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Re-imagining Capitalism: Love and Compassion in Economics

In 1999, a conversation about the 'Ignorance and Want' allegory from Dickens' Christmas Carol began a business relationship that would last until my correspondent's death. He was working at the time in Russia on a concept that he'd written a paper on, business with the primary focus of people over profit.          

“Economics, and indeed human civilization, can only be measured and calibrated in terms of human beings.  Everything in economics has to be adjusted for people, first, and abandoning the illusory numerical analyses that inevitably put numbers ahead of people, capitalism ahead of democracy, and degradation ahead of compassion.”

That was perhaps the key point in the white paper proposing an alternative to capitalism, a people-centered form of economics.  Following the death of the author last year, I began to look back on what had influenced this work and the dedication of a friends life to the cause of vulnerable and neglected children.

There is much now being said of business for social purpose, even thoughts of embedding love in the core values. Here for example in the Guardian.  Some say empathy in capitalism is the Next Big Thing.

The influences which led to the concept of People-Centered Economic Development may be found below:  It was rooted in the 1970s within the psychology department at New College of South Florida. 

Bibliography

  • Anastasi, Anne.  Psychological Testing.  Macmillan, New York, 1976.
  • Capra, Fritjof.  The Tao of Physics.  Shambhala, Berkeley,  1975.
  • Capra, Fritjof.  The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture.  Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982.
  • Davis and Hersh.  The Mathematical Experience.  Birkhäuser, Boston, 1981.
  • Drucker, Peter F.  Post-capitalist society.  Harper, New York, 1993.
  • Ferguson, Marilyn.  The Aquarian Conspiracy : personal and social transformation in the 1980s. JP Tarcher, Los Angeles, dist. by St. Martin’s Press, NY, 1980.
  • Fromm, Erich.  The Art of Loving.  Harper, New York, 1956.
  • May, Rollo.  Man’s search for himself.  W. W. Norton, New York, 1967.
  • May, Rollo.  Love and Will.  W. W. Norton, New York, 1969.
  • Ouchi, William G.  Theory Z : how American business can meet the Japanese challenge.  Addison-Wesley, Reading Massachusets, 1981.
  • Peters and Waterman.  In search of excellence : lessons from America’s best-run companies.  Harper and Row, New York, 1982
  • Rogers, Carl.  On Becoming a Person.  Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1961.
  • Rogers, Carl.  Client-Centered Therapy.  Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1965.
  • Toffler, Alvin and Heidi.  Powershift : knowledge, wealth, and violence at the edge of the 21st century.  Bantam Books, New York, 1990.

The work of Erich Fromm was one of several key influences on the the white paper for People-Centered Economic Development. In The Art of Loving, Fromm wrote:

“Love of the helpless, the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love. To love ones flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose, does love begin to unfold. Compassion implies the element of knowledge and identification. “

Fromm speaks in 1958 of obsessive production and consumption along with disregard for society  Production and consumption have become an end rather than the means  to an end, he claims:

 

Another was Rollo May who in Love and Will seems aware of the dawning social age.

“I wrote Love and Will, because you cannot love unless you also can will. I think, and thought when I wrote that book, that a new way of love would come about. People would learn to be intimate again. They would write letters. There would be a feeling of friendship among people. Now, this is the new age that is coming, and I don’t think it’s a matter chiefly of philosophy.”

The influence of Carl R Rogers, is in his person-centered psycho therapy is the belief that given access to needed resources, a person may resolve their own problems, flourish and grow. Putting this into the context of business and economics to stimulate wealth creation within impoverished communities yields the name People-Centered Economic Development and a business which makes people its central focus.

Though Tolstoy is not mentioned in the bibliography, his perception of The Law of Love and the Law of Violence has been a personal inspiration. At the time of a census in Moscow, Tolstoy asked ‘What to Do’ about the problem of those in poverty.

“Good consists not in the giving of money, it consists in the loving intercourse of men. This alone is needed. Whatever may be the outcome of this, any thing will be better than the present state of things. Then let the final act of our enumerators and directors be to distribute a hundred twenty-kopek pieces to those who have no food; and this will be not a little, not so much because the hungry will have food, because the directors and enumerators will conduct themselves in a humane manner towards a hundred poor people. How are we to compute the possible results which will accrue to the balance of public morality from the fact that, instead of the sentiments of irritation, anger, and envy which we arouse by reckoning the hungry, we shall awaken in a hundred instances a sentiment of good, which will be communicated to a second and a third, and an endless wave which will thus be set in motion and flow between men? And this is a great deal.”

Marilyn Ferguson refers to 'The Moral Equivalent to War' and letting go of the old paradigm before we can embrace the new one.

 

The 1996 white paper begins with the question of purpose:

“At first glance, it might seem redundant to emphasize people as the central focus of economics. After all, isn’t the purpose of economics, as well as business, people? Aren’t people automatically the central focus of business and economic activities? Yes and no.

People certainly gain and benefit, but the rub is: which people? More than a billion children, women, and men on this planet suffer from hunger. It is a travesty that this is the case, a blight upon us all as a global social group. Perhaps an even greater travesty is that it does not have to be this way; the problems of human suffering on such a massive scale are not unsolvable. If a few businesses were conducted only slightly differently, much of the misery and suffering as we now know it could be eliminated. This is where the concept of a “people-centered” economics system comes in.”

The paper concluded:

“Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around–if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day.”

In 2009, The Charter for Compassion launched and P-CED joined as partners, this being congruent with our own philosophy:

“Substitute personal greed with compassion, and the balance sheets will still work out just fine. Profit/loss statements take on a whole new dimension and meaning. Greed and capitalism are not one and the same thing. “Social” capitalism, social enterprise, is perfectly doable. This is the most effective sustainable strategy available for alleviating widespread human suffering stemming from poverty and all that comes with it — up to and including terrorism.”

Calling for support in 2006, founder Terry Hallman wrote in a strategy paper of the need to place abandoned children in family homes, saying

“There is no substitute for a loving family environment for growing children. Existing state care institutions do not and cannot possibly provide this – despite occasional, lingering claims that state care is the best care for children. This attitude is a holdover from Soviet times when the state was idealized as the best possible caretaker for all, including children. Stark reality does not support that notion.”

The impact on government policy and subsequent influence can be seen in ‘Every Child Deserves a Family‘, an article published recently by Maidan, in Ukraine, who were the people who discovered his body and published an extract of his communication to USAID and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. His letter ended:

“I and others shall continue to think positive and look for aid budgets and funding spigots to be opened much more for people and NGOs in silos, foxholes and trenches, insisting on better than ordnance, and who understand things and how to fix them. We can do that. We can even do it cost-effectively and with far better efficiency than the ordnance route. Welcome to our brave new world. Except it’s not so new: learn to love and respect each other first, especially the weakest, most defenseless, most voiceless among us, then figure out the rest. There aren’t other more important things to do first. This message has been around for at least two thousand years. How difficult is it for us to understand?”

Support was not forthcoming and refusing to give up on his mission in spite of ill health, the author died in August 2011,  leaving behind a hope.  Friends at the Maidan civic action wrote:

The author of breakthru report “Death camps for children” Terry Hallman suddenly died of grave disease on Aug 18 2011. On his death bed he was speaking only of his mission – rescuing of these unlucky kids. His dream was to get them new homes filled with care and love. His quest would be continued as he wished.

He's no longer alone in thinking this way