Friday, January 26, 2007

Capitalism 3.0


Wednesday evening, I saw author Peter Barnes give a talk at Busboys and Poets, on his latest book, Capitalism 3.0. Barnes raises some good points on the role of both the state and the corporation in the division of resources, and offers some ideas on innovating the relationship between economy, ethics, and environment.
He contends that the state's role in commerce has historically been to redistribute collective resources or "common wealth" to entrepreneurs or corporations. Examples include the ridiculous land give-aways to US railroad companies in the 19th century, or the distribution of broadcast spectra to media companies in the early days of radio and television. Think farmsteads, mineral rights, logging rights, &c on previously public land. (Eventually, the state winds-up fighting itself with the advent of anti-trust and monopoly laws. The government punishes corporations for being very good at what the government helped them accomplish.)
Barnes discussed the expansion of trusts to act as perpetual agents of commonly held resources, in much the same way corporations act as perpetual agents of shareholders. Though, in his vision, trusts would be established not simply to curtail suburban sprawl in choice farm country, but also to leverage the economic value of common resources like the atmosphere, or the Gulf of Mexico. Companies would buy the rights to release waste into the air, rather than essentially getting this resource for free. On the whole, I think this philosophy has great potential.
I can't help but think that some of the event's peripheral discussions about for-profit organizations directly supporting nonprofit organizations may not be advocating the best new model. Clearly there is great potential for social benefit in such an arrangement. But, I'm increasingly thinking that we need to enact a broad shift toward the integration of ecological and social "cash flow" into the fabric of private enterprise. To become sustainable in the true sense, the firm must create products and services that directly benefit their communities and our collective environment.

1 comment:

Omar Barsawad said...

ER - the threat to Socotra is enormous. I am replying to your comment from one of my other sites, from which I had also mentioned Socotra. Read the links.