In 1980, I went to China for the first time after it had just opened up to foreigners. I witnessed seeing trees the circumference of my wrist as the impoverished people had cut them down to use for firewood. I experienced family members sleeping on plywood bedframes with bamboo mats despite high levels of education. I marveled at the formal transportation of black bicycles stacked up by the hundreds, as people used them to move from place to place. Tiananmen Square was nearly empty as there seemed to be few domestic tourists. The Forbidden City was nearly empty in 1980 and was not yet open to the local people. At that time, Deng Xiao Ping had been elevated to the leader of the Communist Party and was interested in market-oriented economic reforms as “to get rich is glorious.”
I just returned from China in August 2019 and was stunned at the change they have achieved. Infrastructure improvements abounded and vehicular traffic was prolific. Public transportation was both clean and efficient including high-speed rail. Cement buttresses were built throughout the country, waiting to carry expanding high-speed rail which was not yet connected. Cell phones are prevalent and Chinese tourists were traveling everywhere we went. For example, the city of Guilin, well known for its beautiful landscapes, says they have 27 MILLION Chinese domestic tourists a year compared to the 1.4 million foreigners. This is a large difference from the absence of domestic tourists in 1980. Most importantly, people seem to have more disposable income and a better living standard, which is a huge improvement since I first visited.
At the same time, here in the United States, capitalism is in peril. It is being blamed for climate change (i.e., who cares if we add carbon to the air?) and increasing inequality. There is evidence of an excessive building of wealth for just a few. For example, Purdue Pharma was the producer of OxyContin, thought to be the source of the opioid epidemic in the United States. The rich are getting richer (e.g., the Sackler family) and taking money from those who succumbed to the exploitation of their drug, OxyContin. Not only are the users exploited, but their family structures are crumbling under the increased healthcare costs and the fight against addiction.
The first African female to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Wangari Maathai, said in 2004, “in the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness and to reach a higher moral ground” (“Full Speech: Paul Polman at the SDG Business Forum 2019”).
If capitalism has the potential to both be economically powerful and economically debilitating, there is an imperative to link consciousness with capitalism.
Think Global, Act Local
At Conscious Capitalism of Central Maryland, we elevate humanity through business. We use the levers of capitalism to create positive change, do good, and elevate humanity. We focus on learning and applying the four tenets of Conscious Capitalism: conscious leadership, conscious culture, higher purpose, and stakeholder orientation. Come join our community and find out how to shift your business to become more conscious and also make a profit. How will your business make a difference beyond profit?
(Note: This speech was delivered at the opening of Ignite Howard County #5, on October 21, 2019. Listen to past speakers who delivered their 5-minute speeches here.)
“Full Speech: Paul Polman at the SDG Business Forum 2019.” YouTube, uploaded by United Nations Global Compact, 7 Oct. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJEmG5q3m4A. Accessed 23 Oct. 2019.