By Edeliza Virata, writer for MamaP
Think of the word capitalism and try not to associate the words money, profit, and corporations with it. Think of the word and might as well change its spelling to capitali$m.
A simple Google search defines the word capitalism as “an economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately and corporately owned and the operations are funded by profits”. That google search might as well be soundtracked by Pink Floyd’s Money.
Traditional capitalism is what most of us are familiar with: big corporations that make products for mass consumption. The stakeholders are far and few, and the people that do the labor in order to produce enough to earn monetary profits are employees who do not own rights to the company or corporation. Imagine the gap between the stakeholder in suits and ties living in luxury penthouses while their employees clock in to work at factories for substandard wages, and try not to hear “cash rules everything around me, C.R.E.A.M., get the money, dollar dollar bill, y’all”.
The best things about Pink Floyd’s Money and the Wu Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M. are that they are odes for the workers, but most of all that they are reminders of old capitalism. They are singable pictures of what was. But there is hope in what is and what can be. The year is 2020 and despite its ills, the future remains bright.
Yvonne Chouinard, Found of Patagonia. Source: Rock And Ice
Fast Company did a series of articles on the evolution of the meaning of capitalism, with Patagonia being one of the companies illuminating it into a path beyond profits. Founder Yvon Chouinard started the company because he’s a climber and a surfer who simply wanted to make gear that he could use, and since those activities are done outdoors, his gear had to have the environment in mind. It’s imperative that Patagonia’s products are sustainable and have the least impact on the earth and the oceans where climbing and surfing are enjoyed. The products that Patagonia makes are not disposable, and they’re not cheap. They’re expensive and made to use for the long-term, to be cared for and repaired as needed. Patagonia’s most loyal customers don’t buy Patagonia often, because the products aren’t made to be replaced. Patagonia’s growth as a business has been slow because of this. But its growth has also been steady. Like the clothes and gear that Patagonia makes, the company endures and evolves because it minds the biggest stakeholder of all: the planet.
Capitalism can be better, and like Patagonia, it can be more mindful. Even corporations of the old model can evolve by redesigning their systems to be more inclusive: to be more beneficial to many, including the environment. Old capitalism takes from the planet to make products that people can consume, use up, and dispose of. Take the traditional plastic toothbrush: manufacturers take chemicals that emit harmful waste to make plastic that people can use to clean their teeth for up to three months at a time, then throw them away to be dumped into landfills. Plastic doesn’t degrade or decompose and the earth can only accommodate so much that if a plastic toothbrush doesn’t have space in the landfills, it goes into the ocean and it doesn’t belong there. Plastic doesn’t belong on the planet. It can’t be decomposed into a fertilizer that can help plants grow, and it can’t be eaten by fish or animals for sustenance. Plastic doesn’t support life, it only supports endless consumption. Until all corporations that make plastic toothbrushes adapt to a more mindful system that takes environmental impact into meaningful account, we will be left with a planet taken over by plastic.
Source: Europolitical Report
But then again, the future is bright. It’s easier to change our habits than to change corporations. We can choose to be more mindful consumers. One way to do this is to evolve into a circular way of consumption: we buy only the products that we need and make sure they’re made mindfully, and take care of them for use for the long-term. If we need products that are meant to be disposed of after some time for it to be the most effective, like a toothbrush, we can choose to buy ones that have the least impact on the planet, or, better yet, can be used by the planet again and again. A biodegradable toothbrush is just one of the best and easiest ways we can evolve into a circular way of consumption. We buy a toothbrush made of a compostable or biodegradable material such as bamboo, use it for the amount of time it's most effective (the recommended is three months), and give it back to the earth to grow more bamboo when we’re done.
Another way to help illuminate capitalism onto a better path is to buy local, and from small businesses. Corporations can try to make biodegradable toothbrushes and still harm the planet by overusing labor and resources, but small, local manufacturers are less likely to do so. There are less income gaps in small businesses because fewer manpower is required thus making wages more evenly distributed. The more we buy from local small shops, the less demand there is for old capitalist corporations. Big brands and big companies don’t always mean better, and supporting our local, small businesses also help equalize the economy and prevent corporations from taking more money they don’t really need.
Capitalism can be good when it’s one that cares. Money doesn’t grow on trees but for our planet (and us, people) to survive, we’ll need more trees than money. Climate change is teaching us to embrace economic degrowth, for the planet to repair itself so it can last longer. The best profits a company can earn are not money to buy more things we and our planet don’t need. The best profits are simple, everyday habits that help preserve the planet and us, people, at the same time.
A better version of capitalism is one that doesn’t make us belt out Pink Floyd or Wu Tang Clan lyrics in anger. A better version of capitalism makes us listen to Money or C.R.E.A.M. and say, “ah...those were the times.”