I am one of the most pro-capitalism individuals you may ever meet in your life. It is a fact that capitalism has done more to alleviate poverty and raise the standard of living in the past 50 years than any other economic system in history. A report recently released by the World Bank compares the poverty levels in 1981 to 2011 and states that the number of people living in poverty was more than cut in half; it also cites business (and growth, therefor) as a reason for this change. For some interesting facts on poverty, read here. Capitalism may not be perfect, but that’s more due to the fact that humans are imperfect. It allows selfish people to be selfish. But capitalism done correctly enables what John Mackey, Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, calls a “win, win, win, win game,” referring to the mutual benefit of investor, laborer, customer, and supplier. (Full disclosure: I am currently an employee of Whole Foods Market.)
In regards to profiting from business, Mackey says, “Just as people cannot live without eating, so a business cannot live without profits. But most people don’t live to eat, and neither must businesses live just to make profits.” In other words, ethical capitalism is a way for everyone to profit through investing in a common goal, with the goal being the purpose of the business; profits come as a result of this (not the purpose of). Mackey calls this “Conscious Capitalism.”
This gets me to the point of capitalism. Non-profits are not inherently more pure or fair than for-profit businesses. There are dozens and dozens of businesses (for-profits and non-profits) that exist for the benefit of their fellow man (Krochet Kids International, TOMS Shoes, Whole Foods Market, Sevenly, Sseko Designs, and The Honest Company…just to name a few). Fair Trade, Direct Trade and Equal Exchange certified goods ensure that products were made humanely and that the workers were paid fairly. Supporting these brands is a win, win, win, win game…the buyer receives a great product, the suppliers receives fair wages, and the labor and management all receive a piece of the revenues/profits.
Capitalism has the power to move people above their circumstances, out of poverty, into a new realm of possibilities. While some corporations may trample on their employees, these corporations forget that they’re only as strong as their weakest employee and their angriest customer. Capitalism gives consumers power over the business. If customer service is lousy or if the product is poor, this business will not last long; if a company excels in customer service and continually provides great products, it will thrive. I am one of those consumers who prefers small business and socially conscious business over the irresponsible corporation. A thriving corporation is one that invests in its customers, its employees, and its planet first.
Take Starbucks, for example. In Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul, CEO Howard Schultz details the journey of Starbucks from near bankruptcy in 2008 to its recent state (as of publication in 2012). Schultz recognized the poor direction the company was headed in and the damage caused by putting profits and store openings in front of culture and quality. Within a few years of his return as CEO, Starbucks turned itself around and its stock price skyrocketed. Starbucks is continually named a Fortune 500 company and one of the most ethical companies in the world, and Schultz is hailed as one of the greatest leaders of any public company. Schultz didn't just raise stock price; he recreated the Starbucks story. He built up the Starbucks culture to what it currently is. He coined their current mission statement: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time." He created a mission that is about more than just coffee; it's about nurturing the human spirit and investing in the community. In his own words, "When you're surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible." Profits result from this "common purpose" because the purpose isn't just profit.
Poverty enslaves people. It's a system of oppression that damages the human spirit. Conscious capitalism, ethical business and human investment can eliminate poverty, empower the suffering and push back oppression. The business of Love is the best investment.
Let's wage war on poverty, not on poor people.
I take politics personally. Not in the way that makes me impossible to talk to or reason with, I just think it's incredibly important that the world have an engaged citizenry. I write about politics extensively in my blog (if you haven't read any of my blog posts, checkout it out under the "Blog" tab at the top). Bill Maher's quote below succinctly summarizes our shared opinion on political involvement.
Oddly enough, I'm a libertarian and yet I choose to lead with a quote from a hard-core liberal like Bill Maher. And I'm not a "Gary Johnson" kind of libertarian, rather I'm pretty much a hardliner. Yet, I watch Bill Maher's Real Time almost every week. I disagree with him on many issues, but I appreciate the engagement and discussion his show beckons us to have. This is exactly why I wish to pursue a career in public policy. Whether it be through the political realm, a university lecture hall or via a think tank, I want to be a part of the public discussion on the nature of the policy and politics that affect us all.
