Exploring the history and evolution of capitalism - and the meta crisis inherent in our contemporary economic system!


As Paul Adler compellingly argues, our world grapples with a multitude of crises intricately tied to the evolution of our capitalist system—perhaps inherently so. This raises the pivotal question: What actions can we take to address these challenges?

PLURALISTS OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE(Click on the icon for pdf)

In this article, we delve into Henry Mintzberg's fervent call to "rebalance society". Mintzberg cautions against embracing the ideals propagated by libertarian neo-evangelists who advocate for a "win-win wonderland", promoting the notions that "greed is good, property is sacred, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect". He asserts that we have been following the wrong gospel: it is not capitalism, but rather THE BALANCE that emerged victorious at the end of the cold war. This balance encompasses societal forces conducive to the common good, including a private sector of responsible businesses, a public sector of respected governments, and a "plural sector" comprising robust communities. Mintzberg challenges us to restore this balance in order to reinvigorate a positive economy.

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The Hunt for Good Organisations Commences!

Learning Journey

We start by framing the context, going beyond the familiar challenges of technological disruption and rapid market changes to explore the  meta crisis inherent in our contemporary economic system. Delving into the history and evolution of capitalism, we seek to uncover their root causes and cultivate an awareness of the imperative for change. Through this process, we gain an understanding of the interconnectedness across all levels involved in this transformative journey, and develop a sense of compassion and responsibility to drive positive change.

Core Concepts (click icons to jump to discovery)

Capitalism is Failing (1)

Please reflect for yourself: What is the problem with Capitalism? How does capitalism contribute to crises like climate change and growing inequality, both within and across countries? What is the problem of endless growth?

Root Causes of the Crises of Capitalism (2)

Reflect on the root causes of these alleged failures. Why doesn't Adam Smith's famous "invisible hand" appear to work effectively?

The Impact of Capitalism on Suffering at Work (3)

How does Capitalism reflect on the climate and conditions for people within enterprises? 

Is Capitalism good?

Based on all of the above, note down in your journal some personal reflections. What do you think are our biggest challenges with a capitalist economy? What are the root causes? Can Capitalism be fixed? And... what's the role of business?


Our Perspective On Core Concepts

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created dependent — on each other, our earth, and its climate — endowed with the inalienable responsibility to maintain justice, liberty and affiliation for all.” ― Henry Mintzberg

Framing The Context: Business As A Force For Bad

In this initial phase of our inquiry, we set out on a journey to identify and comprehend the critical challenges facing contemporary capitalism. Our aim is to elevate awareness and insight into the deficiencies of the current system, probing beneath the surface to uncover their fundamental causes and explore avenues for alleviating the resulting hardships. Departing from conventional wisdom, we delve into scholarly literature and authoritative texts, immersing ourselves in a range of ideas and initiatives aimed at reshaping, reforming, or potentially revolutionizing our economic framework.

Click on each concept heading to learn more...

🗁 Concept 1: we can no longer ignore that Capitalism is in crisis (sildes 3-4)
Contemporary capitalism faces a myriad of challenges that threaten both social cohesion and environmental sustainability. Economic inequality remains a glaring issue, with wealth disproportionately concentrated in the hands of a select few, exacerbating social disparities and hindering upward mobility for many. Financial instability looms large, as speculative practices and short-term profit-seeking behaviors in financial markets perpetuate cycles of boom and bust, inflicting widespread suffering on vulnerable populations. Environmental degradation, driven by capitalism's relentless pursuit of growth and profit, continues unabated, leading to the depletion of natural resources and ecological crises. Job insecurity is rampant, fueled by cost-cutting measures and technological advancements that prioritize efficiency over worker well-being, leaving many without stable employment or adequate social protections. Moreover, the erosion of public goods such as education and healthcare underscores the prioritization of private interests over the common good, further widening societal divides. The influence of corporations and wealthy individuals on political decision-making processes poses a significant threat to democracy, undermining the principles of equality and representation. Ruthless globalization, driven by capitalist imperatives, exacerbates income inequality on both national and global scales, perpetuating cycles of exploitation and marginalization. Addressing these challenges requires a fundamental reevaluation of our economic priorities and the adoption of alternative models that prioritize human well-being and environmental sustainability over profit margins and market expansion.
🗁 Concept 2: there are multiple ROOT causes for ITS decline (bottom middle slide)
Our economic journey through the annals of history reveals a profound evolution, from an era where public interests held sway to the ascendancy of global corporations driven by the pursuit of shareholder value. In the early stages, our economic focus was on serving public needs, with endeavors aimed at infrastructure development and the provision of critical services for societal welfare. This period saw a harmonious balance between private entrepreneurship and public interests, embodied in the endeavors of family enterprises.

