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Do We Really Need an Alternative Form of Capitalism?

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In my view, entrepreneurship has always been the ultimate embodiment of capitalism and quite synonymous with free enterprise. Yet I find that more and more young entrepreneurs are uncomfortable with the term “capitalism,” somehow thinking that it prioritizes “making money” above all else. They are looking for a business model that makes the world a better place for humanity.

One step in that direction is the trend to “conscious capitalism,” as exemplified in the recent book by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia, “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.” These authors argue that capitalism is simply misunderstood, and businesses run by ethical people create value and prosperity based on voluntary exchange, while reducing poverty.

In a recent blog, “Capitalism: Alternative Realities?” Scott McIntosh, an avid Angel investor friend and champion of conscious capitalism, makes the case that true capitalism is about entrepreneurs driven, in part by profit motive, but more from motivation that stems from a simple desire to make a difference in the world. We shouldn’t let greedy or misguided people derail this.

Here are some of the alternatives outlined to enhance the negative image of “for-profit businesses” in the minds of many entrepreneurs. These also address the negative impacts of some well-publicized business practices on the environment, standard of living requirements and missed opportunities to do good:

Promote “Conscious CapitalismTM” as capitalism rebranded.

Socially conscious capitalism, per Mackey’s book referenced above, adds 4 requirements to every business enterprise: focus on a higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership and a conscious culture and management.

Model business examples today include Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, Costco, Google, Patagonia, The Container Store, UPS and dozens of others. These set the model for aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve their dream of a good business that is also good for society as a whole.

Adopt the B-Corp as a new conscious business model.

To more strongly support startups who want to give top priority to socially conscious solutions, 11 states, including New York and California, have passed legislation allowing incorporation as a Benefit Corporation (B-Corp). Other states are close behind in this effort.

A benefit corporation is a new corporate form designed for for-profit entities that want to consider society and the environment in addition to profit in their decision making process. The B-Corp status is meant to reduce investor suits and gives consumers an easy way to spot genuine social commitment, without assuming it is a non-profit.

Increase government regulation to level the playing field.

Some advocate “fixing” capitalism as it is practiced today with stricter regulations to prevent bad practices, and eliminate the cancer of “crony capitalism.” Crony capitalism, per Wikipedia, describes an economy driven by greed and business requirements from government relationships.

These relationships result in success based on favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants and special tax breaks. In this environment, true free enterprise entrepreneurs can no longer compete based on innovation, and everyone loses.

Reduce government regulation to level the playing field.

Others, including McIntosh in his article referenced above, argue that the answer is to reduce (not eliminate) regulation and limit the power of government, letting private enterprise market forces work their proven magic of the past 200 years in free economies around the world.

What about the truly greedy business folks? We need to let market forces work and force them out of business. Those who truly abuse the system need to be held accountable rather than allowing a system of cronyism to provide undue protections.

I have to put myself in this last camp, since I’m not a believer that any government can regulate morality, respect for the environment or concern for the common good. These have to come from the heart, and I’m happy to report that the entrepreneurs I meet are leading the charge. If making money is your primary motivation for starting a business, be prepared for a long and lonely road. Following your passion to change the world is a lot more fun.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Seth Anderson

About the author: Martin Zwilling

Martin is the CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc., a consultancy focused on assisting entrepreneurs with mentoring, business strategy and planning, and networking.

Martin for years has provided entrepreneurs with first-hand advice, mentoring and business plan assistance as a startup consultant. He has a unique combination of business and high-tech experience, and executive mentoring and connecting startups with potential investors, board members, and service providers.

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