If only we could find a way to remove inequality, climate change and human exploitation from our economic system. The “Wellbeing Economy” is the answer.
By: Brad Zarnett, previously published on substack. Sign up now to have future articles sent right to your inbox.
The reward system of capitalism is a mess. In the pursuit of capital, we’re encouraged to exploit people, animals and the natural world. The corporate backed media glorifies this as “good business” while praising the most effective predators among us. But the harm that this sociopathic system has caused is so severe that it’s actually endangering most life on this planet. So I think it’s fair to say that capitalism is no longer meeting our needs. Aside from the addition of a few more money hoarding billionaires, humanity is suffering and it’s only getting worse.
“Capitalism and sustainable business are in an epic struggle and until the metrics change, the winner is already predetermined.”
— Brad Zarnett
We have society-destabilizing–concentrated-wealth at a level not seen in nearly 100 years, a looming climate catastrophe, a corporate media fueling the justification for starvation wages, plastic filled oceans, massive biodiversity loss, and in the US, the beacon of unfettered Capitalism, we also have an epidemic of shootings and suicides, widespread poverty, dysfunctional government, corporate hostility to unions which further exploits workers and concentrates wealth, and a horrendous level of people without healthcare.
And despite all of this, I still think that capitalism has a role to play, but we’re going to need to make some serious changes.
Enough is Enough
For the last 40 years we’ve been misled. We let a tiny group of sociopaths who are completely out of touch with reality, design an economy to help them further concentrate their wealth. We were told that this was the pathway to societal prosperity and that somehow this strategy would eventually benefit us all. It didn’t. Enough is enough!
We need a system that works for the majority of us, not just a few bunker building billionaires who have their plans ready to flee the society that they helped to destroy.
A New Pathway to Profits (Societal Wellbeing)
Capitalism is like a ship heading towards Niagara Falls. For now the current is manageable and there’s still time to navigate to safety but we need to act fast. We need to make some fundamental changes in how we conduct business. We need to immediately stop rewarding society destroying behaviour. We need to change the route to success. We need to incentivize our entrepreneurs and businesses differently so that the pathway to profits is through the creation of societal wellbeing.
Let your mind wander for a moment. Don’t get caught up in the details of why it can’t possibly work or how people aren’t wired that way or whatever nonsense has been rammed into your head by a relentless corporate media or billionaire owned politicians. There’s nothing intrinsic about capitalism. We created it and therefore we can change it.
Imagine what society would look like in a world where the creation of wellbeing was the key driver to achieving financial success. Imagine if instead of a system built on anti-social and sociopathic exploitation, the system punished it. Imagine if instead of a system that worshipped society destabilizing concentrated wealth, it was designed to ensure that everyone received a living wage and had access to free health care and higher education. Imagine if the system was designed to create health and wellness rather than to externalize harm to the masses for the benefit of the wealth hoarding .001%.
New Metrics → New Behaviours → New Outcomes
In a wellbeing economy, running a business would look a little different. There would be new metrics to consider besides revenues and profits and the object of the game would change. The metrics would be designed to reward companies that enriched society and that delivered wellbeing to all of its different stakeholders. The days of offsetting harm, after the fact, with token charity or philanthropic gestures would vanish. Business, regardless of its sector, would strive for the same society enriching goals and the results would be measurable, transparent and verifiable.
The most sustainable companies wouldn’t have to worry about marketing their questionable ESG, GRI, SDG or SBTi achievements — the market would ensure that the most profitable companies would also be the most sustainable. Companies that dragged their heels to create wellbeing would stand out and those companies would suffer, reputationally and financially. Investments from asset managers and pension funds would dry up as money went looking for better returns. And that’s how you get capitalism working for everyone rather than just the .001% — welcome to the Wellbeing Economy.
Government would play a leadership role in establishing the new wellbeing metrics with the help of a cross section of society, minus lobbyists, bankers, oil companies and of course…billionaires. Other than a little policing of the rules, Government would have a hands off approach and company’s would be left to run as they saw fit. Corporate value would be determined in the market by the level of wellbeing that companies delivered to society. The metrics and the market would now be doing the job that rules and regulations are failing to do in our current economy.
Another role that government would assume would be the efficient spending of tax dollars with the same goal of societal wellbeing. A main focus would be to support workers in this transition, instead of giving money to corporations that have created much of the harm that we’re trying to repair.
A New Era of Wellbeing
The days where government would set the rules for the benefit of the corporate elite and billionaires would be over. The Wellbeing Economy would serve ordinary people for the betterment of society. Wealth could still be created by innovative and creative minds but it would be based on the new focus of wellbeing because that’s where the important metrics would lead.
The positive impacts on millions of lives would be immediate, not in 20 or 30 years when our fragile ecosystems would be well beyond their tipping points. Corporations that find it difficult to adapt would fade away and new companies that create wellbeing would take their place. There would be no more need to chase shadows looking for the elusive business case for corporate sustainability, the system would encourage, no, demand, positive outcomes across the board.
How Would Companies Change?
Let’s use energy as an example. In the Wellbeing Economy, if you bring energy to market you’d get rewarded but if in the process you destroy biodiversity, negatively affect human health and/or contribute to climate change, then those financial gains will be clawed back if not entirely eliminated. With the metrics of wellbeing being elevated to a top concern, you’d have no choice but to consider the externalities of your product or service…if you want to be profitable.
Imagine Amazon in This System
Imagine all the good that Amazon could do if they truly had to make the world a better place in order to reap the financial rewards in the Wellbeing Economy. Imagine 100’s of billions of dollars flowing towards negatively impacted communities from the big box store trend, protecting animal habitat and forests, building new parks, providing free employee education, paying employees not only a living wage but a comfortable wage, and perhaps most important of all…a climate tax to help compensate society for their contribution to climate change via all of the deliveries, packaging and embedded carbon emissions of the products that they sell.
It’s counterintuitive to how we currently think, but the “wellbeing department” would be seen as a profit generator; because without it, profits would be clawed back by the government for failing to meet wellbeing standards. In the Wellbeing Economy no regulations or rules would be needed to eliminate harm…because it wouldn’t have been created in the first place.
The Wellbeing Department
It’s not complicated. What makes it complicated is that the corporate elite and billionaires who captured the lion’s share of wealth during the last several decades don’t want to start offsetting the harm that they cause. As they would say…”we were just following the law”. A law, mind you, that they relentlessly lobbied to change in order to shield themselves from sharing their wealth and taking any responsibility for the harm that they unleashed on the planet. I guess they didn’t they figure that one day the bill would come due — that one day they would have to take responsibility and part with some of their wealth. I explore this in Part 2 of my essay called, “How Billionaire Greed Ruined a Perfectly Good Strategy Called Corporate Sustainability
We don’t have to be stuck with our toxic form of capitalism — it can be a tool for good but we need to create a new pathway to profits. We need a form of capitalism where ecosystem protection and social justice initiatives are the priority. We need to change our system so that the most important department in the company, the one that calls the shots, is responsible for the creation of wellbeing.
It’s not only possible but it just might be our only chance to deliver a liveable planet to future generations.
Thanks for reading!
Brad Zarnett is a sustainability and climate change truth teller, advisor and speaker based in Toronto, Canada. His mission is to expose the misinformation coming from corporations, their media network and the corrupt politicians who do their bidding.