However, the tide shifted with the rise of global corporations, marking a departure from the ethos of serving public welfare to the single-minded pursuit of shareholder interests. This era witnessed the consolidation of power in the hands of shareholder aristocracies, as corporations prioritized profit maximization and growth above all else. The ethos of shareholder primacy supplanted the erstwhile commitment to balancing both private and public interests, leading to the commodification of labor, natural resources, and social interactions.

Moreover, the phenomenon of financialization exacerbated this trend, severing the connection between investors and the businesses they owned. The relentless pursuit of short-term gains eclipsed concerns for long-term sustainability and societal well-being, as corporations became increasingly detached from their broader social responsibilities. Consequently, the economic landscape became characterized by exploitation, inequality, and environmental degradation, as corporations pursued ever-faster growth at the expense of societal welfare.

As our economic system hurtles towards an uncertain future, the advent of technology introduces both promise and peril. While technological advancements offer unprecedented opportunities for progress, they also amplify existing societal trends and values. The reliance on data-driven algorithms and automation raises concerns about exploitation and inequality, underscoring the urgent need for responsible management and ethical governance.

In this turbulent landscape, the imperative to rebalance society becomes ever more pressing. The warnings of scholars like Henry Mintzberg and Paul Adler serve as poignant reminders of the need to transcend the narrow confines of profit-driven capitalism. Reimagining our economic paradigm requires a return to fundamental principles of public welfare and social responsibility, fostering a new era of business that prioritizes the common good over narrow self-interest. 
🗁 Concept 3: Modern workplaces are often suffering machines (bottom right slide: failures of hr)
The relentless pursuit of profit within capitalist systems has contributed to a decline in the quality of work, leading to widespread feelings of alienation and disengagement among workers. Despite efforts to improve organizational well-being through various means such as restructuring, agile transformations, and government interventions, many organizations continue to prioritize productivity over employee welfare, perpetuating a culture of stress and burnout. Mental and physical health in the workplace are deteriorating, with high levels of stress reported among the working population. Moreover, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterized by rapid technological advancements, has not translated into improved well-being for workers, but rather exacerbated existing challenges. Instead of fostering environments of flourishing, many organizations have produced outcomes detrimental to societal well-being, including burnout, loneliness, inequality, and ecological collapse. Examples of unethical behavior abound, from the exploitation of workers and natural resources to the production of harmful products and tax evasion. Consequently, a significant portion of the global population perceives capitalism as doing more harm than good, reflecting widespread disillusionment with the current economic paradigm.


Below you can also find a few blog posts that dive into our evolving thoughts around these concepts

Stop The Suffering: Good Organizations Wanted!
Stop The Suffering: Good Organizations Wanted!

After 50 years of “new work” and countless restructurings, agile transformations and yoga classes, we appear to be stuck in a hellish swamp of good intentions: better work remains squarely out of sight…

1 - Capitalism is failing
Pluralists of all Countries, Unite!

Chances are that someone has gifted you one of those multi-coloured, slogan-rich “airport” management books that often come with “washing lists” of highly critical characteristics, or secret “power traits”, of successful leaders...
(9 min read)

2 - root causes
Remembering Polanyi: Where Are We On Our "Great Transformation"?

Is “Business Ethics” an oxymoron? No. Commercial performance and ethics are by no means incommensurable —but they ask fundamentally different questions. Ethics is about choosing whither to go — how to grow, and why. Performance is about progressing towards a chosen destination in the most efficient way possible, adapting to obstacles and opportunities along the road.

The Challenges of Algorithm-Based HR Decision-Making for Personal Integrity?

Together with her co-authors and project partners Antoinette identifies an important challenge arising from the efficiency-driven logic of algorithm-based HR decision-making, namely that it may shift the delicate balance between employees’ personal integrity and compliance more in the direction of compliance. The authors suggest that critical data literacy, ethical awareness, the use of participatory design methods, and private regulatory regimes within civil society can help overcome these challenges.
(5 min read)

Curious to read more about our ongoing inquiry? A good place to start is our blog with all recent leadership articles and posts.

Decades of financial capitalism have amplified the ‘invulnerable’ work culture in large global enterprises, where every vulnerability must be ejected.” ― Luigino Bruni

knowledge expeditions

Discover New Puzzle Pieces of Wisdom On A Search For Eureka Moments!

Curious to watch more interviews? Jump to the Leaders for Humanity series for all our exciting interviews with some of the greatest minds of our time.

Video Library

Address at GPDF

Address to Macarthur Summit

How The Economic Machine Works

The Changing World Order

A World on the Brink

Connectography Remapping Global Growth

Move: The Economy of the Future

Real GDP Per Capita and Standard of Living

The Puzzle of Growth

The Importance of Institutions

The Great Simplification

The Superorganism and the Future

A Healthy Economy Should Be Designed to Thrive Not Grow

Capitalism at Risk (Article)

When More is Not Better

The case for letting business solve social problems

In Search of the Third Attractor

The Network State:

Living with the meta crisis

Core Concepts Unveiled

Materials marked in  dark purple  are foundational. Those flagged in light purple are for in-depth exploration.

