“Greed is good” is often cited as the core mantra of capitalism. Supposedly greed is the driving force for insuring maximum dividends for shareholders, effective and stable markets, and well-defining pricing mechanisms. But is greed the sole human motivator? Of course not. So why then is there an institution developed so intensely around greed when humans experience and act out of selfless reasons just as well?
This is not a new question. David Graeber has an interesting essay entitled “On Bullshit Jobs” that addresses this question, George R Price killed himself as a result of this question (in a roundabout way), but most interestingly Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus has attempted to create an institution based off of human selflessness – the social business.
A social business is a business model that does not return dividends to investors beyond the initial investment and any interest that may have accrued in that time. The goal of a social business is not to maximize return to shareholders but to maximize societal benefit. How is this different than a non-profit? A non-profit is generally continually seeking funding in some way or form. A social business generates value to sustain itself.
Yunus wished to create a “social stock exchange”. Larger scale, but the same idea. I wish to extend the idea of social business to how we elect our officials.
Currently we symbolically hand over power via a vote. A candidate claims to implement policies that he believes will offer a social benefit. There is nebulous claim as to whether these policies work. The public takes a risk and invests power in this candidate, who needs to continuously validate his existence or risk losing his job and thus his livelihood. This makes him susceptible to special interests (corporations).
My belief is that after a certain point, monetary gain stops being a primary motivator for capitalists. The motivator becomes social standing. Respect cannot really be bought. So these special interests develop in part because either a) a capitalist wants to insure his cashflow (regulatory capture) or b) a capitalist believes himself to an instrument of change because of his wealth. Thus he/she uses their wealth to influence policymakers in some way or form (lobbyists).
Instead of investing power in an untested policymaker who inevitably will be bought by special interests, why don’t we elect individuals who’ve made their interests well-known and proven their technologies/services via the marketplace? Social business men as officials. I think this is partially what people mean when they say they want government to be run like a business – effective mechanisms that promote social good.
A few issues could arise. Greenwashing – just saying something is socially good to get investment/suckers to buy. I think that ideally the marketplace would sort this out. Aristocracy – this is trickier, but if a social businessman/woman were sincere I’d imagine s/he would be more pressed to provide social good and take only what s/he needs to maintain a certain lifestyle (much like how CEOs take a dollar salary). Regulatory capture – In the context of providing a proven social good, I’d argue that this would become a good thing. Differing ideas of social good – you got me.