Is “Sustainable Capitalism” an Oxymoron?

kristy Reforming Global Finance

Guest Post: Is “Sustainable Capitalism” an Oxymoron?

We post here the response of Allen White, Director, Corporation 20/20 and Senior Fellow, Tellus Institute, to John Fullerton’s recent blog post reviewing Generation Investments’ white paper, Sustainable Capitalism.

We should all feel a sense of indebtedness to Al Gore, David Blood, and the Generation team for raising critical issues regarding “Sustainable Capitalism.” But are they missing the forest for the trees by largely focusing on symptoms of the current system rather than its structural flaws? Aren’t these characteristics of contemporary capitalism creating the volatility and perils that endanger both long-term economic and ecological well-being? Certainly short-termism, flawed compensation structures, and quarterly earnings reports induce behaviors antithetical to building long-term just and sustainable economies. But tinkering around the edges is unlikely to yield the values and behavioral changes that are foundational to systemic change.

Numerous observers point out that modern capitalism, and the markets that enable it, have evolved into a machine built on extraction not regeneration, competition not cooperation, and accumulation not well-being. Theoreticians and practitioners alike are prone to tinker with many of the symptoms on Generation’s hit list of needed reforms. But short of confronting its structural attributes, we should not expect market outcomes that respect the Earth’s limits—its “safe operating space”—beyond which irreparable damage is inevitable. Regrettably, this is not what either capitalism or markets as we know them are designed to achieve.

Read more in The Future of Finance blog.

Occupy Handbook Event Recap

An event that marked the publication of the Occupy Handbook was held last week at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, signaling the re-awakening of the Occupy Wall Street movement that caused ripples worldwide last fall. Featuring a distinguished panel of guests including Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow, Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, Pulitzer Prize winner David Kay Johnston, Bethany McLean of Vanity Fair, Jeff Madrick of the New York Review of Books and noted economists Jeffrey Sachs and Raghuram Rajan, the event showcased a diverse set of topics and perspectives that the Occupy movement has brought to light.

Read more at Responding to Occupy Wall Street.


Peter Victor at INET

At the Institute for New Economic Thinking conference earlier this month, Capital Institute colleague and Braintrust member Peter Victor gave the conference a sneak peek at his work with Tim Jackson on an ecological economics model of rapid economic growth, an economic crash, and a managed low-growth economy. He argues that the early findings suggest a steady-state economy may be preferable to economic growth. At the end of the video, he suggests that one of the questions most in need of answering is whether a stable financial system requires growth in the real economy. This question gets to the core of the Capital Institute’s goals and understanding of the role of the financial system.

Watch the video and learn more about Peter Victor at his Braintrust page.