By Darrin Drda
Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business – A Review
Don’t be fooled by the cheerful yellow cover, by the New Age-y words in the title, or by the huge sign above the display that says “Revolutionize Capitalism.” Just take a look at the first endorsement on the first page, which reads, “Conscious Capitalism is a welcome explication and endorsement of the virtues of free-enterprise capitalism—properly comprehended, there is no more beneficial economic system…” and you’ll properly comprehend that the new screed by Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey and co-author Raj Sisodia is about as revolutionary as a lazy Susan filled with fantastically overpriced GMO corn chips.
In the introduction, Mackey confesses that before cofounding Whole Foods Market in the late 80s, he had “drifted into progressivism,” grown his hair, and worked at a food co-op under the banner of “food for people, not profits.” He then experienced an “awakening” in which he discovered that capitalism was “fundamentally good and ethical.” His transformation was catalyzed, predictably, by the books of Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises, and other neoliberal prophets of profit who consider altruism immoral and dream of drowning government in the bathtub.
Revolutionizing capitalism would entail abolishing the Fed, overhauling the global banking system, prohibiting usury, strictly regulating Wall Street, and abandoning GDP and other metrics that demand endless and therefore destructive economic growth. At the very least, it would require ending the ability of corporations to externalize costs, i.e. pass them on to the public and the environment. Needless to say, Mackey doesn’t suggest any of these measures. Instead, he defies his more heartless heroes by advancing a kindler, gentler capitalism that embraces purpose, considers the wellbeing of employees, customers, and communities, and focuses on the “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and profits. Mackey’s nod to Gaia would be laudable if it weren’t so laughable, coming as it is from a climate change denier. For the record, Mackey also hates unions and Obamacare, likening them to herpes and fascism, respectively.
If Mackey is conscious of anything, it’s that capitalism is on the defensive these days; thus his attempt to “change the narrative” and inspire in his readers an epiphany akin to his own regarding the “heroic spirit of business.” In the first part of the book, he waxes prosaic about how capitalism has “transformed the face of the planet [much for the worse, unfortunately] and the complexion [interesting choice of words] of daily life for the vast majority of people.” In another example of organic cherry picking, Mackey hails the flourishing of democracy under globalization, ignoring the many instances in which democracy and capitalism have found themselves at bitter and often very deadly odds (see especially The Shock Doctrine for devastating details).
Towards the end of the book, Mackey attempts to counter the anticipated argument that his book is little more than a “lipstick on a pig.” I would contend that “conscious capitalism” is a much bigger and more dangerous oxymoron, more like a T-rex in a tutu who wants to kindly and gently destroy everything you’ve ever loved.
Don’t buy Mackey’s ruse. In fact, don’t buy anything at Whole Foods if you can help it. Shop at your local farmer’s market and bank at your local credit union. It’s high time to starve the beast of modern capitalism, or at least deprive it of oxygen until it becomes as unconscious as its faithful servants.
Darrin Drda is an artist, musician, and author of The Four Global Truths: Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times, published by the Evolver Editions imprint of North Atlantic Books. He is a regular contributor to Reality Sandwich, elephant journal, and other online journals.