Larry Fink, Tucker Carlson, David Brooks And The Call For A Capitalist Reformation
Larry Fink challenges. Tucker Carlson rants. David Brooks moralizes. Others wonder Can American Capitalism Survive? They all correctly diagnose the problem—a broken economic system that is not meeting the needs of the vast majority of people and that has embedded incentives that make it designed to fail in the more perilous times ahead—but they all fail to see clearly how long we’ve had this problem, what is its root cause, and what is required for its solution.
Capitalism did not go off the rails in the last 40 years. It may have metastasized into a financialized cancer, but capitalism’s cancer gene has been there since the beginning. Unconstrained, growth-at-any-cost, profit-over-purpose capitalism has destroyed the lives of millions upon millions of people for hundreds of years. They just weren’t people we typically cared enough about to behave differently or to question the system, as long as it was working for us. By “we” and “us,” I mean those who created and have benefited most from the capitalist system. But we are coming to a day of reckoning. If we do not properly diagnose the root cause of our potentially fatal illness, we will fail to develop or—worse—fail to use a promising cure.
That such diverse public figures as Fink, Carlson and Brooks are now recognizing what everyday people around the world have known and felt for a long time is good news. System change can only happen if there is widespread recognition that the current system is failing. But that is not enough: System change also requires a credible alternative.
Our Historic Opportunity
Certain moments in history are pivotal. Those of us in positions of power lucky enough to live in those moments have the opportunity to shape the contours of history for future generations.
To understand better the opportunity we have today, it is useful to look back to previous pivotal moments that have shaped our lives in ways at once profound and invisible—like the quality of the air we breathe.
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the most powerful institution in the world, and it was in desperate need of reformation. In response, a relatively unknown monk named Martin Luther posted 95 Theses to the public bulletin board of the day, challenging the Church’s fundamental corruption that let people off the hook for their bad behavior as long as they made charitable contributions to the Church. That single act of courage catalyzed the Protestant Reformation which, along with the Age of Discovery, accelerated the culture shift that gave birth to the Scientific Revolution, ushered in the Enlightenment and, perhaps most profoundly, unleashed the ethic of Individualism and the forces of Capitalism, which have increasingly dominated our culture globally for the last 500 years.
Fast forward to today: Capitalism is the most powerful institution in the world. As did the Church, capitalism shapes every part of our lives in myriad ways, from the beautiful to the destructive. Growing populist anger and the internet’s potential for radical transparency in the decade since the global financial crisis are elevating a fundamental public debate about the role of business in society and whether business should put purpose before profit. Others across the ideological spectrum have pointed out the obvious: hyper-individualism and its offspring, winners-take-all-capitalism, have together become an economic system that is in desperate need of reformation if it is to deliver on its unfulfilled promise to create prosperity for all, and for the long term.
But who will accelerate the necessary culture shift today and nail 21st Century Theses to capitalism’s door?
As it required a monk to reform the Church, it will require business leaders to reform capitalism.
Today every business leader in the world has the power tounleash a new reformation—a Capitalist Reformation—that has the potential to shape our history for the next 500 years.