Share this article

print logo

Lisa Earle McLeod: Capitalism tells positive story

Cut to the evil businessman cackling as he counts his coins while his workers slave away in the salt mines, giving their lifeblood for his riches.

We all know the story. It’s the common narrative of pop culture movies and television shows.

But what if this old story isn’t true?

Consider this: Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most of the world lived in poverty.

According to research from the World Bank, in the year 1000, gross domestic product, or GDP, per capita was $435 per year (in today’s dollars); 750 years later, in 1750, it was $667. During the first few thousand years of our existence, for most humans, life was sheer survival. People spent their days scrounging for food and shelter. Very few lived past 40.

However, in the 150 years after the Industrial Revolution, real GDP rose to $2,113, and by 2013, it was $13,100.

Many people on the planet are still in survival mode, but that’s not because of business. It’s actually the absence of commerce that keeps people impoverished.

Raj Sisodia, founder of the Conscious Capitalism movement says, “It’s a fact that capitalism is ending poverty on earth.” Now, instead of foraging for food, most people on this planet earn enough money to eat and sleep with a roof over their heads.

I recently spoke at the Global Conscious Capitalism Conference in Chicago, where I was surrounded by a ballroom of business leaders who believe, as I do, that capitalism is a force for good, and they have data to back it up.

Sisodia, the author of seven books, including “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business,” says, “Capitalism is free markets and free people.” As for the complaint that business is unethical? Sisodia, one of Ten Outstanding Trailblazers honored by Good Business International, says, “Business is inherently ethical because it is based on a voluntary exchange.”

Imagine a thriving society where people have the capacity to care for their families, and spend their days making a meaningful contribution. Can you envision that world existing without free enterprise? Of course not; a thriving community depends on people buying and selling their wares in a free market.

Yet despite solid evidence that capitalism lifts society, cynicism and distrust in business have increased in recent years.

Why?

Because we’ve let a few greedy, self-serving fools define the narrative. We look at a CEO who makes 400 times his workers’ salary and forget about CEOs such as Kip Tindell, of the Container Store, who makes, at most, 35 times that of the average store worker and says, “CEOs and top executives in America are overpaid, relative to the rank-and-file worker. CEOs are important, but not as important as they’re made out to be.” Not surprisingly, for the last 15 years the Container Store has been on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.

We make movies about greedy investment bankers while real life leaders such as Bob Chapman, chairman and CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Cos., a $2 billion global organization, achieve a 20 percent compound growth rate over 20 years by focusing on “truly human leadership.” Chapman’s principles include: Look for the goodness in people and ask no more or less of anyone than you would of your own child.

It’s time to stop letting a few greedy fools define the story of business. Capitalism gives more than it takes, and it’s important to keep that in mind.