Opinion – Re: Conscious Capitalism

By: Martin Pharand

My first blog post for the 1837 Society was meant simply to introduce those politically inclined to a contemporary policy tool that I found really, quite interesting. Since my exposure to Social Impact Bonds and what is more broadly referred to as the area of social finance, I have been constantly thinking of the expanding grey area where the public and private sector are coming together to solve problems.

Public-Private Partnerships are becoming commonplace (despite reasonable skepticism), and the groundwork for Social Impact Bonds and Social Finance tools is being laid down now. These, including ‘conscious capitalism’ (mentioned in the post before this one), I think represent the beginning of a major trend that raises many questions worthy of consideration. Can capitalism learn to correct its many negative externalities? Can the ‘peace, order and good governance’ of Canada persist while the boundary where the public and private sector meet, erode in favour of the latter?

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Read anything by Immanuel Wallerstein and you may find first and foremost that his systems perspective is quite refreshing. For me, someone who has spent a lot of time looking at issues from the ‘ground level’ it’s nice to read about the ‘view from the sky’. Beyond  this, you will get the sense that, no…capitalism cannot correct itself where it is in need of correction and that there is a real threat, in our moment of transition, to the governance of our state.

But I suggest there is the need to pause and reconsider before launching the oft heard argument that capitalism “is the source of the problems it is trying to fix”. You will often run into the same sort of argument if you research issues regarding the environment. The two major issues with arguing either from the poverty or environment perspective is that, one; contradictory statistics can be marshalled by either side and two, both ‘sides’ appear to speak a different language causing greater misunderstanding.

The statistics situation is an unfortunate one, and since I am not an authority on stats regarding poverty or environment, I cannot speak to them; what I will speak to however, is the way in which both view the other side’s perspective.

The first problem I see with critiques of capitalism, is that although the ultimate message has shards of truth I think it is based on a misconstruction of capitalism or at least, an understanding of capitalism that is markedly different to those who argue ‘for’ it.

In the previous post, capitalism is represented as an orchestrated system bent on exploitation. But to the majority of people and those who would argue ‘for’ capitalism, it is the sum of free and lawful transactions based on the principles of self-interest. And self-interest is something so innate and so evolutionarily advantageous that I find it a difficult argument to counter, and in fact the previous post does not do so.

Recognizing however, that ‘capitalists’ often blow off critique of capitalism with ‘you’re a lazy hippy’… what is needed is a creative synthesis of both ideas. An uncreative solution was/is the modern welfare state. Wallerstein is right in saying that, after the anti-systemic movements in the late 60s and 70s the general populace reacted in two ways, they abandoned the ideas of egalitarianism advocated by the popular movements and “withdrew their faith in the state as a mechanism of transformation”. This has continued to this day, and increased in relevance, because the state can no longer afford the many services we demand from it. (because of the financial meltdown? caused by………yea I know)

And so now it is up to the private sector, who is holding the cash, to fund the gap in service. What this will take is a different conversation around capitalism, and a creative synthesis of the opposing views on the matter. Self- interest has made many very VERY wealthy, but now it is time to reconstruct the conversation about capitalism to come full circle, to empower those with the money to make a difference to do so in a way that they find suitable. This is the only way of moving forward, anti-systemic movements or arguments have and will fail, creative synthesis is where we need to go and where we’re already headed.

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3 comments
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