Capitalism As Religion is a series about the transformation of Capitalism

Transformation of Capitalism, an introduction

No. 1 in the series “Capitalism as religion”

     Among my reader (Hi mom!), we have to agree—at a minimum—it is unlikely Capitalism is the only thing in world history to persist for hundreds of years unchanged. We can argue loudly and at length about how much, but it’s good to get that point of agreement out of the way.

Establishing end-points to Capitalism’s arc

     One way to track Capitalism’s transformation is to start with where it began and compare that to what it is today. Of course, we would have to have an agreed condition for it today—which is challenging for reasons we’ll get to shortly. The alternative is to start with where it began and then trace its path over time. This allows for an unknown “today,” and probably a less fraught reciting of shifts and changes over time.

     That these centuries of evolution happened is doubtless, we have historical record to lean on. That they were meaningful or, in fact, that they had meaning insofar as evolution is concerned, is not nearly as simple. In other words, the historical record leaves a lot to interpretation.

     So neither option is without challenge or potential disagreement. They do, however, have one thing in common that ought to be (nearly) without reproach. Capitalism’s start. That’s something. And it ought to be relatively straightforward to get that down with some degree of clarity. So, why…


     Well, now that you mention it, let’s back up and fill in a few blanks. Like: Why? To what end? In what respect? And so forth.

The water we swim in has changed and we’re the last to know


     It’s probable that anybody stumbling across this essay will have an abiding if casual interest in Capitalism. For the majority of the world’s population, this economic philosophy underwrites the environment in which we live. In which we earn a living, measure our meaning, gauge our success, define our worth, structure our lives, and on and on.

In some cases quite overtly, like when we invest in or fixate on the stock market, or vie for a new contract or raise, or make any number of choices about how to allocate our personal or business resources. Often much more subtly, like when we wonder why our small, local market doesn’t have the same opportunities or (commercial) offerings as others, or when we realize that the rules truly are different for the rich.[1]

     The point is that short of decamping for Russia, China, or some 3rd-world state, Capitalism is the air we breathe or water to a fish. We depend on it but we don’t see it and can’t tell immediately if it has changed. If it becomes toxic, we may recognize that fact too late to do anything about it. (How’s that for on-the-nose metaphor?) So, we ought to have an intense interest in it at all levels across the board. But we don’t—generally.

     Instead, we accept lore and myth. We behave as though we know when in fact we don’t. We defend or persecute Capitalism on the basis of some misguided understanding. It would even do a world of good for the more erudite among us—and MBAs too—to revisit what it is they believe they know about Capitalism. Will it do any good? Hard to tell. Probably can’t do any harm.

What difference does it make what Capitalism’s become?

     I theorize that what Capitalism actually is now resembles what it was or what its mythology confers about it only in a superficial sense. Capitalism, or the dominant strain of Capitalism to be exact, has evolved into something that will cause many conservative purists to recoil. Its most ardent such adherents ought to recoil in disgust.

     To be certain, our economic and market-based systems do not depend at all on a conclusion to the rightness or wrongness of my proposition. Investments will be made in the hope of gain. Stock will be traded. Credit will be given. Purchases made. Things owned. Rents taken. Labour (ever more) specialized. In short, the world will tick along like a Rolex®.

     But, on a larger scale and at a deeper level, this theory could alter our relationship to Capitalism as it is practiced now. It is at a moral or human level that this insight—if it is an insight—could have some degree of impact. Like how heart attack survivors gain a profound respect for diet and exercise only after facing ugly truth and consequence. At the very least, simply weighing it as a possibility may give perspective because once seen things cannot be unseen. It is the curse of knowledge.

      My proposition is that corporate Capitalism has evolved into a religion.

Capitalism as religion is an interesting thought experiment

     Before slamming the door on this essay and exposition, understand that I do not suggest for a second that going along with the Capitalist market system means you worship a Capitalist God and such. I’m not for a moment suggesting that Capitalism is in the same room let alone shoulder to shoulder with the major monotheistic or any polytheistic Religions. It is not a direct alternative to Catholicism. (Protestantism, maybe, but let’s move on…)

     All I ask is that before you make your pre-emptive rebuttal about how religions explain the universe, how we got here, our purpose, what it all means, what is (not) moral, and usually have some kind of god, wait for the details and support.

     As I said, I do not believe Capitalism is a religion in that sense. What I do believe is that it has all the characteristics of religion (actually including a god, sacred, profane, etc.) and that if we take some time to think about how it lines up to these criteria and categories, we may find ourselves understanding more about the actors, actions, motivations, and (response to) Capitalist outcomes we see and experience.

     And, drawing on my most Capitalist learnings, I assure you that if the theory is even close to explanatory and you appreciate it as described, its insights could be leverage in the market and worth a lot of money.

     This is the first in what will probably be a long series.

     Institute X is a transformation consultancy and transformation/change leader coaching firm. One of its online presences is The Change Playbook. Be sure to check out the abundance of practical and pragmatic guidance. Subscribe to even a FREE membership to receive notifications of new posts and fresh content.

[1]   These last few statements are not to diminish Capitalism. (I believe.) Only to state the obvious that these are not bugs. They are design features and consequences. We’ll get to it later, but one of pure Capitalism’s key features is the absence of universal “failings.” Every ugly aspect is a thing of beauty to somebody at some time.





2 responses to “Transformation of Capitalism, an introduction”

  1. […] Instalment 1 of the series, Transformation of Capitalism, an introduction. […]

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