Stop complaining about capitalism and make it your bitch
Posted by shannonclark on May 14, 2007
Sometimes the strangest searches lead to this blog.
I did not write the quote in the subject, but a few years ago I linked to the still highly relevant article “Queer Eye for the Green Guy” which coined this phrase.
Reminded of it tonight, I still agree with the comments I’ve read elsewhere online which suggest this could make a great bumper sticker (or t-shirt, though as the article suggests, perhaps one you wear underneath a more formal shirt).
I am a capitalist. But I am also, in many respects, a “bright” and to an extent a “green”. I am not, however, all that left leaning politically – yes on many social issues, but I’m probably too anti-union, pro-free trade, pro-global integration (though many of my personal policy suggestions would probably not sit all that well with many on the “right” either. I usually call myself a “radical centrist” – and no, that’s not a contradiction.
In my personal life I am relatively “good” from an ecological footprint. I do not own a car, my use of electricity and gas for heating is minimal (though I likely live in too many sq. ft. for a single person by many ecological measures). On the otherhand, I do a fair amount of bi-coastal travel with misc. other trips to parts of the US – about one trip a month, which probably is a bit worse for the environment than if I owned a car and did not fly (but it may be pretty close – I do generally fly dense flights on fairly modern planes which helps a little bit).
I buy a lot of organic and local products, though I do buy some furniture and clothing new, much of what I own is secondhand (though I do own a lot of books). I have recycled my old computers (with an organization in Chicago which refurbishes them for reuse whenever possible) but I do now own many computers.
And though I love vegetables, I’m certainly an omnivore though living in the bay area I can much of the time adhere to a diet that Slow Food would likely approve of (heck, here in San Francisco even many of the taquerias serve organic meats from Niman Ranch, along with it seems most of the independent burger joints!). Whenever possible I shop at local farmer’s markets.
But by all means I encourage you, even if to the left, right, up or down of me politically to “stop complaining about capitalism and make it your bitch” – sell. Add value. Make, gasp, a profit. Reinvest it. Do it again. Expand into other regions of the world. Show others how they too could make money AND be green AND be improving the lot of many.
Profit is not a scary thing – it is, fundamentally an opportunity at a point in time. i.e. to make a profit, you have invested energy and resources and be allocated by others more than what you invested at that point in time – i.e. something you have done gave a number of others value and now you have an opportunity to pass that along, perhaps to repeat it (when possible) perhaps to explore other options (and perhaps to do both).
Value is embedded in networks. At a point in time when we have “made a profit” what that means is that by the way we were tracking value, what we invested was less than what we have generated.
But you have to always look at this cautiously. Often traditional accounting does not track lots of factors – for example if most people working on something are not being paid – then they are surviving (feeding, sheltering clothing themselves) based on resources they obtain somewhere else (other jobs, savings, gifts from friends or family). Yes, technically an organization might create value from their efforts during this time and transform that to a “profit” in some manner (from retail sales to services) but unless everyone involved will always be willing to get their personal resources in other ways then the system as a whole would show that that specific entity is not “really” showing a profit.
However it is indeed very possible to generate a profit which does, in fact, include the costs of the people involved in that process.
From an ecological standpoint here is where things can get really interesting.
Some businesses are built on top of something seemingly scarce (physical resources for example – a mining company). They usually try to determine what the cost of getting their good(s) are at a point in time – and likewise what the price of that good is which they can obtain. i.e. the oft cited “it costs $40 to extract a barrel of oil from a given field so until the price of oil is higher than that…” However arriving at these costs (and the prices) is actually very complex (and at various time horizons hard to measure.
- i.e. long term costs such as environmental cleanups, long term commitments to employees such as pensions & health care, replacement costs/present value of equipment, political costs such as fees, taxes etc which can and will change as political parties change in the relevant countries etc.
And whether a “profit” is being shown at point in time relies on how you account for things – but fundamentally what it is also showing is that lots of other parties (people, governments, corporations etc) may (or may not) be willing to part with resources for the resource being exploited (say Gold or Oil).
But a company who does that should look at what role they play in these systems. I, for one, am very encouraged by the shift from “Oil Companies” to “Energy Companies” it allows, at least for the consideration, of other ways to meet demands for energy – with Oil being just one (albeit a major one) option. (Though it should also be noted that many of these companies also generate vast amount of resources from non-energy uses of Oil – plastics & lubricants for example being just two major ones.
An activist of any sort – “bright”, “green”, social etc should think about how they might look at the systems around them and at how alternatives which are aligned philosophically with their beliefs might serve valued roles in those systems – while likely also helping reinvent and reshape those systems.
i.e. the “slow food” movement has helped in a very real way drive the larger organic movement which in turn has repercussions in many areas. Changing demand for pesticides and fertalizers, greater realization of the costs of shipment (even resulting in firms such as Walmart looking to source more produce locally), and in a very real way a reshaping of how food is perceived (i.e. “organic and natural” might be better than “bright and shiny” when it comes to apples). Reinforced in this specific case by usually also great taste (and a greater variety of them).
I am not disheartened when I see people making money selling “organic” – when I see what had been small businesses grow to be big ones, or when I see huge businesses (Walmart, Safeway etc) selling organic products and looking at sourcing them locally. I’m encouraged – yes, they may also save money by doing so – and perhaps be able to sell goods at higher prices while also lowering their costs (i.e. make profits).
But aren’t we also benefiting?
Anyway these are complicated topics – but go, make Capitalism your Bitch and explore them!