Core Concept 1: Capitalism is failing

Core Concept 1: Capitalism is failing

Please reflect for yourself:  What is the problem with Capitalism?

(1) What are the major global crises we are facing these days? 
(2) How does capitalism contribute to or exacerbate them, even if it is not their direct cause? Can you provide specific examples?

We start our journey with the two chapters of Paul Adler's book where he looks at the six biggest crises of today and makes the argument: "Capitalism, of course, is not responsible for every problem we see around us. But the basic features of capitalism— the conflict between a tiny minority who own society’s productive resources as their private property and the large majority who must work for those owners in exchange for a wage, the pro"t and growth imperative driving these owners, and the subservience of government to their interests— create conditions that intensify and render intractable many of our problems, even if they do not
directly cause all of them.

This Synthesis Report (SYR) of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) summarises the state of knowledge of climate change,
its widespread impacts and risks, and climate change mitigation and adaptation. This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, ecosystems and biodiversity, and human societies; the value of diverse forms of knowledge; and the close linkages between climate change adaptation, mitigation, ecosystem health, human well-being and sustainable development, and reflects the increasing diversity of actors involved in climate action.

This report presents the most up-to-date synthesis of international research efforts to track global inequalities. The data and
analysis presented here are based on the work of more than 100 researchers over four years, located on all continents, contributing to the World Inequality Database (WID.world), maintained by the World Inequality Lab. This vast network collaborates with statistical institutions, tax authorities, universities and international organizations, to harmonize, analyze and disseminate comparable international inequality data.

Are the destinies of children from poor and wealthy families diverging? This paper explains why this is the question to ask if we wish to study equality of opportunity in America today. Drawing on the research behind Robert Putnam’s (2015) Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, we show that, since the 1970s, children in the top-third and the bottom-third of the socioeconomic hierarchy have sharply diverged on factors predicting life success. This gaping “opportunity gap” augurs a collapse of social mobility in the decades ahead. Given the causes of the opportunity gap, we explore promising policy options for restoring equality of opportunity in America.
The global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remains slow and uneven. Despite economic resilience earlier this year, with a reopening rebound and progress in reducing inflation from last year’s peaks, it is too soon to
take comfort. Economic activity still falls short of its prepandemic path, especially in emerging market and developing economies, and there are widening divergences among regions. Several forces are holding back the recovery. Some reflect the long-term consequences of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and increasing geoeconomic fragmentation. Others are more cyclical in
nature, including the effects of monetary policy tightening necessary to reduce inflation, withdrawal of fiscal support amid high debt, and extreme weather events.
The Democracy Index, which began in 2006, provides a snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide in 165 independent states and two territories. This covers almost the entire population of the world and the vast majority of the world’s states (microstates are excluded). The Democracy Index is based on five categories: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties. Based on its scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then classified as one of four types of regime: “full democracy ”, “flawed democracy ”, “hybrid regime” or “authoritarian regime”.

Find in this report also data on international conflict und unresponsive government. Most respondents to the 2022-2023 Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) chose “Energy supply crisis”; “Cost-of-living crisis”; “Rising inflation”; “Food supply crisis” and “Cyberattacks on critical infrastructure” as among the top risks for 2023 with the greatest potential impact on a global scale (Figure 1.1). Those that are outside the top 5 for the year but remain concerns include: failure to meet net-zero targets; weaponization of economic policy; weakening of human rights; a debt crisis; and failure of non-food supply chains.

In March 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres established the UN Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance (GCRG) to respond to the unprecedented interconnected food, energy and finance crises in the world. Inflation, food insecurity, soaring energy and food prices, supply chain disruptions and mounting debt are among the pressing challenges added to a world recovering from the human and economic losses of the COVID-19 pandemic and facing the ongoing threat of climate change and the war in Ukraine. These challenges are particularly acute in developing economies.

Core Concept 2: Root Causes

Core Concept 2: Root Causes of the Crises of Capitalism

Reflect on the root causes of the failures of Capitalism. Why doesn't the "invisible hand" appear to work effectively? 

1) Summarize what you have learned about the different root causes

2) How does Capitalism contribute to the crises we have identified in the last section?

3) To what degree are these root causes intrinsic to a capitalistic system?

This paper by Colin Mayer sets out a radical reinterpretation of the nature of the corporation that focuses on corporate purpose, its alignment with social purpose, the trustworthiness of companies and the role of corporate culture in promoting purpose and trust. It suggests that external factors, in particular technological advances, are intensifying the need for this reinterpretation. It points to the increasing inadequacy of conventional policy responses in the form of regulation and competition policy, and the steady erosion of the traditional source of social capital from corporate taxation. The paper records how neither the actions of the owners nor the practices of corporate governance have succeeded in providing internal resolutions to the alignment of corporate with social interests. On the contrary, the changing nature of ownership is creating a growing divergence between the functioning of the board and the interests of both shareholders and societies.

