IS CAPITALISM SELFISH?

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IS CAPITALISM SELFISH?

By: Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown 

Over the years a number of politicians, business leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and journalists have tried to define humanitarian updates to capitalism as we know it: “ethical capitalism,”  “co-op capitalism,” “conscious capitalism,”  “creative capitalism,”  “constructive capitalism,”  “philanthropic capitalism” and my own version, “intentional capitalism.”  All of these ideas share the same basic assumptions: capitalism is not going away, not inherently evil, and though capitalism is fundamentally driven by self-interest, it does not have to be selfish.  In fact, capitalism is often the primary engine of positive change in any society. The updates to capitalism don’t ask to abandon our interest in ourselves.  They don’t ask us to donate rather than spend.  They ask us, in short, to expand our idea of self to include our children, our children’s children, our neighbors, our region, our nation, our species and our world. The truth is that many people don’t need to be guilted, bullied or legislated into making choices that reflect an expanded sense of self; they just need the opportunity to have their purchases connect them to a wider community and a sense of purpose.  Most of us believe that we do not have to be dominated by cynicism and greed even though there are many people in the world who will chose this path again and again.  History has taught us that by conceiving of and adhering to ideals, we can live in a society where people compete against each other and support each other. No one expects most of the world to transform into ascetic monks or Peace Corps volunteers.  Is it reasonable, though, that some people might want to spend a little more time thinking about their purchases and their business decisions if it helps to insure that there is a civil society with clean water and air for their own children and grandchildren to enjoy?  Yes. Many people will choose to live intentionally. Some consumers will take the time to find out where their clothes were made and who made them, some business leaders will strive to pay their employees a living wage; some politicians will work toward the creation of an informed, educated, and healthy work force, and not because such choices are selfless: To live intentionally is a pragmatic response to the fact of our interconnectedness.  Everything we value as women and parents and citizens depends on our willingness to live, work and lead intentionally.