Is Capitalism Killing Us?

kid peep hole dmitry-ratushny.jpg

By Gary Matthews

SRI Investing seeks through investment to change the conditions in the world that create cynicism and hopelessness, so that humanity can flourish, with optimism, compassion and hope. It’s a tall order.

 Recently, I’ve been reading a blog by Umair Haque (https://eand.co/). It’s rough going. Haque is a brilliant young person writing about the massive damage to the world being inflicted by capitalism, the dominant economic paradigm undergirding our global economy. Capitalism, succinctly described, is characterized by the singular drive of corporations, entrepreneurs, and all business entities to maximize short-term income. When business seeks to maximize short-term income as its primary goal, societal wealth grows, but other bad things happen too. As societal wealth grows under capitalism, it also inexorably becomes controlled by fewer people. Massive economic inequality results, leaving the rest of the world’s people scrambling to share what’s left. Natural resources are plundered causing environmental degradation and climate change. Social stagnation sets in, as people must put aside self-realization and compassion while anxiously scraping to make ends meet. A social cynicism sets in, leading to political extremism, as an unhappy populace seeks out saviors, “strong men” who falsely promise to make things great again. Democracy erodes while authoritarianism surges.

 This isn’t theory. It is happening right now, right here in the U.S. and everywhere, all of it. Haque names the four Massive Existential Problems of our time: climate change, inequality, stagnation and extremism. We are left with the question – what can we do?

 Last month, on September 11th, my colleague Ken and I attended a one-day event at the United Nations in New York bringing together members of the SRI professional community and supporters of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We have now highlighted more information about the SDGs on SRI Investing’s website (https://www.sriinvesting.com/un-the-sdgs-sustainable-development-goals/). The SDGs are 17 global goals formulated with direct input and discussion from scores of countries and ratified in 2015 by 193 countries. Their aim – to reduce poverty, promote sustainability and world peace, and otherwise contribute to human flourishing – by 2030.

 Underlying the 17 SDGs are 169 measurable targets, tactics for achieving the goals. Are they perfect? Far from it. Without going into a detailed critique, an overarching problem is that many of the tactics identified to accomplish the goals rely on the same type of capitalist economic development that has contributed so greatly to the world’s problems to begin with. Maximizing short-term income to create more overall economic growth (hoping to alleviate poverty) will only exacerbate climate change and environmental degradation while most of the profits continue to inure to the already wealthy few.

 But, the SDGs themselves are worthy. They represent hope and present a vision for a better world. And, most importantly, they have the potential to involve the whole world in a public conversation that itself is hopeful. We desperately need that conversation, right now, so that together we can begin to act more sustainably and with more compassion.

 How do we, SRI Investing and you, contribute? Umair Haque believes, as did Karl Marx long before him, that capitalism will collapse under its own dysfunctional weight. Capitalism clearly needs to be transformed. At its most basic, we the people must infuse business with values and compassion. The goal of short-term income maximization needs to be replaced with a new and broader metric: Does this business enterprise contribute not only to its bottom line but to human, societal, and planetary well-being writ large? There are ways to measure that also. SRI investors seek to invest their assets with these broader goals in mind. As SRI investors, we are lucky and privileged. In this world where most do not, we have assets to invest. We seek to invest in companies and municipalities that are contributing to human, societal, and planetary well-being – so that humanity can flourish, with optimism, compassion and hope.