Capitalism’s New Aesthetic

In other news, this week get Cadivel for free! After Friday it will go back to being $3.99 with 50% proceeds going to charity.

Anyways, I understand I’m taking a bit of a turn with the subject material, but it’s something that I want to talk about. Let’s give this a shot.

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Immigrants in the smog. Overcrowded slums. Bustling factories. The first skyscrapers. Industrial production churns out steel, coal, and oil. Railroads at their peak, the first automobiles.

Levittowns. Consumerism on the rise. Catalogues, shopping, the middle class, the beginning of the service economy. White collar businesses flourish over the abandoned mines.

The Internet. Instantaneous knowledge, infinite connection, and constant communication on social media. Gentrification of cities. Silicon Valley start-ups, iPhones and Androids, PCs and Macs. A stock market higher than ever; increasing income inequality.

So what is capitalism’s next aesthetic?

It’s already happening, or beginning to happen. Mainly on the west coast–the Bay Area California and the Pacific Northwest. But it’s beginning, burgeoning, and may soon spread.

green-business1

Local. Green, all natural. Social impact, close-knit communities, sustainable enterprise. Engagement, transparency, accountability.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? It’s difficult to imagine exactly what the consequences on America will be, and it’s certainly plausible that it won’t catch on–and even if it does it certainly won’t catch on everywhere. All the “aesthetics” that I described above did not affect all of America, and in fact affected only the minority of it. But I believe that soon–meaning in the next fifteen years–the aesthetic of capitalism in America could be compassion.

Compassionate capitalism. It’s not an oxymoron, not anymore.

B Corporations, along with many other companies, are changing that. B Corporations are corporations–organized to make a profit–but they meet high standards of social and environmental impact, sustainability, and transparency. Certified by the non profit B Lab, B Corporations are among those incorporating as a new brand of company: the Benefit Corporation. The Benefit Corporation is required to consider its impact on all stakeholders, not just shareholders. This means that the company must take into consideration the best interests of its employees, local community, suppliers, vendors, and the environment in making decisions. This legal move essentially sets companies free from pursuing profit alone, allowing the pursuit of higher causes. Hootsuite, Kickstarter, and Etsy are among the latest in B Corp’s ranks, joining Natura, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and so many others.

To achieve certification, companies take the B Impact Assessment, a constantly evolving tool developed by B Lab and its partners. The B Impact Assessment measures positive impact, rewarding companies for practices such as recycling, paying employees above the living wage, conducting financial audits, engaging with the community, using local suppliers, hiring individuals from low-income backgrounds, and even more importantly, through practices known as Impact Business Models.

A key trait of the B Corporation is that it does not simply “do less harm”. B Corporations actively pursue making a positive impact on society. Having an impact business model means that a core process of the company creates good. For example, a company that makes solar panels has an environmental impact business model. And if that same company also distributes the solar panels to needy communities, they have an additional impact business model. Other IBMs include donating a high percentage of profit to charity (or even better, being owned by a non-profit), having an intense employee training program like Greystone Bakery, which specifically hires and trains formerly incarcerated individuals, and alleviating poverty through the supply chain by creating high-quality employment opportunities in third world countries.

The community of B Corporations is catching on. In the past five years, the number of B Corporations has increased from 400 to 1400. However, B Corporations represent a tiny fraction of American businesses, and also a tiny fraction of the broader social change that is occurring all around us. Consumers are starting to pay attention and become more educated about what they buy. We’re starting to be aware of the impacts of the thoughtless purchase, and companies, beyond just B Corps, are starting to react and even lead. The exciting thing about B Certification to me is that it reframes rather than fundamentally changes the capitalist mindset. Yet this small change can produce so much good in the world: instead of asking, “Can I be the best in the world?”, let’s ask, “Can I be the best for the world?” And let’s be honest–if you’re saving the world, you probably deserve to make a little profit on the side.

I do not mean to say that this transformation is inevitable. All of us still have a role to play. I put out a special request to all of the college students, and in particular my amazing classmates at Yale (though it applies to students at all institutions). At Yale we are empowered, or even expected, to join the leaders of the next generation. Whatever vision of the world we aspire towards may to some extent become a part of the future. So I ask that my classmates educate themselves on social enterprise. Google B Corp (and you’ll be surprised by how many news articles are being written, now more than weekly, about them). Do not join a company because of the prestige, technological innovation, or salary alone; yet the beauty of this new order of capitalism is that you do not need to turn away from these things to pursue good. Consumers will start to buy products that align with their values. Employees will work with companies that do the same. If we can reach a critical mass of participation in the movement, the tide will turn, and social enterprise could be come the norm, not the golden outlier. And we’ll have capitalism’s new aesthetic.

This week’s book: As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

This week’s album: Rumors, Fleetwood Mac

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