Mission-oriented capitalism

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

Canada is an idea that can be shaped to our will.

Last month this space focused on how the market has extended its reach into our daily lives by ensuring that everything is for sale, from air for our tires to bottled water to our free time. More than ever, the value of something is equated with its monetary value determined by the market — not for its intrinsic worth to you or me.

As Mark Carney writes in Value(s), “the logic of buying and selling no longer applies only to material goods but increasingly governs the whole of life from the allocation of healthcare to education, public safety and environmental protection.”

The author shares a clear example. Consider the valuations of Amazon, the corporate behemoth, and the Amazon region in South America. Amazon the company is valued at over $1.5 trillion in equity, reflecting the market’s belief in its worth. In contrast, it is only when the Amazon rainforest is cleared and the space used for agricultural purposes that will one day ensure the Amazon region is finally given a market value. The cost of its wanton destruction — the cost to our environment — will appear on no ledger.

The market, on its own, can never figure out what the important values are to support. That’s what we’re for. That’s what we must demand of the market, by identifying what’s important to us and then ensuring politicians and civic leaders are held to account for these shared values.

This takes more than government, though. We desperately need more purposeful companies. These companies must do more than stand for “corporate social responsibility,” a tired afterthought used to distract while ensuring the business of capitalism goes on.

But the business of capitalism cannot go on, at least the way things are right now. We need what Marianna Mazzucato, a British economics professor, calls a “mission economy.” (Carney calls it mission-oriented capitalism.)

Either way, we must restructure capitalism to make it inclusive, sustainable and innovative, focused on real-world problems. As Mazzucato states, that means “changing government tools and culture, creating new markers of corporate governance, and ensuring that corporations, society, and government coalesce to share a common goal.”

The world has just endured the deadliest health crisis of our lifetime. While we are coming out of this fight (at least in the western world) our nation is burning as the climate crisis demands to be taken seriously. The market is not here to save us from this disaster, either, just as it didn’t save us from the global pandemic.

Canada, though, is an idea — an idea that can be shaped to our will. We must build consensus then, citizens, government and business, to tackle the greatest threats before us and improve life for all.

Mission-oriented capitalism is worth fighting for.

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