a capitalist.  But are you a conscious capitalist?

Whether a CEO of a multi-billion dollar enterprise like Conscious Capitalist John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods Markets and a board member of Integral Life) or a stay-at-home dad who does all the grocery shopping, conscious capitalists believe that capitalism can be more than a zero-sum game of winners and losers.  If you want to be on the forefront of helping business provide more meaning and goodness to society as well as great value, than here's what sets you apart as a conscious capitalist:

1. You believe that business has a deeper purpose than just maximizing profits. You recognize that your career calling does, too.

2. You believe that the needs of all the stakeholders in an economic system should be considered, including investors, customers, employees, suppliers, society and the environment.  And you recognize that you actually represent each of these in some way.

3. You believe that "capitalism" can and will evolve as the consciousness of the people composing it evolve.  So you take your own responsibility to evolve seriously!

Now some of this may seem new.  That's because it is.

Operating under the hood of capitalism is a fairly simple assumption: that advocating a free market economy is more productive and more beneficial to society as a whole, because everyone involved is looking after their own self interest. This forces competition, resulting in some degree of fair compromise for the sake of mutual gain.  This drive toward competition for mutual benefit has been the engine of progress in the modern Western world, and is famously characterized as Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand", naturally guiding society through wave upon wave of increasing wealth and innovation.

But what if the "invisible hand" weren't so invisible?

Classical economic theory is rarely concerned with what people are thinking or feeling, focusing instead upon more objective metrics like behavior and the exchange of material goods.  There's really not much space allotted for interior motivations at all, aside from the core assumption about "mutual self interest".  What if we had a keener understanding of what "self interest" really means, uncovering the actual motivating factors behind all of our behaviors?

What if we had the tools to both qualify and quantify the many levels of "self"—acknowledging that our identity grows and changes throughout our lives—as well as the different levels of "interest" that stem from our personal values and cultural worldview?

And what if we could combine these interior dimensions with a much more sophisticated understanding of "mutual benefit", acknowledging how our activity in the marketplace impacts our stakeholders, our community, and our environment?

Ever since Adam Smith first penned The Wealth of Nations in 1776, capitalism has been both lauded and criticized from almost every possible angle.  On one end of the spectrum, we can see that the move to capitalist economics has been one of humanity's greatest forces of liberation, catalyzing more progress and pulling more people out of poverty than any other social or economic movement in history.  On the other, capitalism is often vilified as an enemy of virtue, an incubator of greed, and a perpetual source of war and environmental devastation.

So who is right? Has our social experiment with capitalism been a blessing or a curse?  The answer, not surprisingly, is a resounding "both/and". After all, capitalism is just a tool—and like any tool, it can be used to either better lives or to destroy them altogether.

Listen as Ken and Bert trace the growth of capitalism from Wealth of Nations all the way to Whole Foods, noting some of the ways we can help build a better and more conscious capitalism for today's newly-interconnected global economy.  If you are an executive, manager, or business owner, understanding the principles and history of conscious capitalism will not only help expand and deepen your own definition of success, it will help you make better decisions that will benefit more of the world.  And even if you aren't in the business world, a coherent vision of conscious capitalism will help you to become a more conscious consumer and bring more care and prudence to your own financial affairs.


Does Your Money Own You? Becoming a conscious capitalist requires that you can see and understand your relationship to money, a that view sees abundance as a default possibility of exchange rather than always seeing scarcity and lack.  Take a quick tour of your own relationship to money:

  • Do you have a scarcity mentality, where a persistent thought of having no money leaves your stomach clenching? Perhaps your "survival voice" is dominant?
  • Do you have an achievement mentality, where the thought of having lots of money makes your head swoon with visions of finally reaching peace of mind? Perhaps your "accumulation voice" is dominant?
  • Do you have an abundance mentality, where the thought of having enough money to live comfortably makes your heart open? Perhaps your "sufficiency voice" is dominant?

Now the truth is we each have all of these voices, feelings and capacities that operate within us all the time.  But be aware of what voice talks to you the most. When you feel yourself getting stressed (survival) or greedy (accumulation), feel the openness that comes when you relax into abundance while maintaining the confidence that you always have the capacity to survive, you always have the capacity to thrive.  That hasn't left you. And it never will.


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