A Vaccine for Capitalism

Can you imagine the difficulty in explaining the concept of the smallpox vaccine to people in 1798? A person must trust in the theory that by injecting a small dose of what they fear the most it will rally the body’s defenses to protect it from such a terrible disease. Think of how both doctors and patients must have thought this approach to be so completely illogical and repulsive.

I am asking you to believe that to solve the degradation of our environment and the huge inequality of wealth and opportunity that we must look to the logic of vaccines for a solution.

A cure to what ails our society requires us to inject into it more of what repulses capitalists and anti-capitalists. What drives the capitalist system is a spirit of tireless competition or what others would define as greed. If handled in the right way by the right people it is this characteristic that will break the fever and rally the human spirit beyond our current diseased state and into a new level of social and environmental prosperity.

In our society today, we need millions of additional small and micro businesses and a system that makes their entry into the market easier and more likely to succeed. We must unleash the creative, entrepreneurial, and tinkering energy of millions of people who currently are unable to offer to the marketplace their product, service or skill. Across every industry there should be hundreds or thousands of more competitors.

Massive competition dilutes the concentration of profits for each competing business. If money leads to power then massive competition lessens the influence that any one company or group of shareholders can acquire. As you dilute the concentration of wealth it is forced to spread more broadly across more business owners and their employees. The question is not how much money or power is enough for any one person but how many businesses are necessary to create an economy where business interests do not trump human interests.

Without the ability for one or more businesses to dominate their competitors then each business becomes more influenced by the evolving tastes and values of customers. Thanks to the innovative spirit of human beings there will always be someone willing to start a business more responsive to the public’s wants and desires.

Capitalism in theory is about allowing all people to compete openly so all have the opportunity to secure their financial liberty. This system requires money to make money. This has fueled an imbalance in the system that is skewed more toward maximizing the return on any dollar invested than on building a system where wealth and opportunity is spread more broadly. This system care less about the long- term effects on people and planet than on the quarterly returns of the investment. A system energized by maximizing return demands less competition and less consumer choice. 

Such a corruption of open competition leads not only to an increasing concentration of wealth and power but a public disconnected from the economic and social direction corporate power chooses to take them. It establishes an illusion of free markets and open opportunity but the shrinking amount of wealth and power among our communities and government reveals a very different reality. It also sends a message to all that only some of us are capable of competing when the truth is the system is designed to allow only a small number to truly compete.

In the world we live, massive competition equals the checks and balances on a system powered by money and corporate power. There is nothing less corruptible than a system that uses the individual thirst for economic success to compete for the public’s support. Such a system not only broadens the distribution of wealth and opportunity but also makes corporate power more malleable to the public’s priorities and values. The challenge is to pick and empower the right people to ensure competition is fostered and supported.

Our government has proven unfit at creating an environment that encourages massive business competition. In fact, they have let our laws, regulations, taxpayer dollars and treaties be used to create even greater obstacles to the formation and success of small business. Once again we must look to the public to ensure that such a state of competition prospers and is protected.

Just as we built a system of checks and balances to protect us from the concentration of governmental power we must now build the same defense to our liberty from the concentration of corporate power. In both cases, we use the nature of mankind in competition to bring out their best, while putting the people in charge of ensuring that the competition is preserved. Nothing has proven to be a greater risk to our democracy and the ideals of liberty than the imbalance of economic power that exists between corporate power and the public. Therefore, nothing has become more important than ensuring the public has the mechanism for creating and maintaining a state of massive business competition.

The means for giving the public the power to create and preserve business competition is by giving them complete control over advertising. Advertising is the entry point for all new businesses to compete in the marketplace. It is the doorway and launch pad for any business to succeed. The more inefficient advertising the higher cost to gain a new customer and the bigger the barrier to new businesses. The cost of gaining and growing a customer base is the most significant challenge for small businesses. 

To link buyers and sellers in the most efficient way, sellers must always be presenting their offer to those with the greatest need or interest in their offer. In other words, it requires the ultimate in relevancy along with receiving the public’s attention. But, to achieve this level of transparency and engagement from the public it must be balanced with ensuring each citizen has complete control over their privacy from the intrusion by corporations. Each person must have complete control over what information is shared with businesses. They must also possess the power to choose which businesses can advertise to them and when ads get viewed so access to their attention is an individual’s choice. Personal privacy does not come at the expense of such a system. In fact, it is what gives vitality to such a system.

The public needs complete control over advertising so they can correct the imbalance of power between the public and business but also between big and small businesses. Personal privacy gives the public the ability to neutralize the bombardment of ads that a large business can afford to rain down upon the attention of the consumer. A person can simply block the barrage from a big business and instead allow the message of a much smaller business to be heard. This gives the public the tool necessary for giving all businesses of all sizes the opportunity to compete for their support.

The money businesses pay for advertising through a publicly controlled system of advertising becomes a source of income for all those citizens that participate. The public must be the economic beneficiaries for their participation and preservation of advertising. This helps to further motivate their engagement while creating an economic disincentive to any company looking to offer an alternative form of advertising that does not compensate the public for their data and attention. This new system establishes the public’s property right in their privacy and data.

There is a cure for both the destruction of our environment and the concentration of wealth and opportunity that creates the horrible conflict among people. To get there we must first recognize that the cause of this disease is not due to the nature of being human or the nature of selling a good or service. The cause of the illness is our continued willingness to accept a current system that shapes an unsustainable and unnecessarily destructive relationship between business and people.

The cure exists through a system that gives more access to more people to compete and places the public as the guardians of business competition. Once again we are being tested whether we trust in our own nature to rally to our defense. The last time we made such a huge bet on human nature the United States of America was born. Think of what this next step can bring.