Perhaps the cornerstone that allows us to engage in political debates the freedom of speech. Right now, that freedom is under attack all across the country. Specifically, college campuses are increasingly hostile to freedom of speech and public discourse. This is a commonality that exists among libertarians, many conservatives, and many (although, less so than what it used to be) liberals: we stand for free speech. This is a classically liberal issue that people across the political spectrum can stand for. We all need to get involved.
When I think of the word entitlement, the oration of President Francis J. Underwood immediately echoes in mind: "Let me be clear. You are entitled to nothing. You are entitled to nothing. America was built on the spirit of industry. You build your future. It isn’t handed to you." These words ring truer and truer the more I ponder American culture. Frank Underwood may be a fictional character, but his grasp of the spirit of entitlement is one this world desperately needs to hear. I expect nothing from this world, as it owes me nothing. Yet, I owe it everything. There is nothing else to work for but for the people I live life next to every day. Empowerment and encouragement is what I strive for, for the betterment of the world at large.
There are some strong opinions in this section, but I type every word with a hint of grace. I want to say first that I am a proud social justice activist. I also want to say that I welcome discussion and disagreement.
One of our modern-day society's greatest sins is to believe that one group of people deserves more equality than another. There's something oxymoronic about equal rights issues among the LGBTQAI+, feminist and other minority groups. While each group pursues equality, it still finds a need to segregate itself via a label and specified (or targeted) legislation. While this can be classified as a nuanced technicality of language, it still creates a aura of self-interest. I do not identify as a feminist. I do not identify as a gay rights activist. I do not identify as a racial activist. I'm an egalitarian; I identify as a human rights activist. Egalitarianism is the belief that all of humankind is equal and is equally deserving of fundamental human rights, social status and opportunity. While I recognize the supposed need of activist groups, I find them inimical to the ultimate goal of true equality. It also minimizes the cases of discrimination or bigotry that occur towards majority groups. Every case of police violence is bad, whether it happens to a black man or a white man. Every case of sexism is bad, whether it happens to a man or a woman or a transgender person. Every case of racism is bad, regardless of the race of the person on the receiving end it. Every case of bigotry is bad, whether it happens to a gay man, a straight woman, a transgender person, an immigrant, a rich person, a poor person or anyone else that you could think of. While there are certain groups that are more likely to be targeted, it still does not negate the same thing happening to another person of a different demographic.
Statistically, it is much more likely that a black man will face racial profiling than a white man on the streets of Los Angeles. Statistically, it is much more likely that an Arab man will face racial profiling than an Asian woman inside an airport. Neither of these cases are okay. However, social justice should not work as a balancing act. We cannot treat race issues as a kind of "as soon as they have had it as bad as us, then we'll speak up" standard. The injustices that the African American community have faced in this country are sickening and horrifying, and every sane person should feel a sense of shame that such blatant hatred was levied at a group of people in this country. Yet, in order to move forward, every situation of racial injustice must be addressed head on. A racist white person in Mississippi is just as demoralizing to the fabric of this country as is a racist black person in Detroit as is a racist Latino in Miami. The police murdering a black man in the streets of Baton Rouge is just as horrifying as the police murdering a white man in the streets of Fresno.
Every act of bigotry and hatred should be denounced for what it is. That is true social justice.
Perhaps it's odd that I feel the need to speak on grace when discussing politics, but I don't think it's something that should be avoided. I recently heard civil right's activist Diane Nash speak on non-violent protest. She advocated for the use of agape love, meaning a kind-of powerful, sacrificial love, to win over those that wished to do her and her fellow activists harm. She fought not just for her own freedom, but for the freedom of those to come. The grace that she exercised when speaking of those who were filled with such hatred is nothing short of admirable. This kind of grace should not be limited to discourse with friends. This kind of grace should permeate our entire existence, specifically when dealing with injustice, political opposition, poverty, disenfranchisement and other social issues. Grace is something we should all be able to come together on. Teaching people where they are, listening before speaking and loving the other all the while. Policy is nothing apart from those whom it affects.
This is a relatively general overview. For my latest commentary and opinion, visit my blog.