Conscious Capitalism. More of the good, less of the bad and ugly

As everyone knows, you’ve got to keep an eye on companies that spend all their time explaining how moral and upstanding they are. ‘Do no evil’ anyone?

And that’s such a shame. Those businesses who cloak a focus on profit and power, with claims of social responsibility and environmental concern – they really ruined it for the rest of us.

Too often, any company that claims to do good, without being either a charity or a not-for-profit, is seen as simply too good to be true. No better than the worst examples of profiteering – perhaps even worse because of the sheer deception. The expectation, to the point that it’s pretty much accepted by the public at large, is that business is about making money regardless. “Don’t take it personally, it’s just business!” I hear them cry. And, aside from a bit of lip service – a donation here, an ‘ethos’ there – doing good just doesn’t come in to it.

But in spite of that, this blog is an attempt to recast the way people perceive business (and especially business within the financial sector – which is perhaps the worst example of self-serving, consequence-ignoring money making). The common perception is that integrity and business do not belong in the same sentence, let alone the same worldview. It’s a view that has built steadily since the pinstriped, trading floor eighties, and then became almost totally undeniable post-2008. We’re certainly not going to argue with it – it’s a reputation that has been hard earned. But our particular strand of optimist is one that says it doesn’t have to be that way.

And here’s why: because making money and doing good aren’t mutually exclusive. Well, they are if your business passion is, say, arms dealing, or manipulating stock markets, or maiming puppies* – but what we mean is that they don’t have to be. Most businesses do actually have the opportunity to do both. The trouble is that most businesses don’t really have a clear moral philosophy – which can mean that when the crunch decisions arise, and people have to put their necks on the line, it’s the call for profit that sounds loudest.

Which brings us to the idea of conscious capitalism. Like you might expect, this is about factoring in considerations beyond simple short-term economics. Things like ‘will this decision screw anyone over?’ or ‘would doing this now, potentially contribute to the catastrophic disintegration of our planet later?’ You know, tricky little head scratchers like that. But conscious capitalism also suggests something else: that there’s actual commercial value in applying a moral structure to your business dealings. Sounds crazy? Well, only to a generation who have learnt that morality and business are mortal enemies. In the words of Method Man, the sadly unrecognised scholar of observational economics: ‘Cash rules everything around me, get the money! Dollar dollar bill, y’all!’

But the other side of the, er, dollar, is this: what if by allowing a sense of wider social conscientiousness into your business decision making, and not always choosing the option that stands to earn you the most the soonest, someone else benefits? And maybe that person (or people) remembers that favour and starts making their own business decisions in a similar way? What if investing in something that doesn’t reflect the current whims of the market but instead meets a social or environmental need in the future, actually pays off financially in the long run? There’s no reason it couldn’t happen. It’s just not the norm. Yet.

But, we don’t see ourselves as idealists or dreamers or even particularly naive. We’ve worked in financial industries for over 15 years. We’ve seen smart, conscientious people get a nasty case of the money goggles – the pressure and glory of the green stuff temporarily all consuming and speeding business away from any other ways of thinking. We know that changing that is going to be hard. We know we’d be asking people to ask themselves some tricky questions. We know that others will shrug their shoulders, say ‘Yeah, right’ and walk on.

But think about this: does the idea of conscious capitalism suggest a future you’d want to live in? If the answer might ever be yes, then surely the concept deserves a lot more time and a lot more thought.



*the puppy-maiming market is very niche. And also made up.

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