A Capitalist System for the Future
The perverse incentives inherent in a largely unconstrained capitalist system still exist. These incentives drive behaviors that increase inequality, reduce social mobility, devalue communities, deplete soils, acidify oceans, destroy biodiversity, trigger mass migrations and social instability, and fuel violence and war. These perverse incentives lead to concrete business practices such as predatory pricing, wage suppression, insufficient investment in a just transition to zero-carbon business models, as well as business trends that are or are likely to impose huge costs on taxpayers resulting from rising contract labor, accelerating automation and worsening natural disasters. From the perspectives of a growing number of business leaders, investors and policy makers, these incentives are now creating unacceptable systemic risk. This is why the systemic design flaws in unconstrained capitalism are creating unlikely bedfellows such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vice President Mike Pence and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.
BlackRock manages more than $6 trillion in assets, making it the largest investor in the world. Fink’s just-released 2019 Letter to CEOs titled “Purpose & Profit” challenges CEOs to lead with purpose and follows his 2018 letter which served notice that if both publicly traded and private companies can’t demonstrate that they’re creating positive social value, they might lose their license to operate and, more pointedly, lose BlackRock’s support. These are big words from the largest institutional investor on the planet. One observer called it “a watershed moment on Wall Street, one that raises all sorts of questions about the very nature of capitalism.”
One of the most powerful arguments of the counter-reformation is used so often it has an acronym: TINA, which stands for There Is No Alternative. Sometimes this argument is used with condescension, sometimes in resignation.
The good news is that today There Is a Credible Alternative. It is no longer acceptable to lament the constraints of market forces, wishing there were a tool that could harness unconstrained capitalism’s otherwise amoral power for a higher purpose than profit maximization. That tool is here today, and it is in use by companies across the globe.