Sustainable Capitalism

aka Sustainable Capitalism

I may regret this term... but I'm trying to make the ideas of "goodness" and "Moral" into something a bit more tangible or operational.

So for the moment I'll treat Moral guidelines as Game Rule-s designed to avoid a Tragedy Of The Commons, or something like that...

The intro questions from people are typically along the lines of:

  • can one do "good" while doing "well"?

  • my past jobs/companies seem so pointless, what should I do next?

  • this US capitalistic/market system seems to have so many negative Side Effect-s, both global (Pollution, political Corruption, international colonialism, pointless Consumerism) and local (high scumbag-quotient among CEOs, VCs, etc.). What can/should we do to "fix" that? (And how much change is possible within Open Society meta-rules?)

Some counter-points:

  • when free market activities are based on voluntary (and informed) exchanges, they are by definition Win-Win. (counter-counter: some would say that many exchanges are based on power inequities which taint that "voluntary" nature, like buying Microsoft software)

  • problems with a political aspect are more driven by problems with the political system (Market Distortion) than with the economic system (Market Failure), so it's the former that needs fixing rather than the latter.

A separate point: the role of honesty, transparency, accountability. Corporate decisions and decision-making (like in government) are generally hidden from public view. David Brin argues (in the Transparent Society, I believe) that personal Privacy is such an unachievable goal that we'd be better off turning the tables to say "we give up all personal privacy, but then all institutions both private and public are going to do the same damn thing".

Does sustainable capitalism depend on a Gift Economy and other Economics Of Abundance? I hope not because I don't believe those are "real" enough yet (for most people).

I think a couple key problems are Scale Vs Consolidation and Management Vs Ownership.

FeedBack approaches

  • more personal consequences for managers (civil/criminal)

  • much bigger penalties for corporation, including Corporate Death Penalty

  • more consequences for politicians/parties who take money from them (e.g. claw back donations)

Also see International Development, which needs to take into account the implications of the New Economy: making more-efficient agricultural economies or even Industrial Age Old Economy countries seems like a waste of time...

Within a given local economy, there are issues of Wealth Distribution and Income Mobility.

Somewhat related to this is the study of Organization Models: while the net may make the One Man Show more viable, there will probably still be many organizations with more than 1 person.

More to come, duh...

Jan24'02: the idea of the 'triple bottom line' may be useful

Thanks for all the cool links. Accountability is difficult with local, much less world-spanning systems, whenever we do not get the feedback about the consequences of our economic activities. Also, many important "externalities" are normally excluded, many businesses are stuck in Zero-Sum thinking, and/or important employees are out of touch with others (and probably their own) humanity. As with so-called education, our economic system cannot be 'solved' separately from everything else. --JohnAbbe

You might also be interested in this book, from the 14-year editor of Business Ethics magazine:

May I suggest the following: Step 1: relabel 'capitalism' as 'pofitism'; Step 2: reserve the label 'capitalism' for the GENERIC technique of taking a temporary detour from the direct path towards a so that 'equipment' may be obtained such that, once back on the original path, the original goal is acquired much faster/easier/cheaper than had the temporary detour not been taken. Thus the homeowner who purchases a lawnmover is a 'generic capitalist' in that he cuts his grass en masse rather than one blade at a time with a pair of scissors. The point is that we must begin to view 'capitalism' as a non-pejorative and generic technique for accomplishing some specific objective. Step 3: Recognize that, while 'profitism' funded by debt may or may not be sustainable, 'profitism' funded by fractional-reserve debt is not, especially in modern America where, by default, nobody is controlling the fraction. Step 4: Recognize that Credit Card 'debt' is effectively just a cash advance on wages of the circular flow of tomorrow. Credit card 'debt' is our newest FORM of money. It is invisible (i.e., 'virtual money) but it is definitely susceptible to hyper-inflation.

The bottom line is that NOBODY gets to violate the First Law of Thermodynamcis. [Loosely translated: you can't get something for nothing....] I would be pleased to correspond with anyone regarding any of the above comments.

Richard E. Planck, M.S.M.E. ex-doctoral student(economics), Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville author, "The Chain-Letter Economy: The Faster I Run, the Behinder I Get" (

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