Shareholder Value is not only a myth, as forcefully demonstrated by Lynn Stout. It has also led to a mess under the form of extensive negative externalities and growing inequalities. A different measure of value creation is urgently required.

Wall Street's 2007–09 implosion and the ensuing global recession highlight the crucial relationship between finance and the economy. Governments, international agencies and experts had failed to detect rising risk levels in the deregulated financial sector. The author outlines the resulting huge cost in lost jobs and likely reductions in public goods and growth, as economies restabilize budgets after paying for massive bailouts and stimulus packages. Specifically, he assesses the role of monetary incentives for rent-seeking in the decisions that led to the crisis. Finally, he makes the case for radical reform of the institutions linking finance and the real economy.

The integration of global financial markets has delivered large welfare gains through improvements in static and dynamic efficiency – the allocation of real resources and the rate of economic growth. These achievements have however come at the cost of increased systemic fragility, evidenced by the ongoing crisis. We must now face the challenge of redesigning the regulatory overlay of the global financial system in order to make it more robust without crippling its ability to innovate and spur economic growth.

The Limits to Growth was published 50 years ago. Ordered by the Club of Rome, the study was a milestone in the analysis of the economic, demographic, technical and ecological effects of the existing economic system. In industrialised Western countries in particular, the critical examination of the development model of continuous economic growth led to a broad discussion about the far-reaching implications of a global economy focusing on growth, on a planet with finite natural resources.

An article by Stephen Metcalf featured in the Guardian which implies that ideology, especially neoliberalism, has rendered evaluations of "good" and "right" to be unnecessary. "The word has become a rhetorical weapon, but it properly names the reigning ideology of our era – one that venerates the logic of the market and strips away the things that make us human"

Within a capitalist economic system, commodification is the transformation of things such as goods, services, ideas, nature, personal information, people or animals into objects of trade or commodities.[1][2][3][4][5] A commodity at its most basic, according to Arjun Appadurai, is "anything intended for exchange," or any object of economic value.[6]

To some critics, one reason for the perceived recent shortcomings of economic performance — and allegedly capitalism itself — is the rise of so-called “crony capitalism:” deals between some private interests (business, anti-business interests, professions, social groups) and government that “pick winners” and thereby also pick losers, on the basis of political influence rather than merit. Such
deals would inhibit the productive reallocation of society’s resources, and reduce innovation and economic growth. Examples of such deals include cash subsidies, tax preferences, earmarked appropriations and no-bid contracts, regulatory and trade protection, among other forms of favorable treatment. They can be crafted to benefit virtually any sector of the economy, and though each alleged deal has its defenders — else it would not exist — the list of questionable private sectorgovernment interactions is long.

In this article Bruni looks at how capitalism undermines our capacity for flourishing: "The best way to eliminate vulnerability inside the community has always been immunity. Immunity is the main feature of the large capitalist enterprises today. Every invulnerable culture is also an immune culture: if I don’t want to be hurt in my relationship with you, I have to stop you touching me by building a system of relations that avoids any form of contamination. Immunity is the lack of exposure to the other person’s touch. Immunitas, as we have mentioned, is the negation of communitas: the soul of communitas is munus (gift and duty) in reciprocity, while that of immunitas is reciprocal ingratitude, the absence and the opposite of gift (in-munus: anti-gift)."

Core Concept 3: Suffering at Work

Core Concept 3: Capitalism is creating suffering at work

Please reflect for yourself:  What is the impact of Capitalism on work and employment relationships?

(1) What are the consequences of the instrumentalisation of labour? What is the state of work at present?
(2) What is the state of work under the current form of capitalism?

Are the destinies of children from poor and wealthy families diverging? This paper explains why this is the question to ask if we wish to study equality of opportunity in America today. Drawing on the research behind Robert Putnam’s (2015) Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, we show that, since the 1970s, children in the top-third and the bottom-third of the socioeconomic hierarchy have sharply diverged on factors predicting life success. This gaping “opportunity gap” augurs a collapse of social mobility in the decades ahead. Given the causes of the opportunity gap, we explore promising policy options for restoring equality of opportunity in America.
This paper explores the role of neoliberal ideology in workplace practices and in work and organizational psychology (WOP) research. It analyses how neoliberal ideology manifests in these two domains by using a prominent framework from the field of political theory to understand ideology through three different logics: political, social and fantasmatic logics. We explore the main neoliberal assumptions underlying existing practices in the workplace as well as in WOP research, how individuals are gripped by such practices, and how the status quo is maintained. The paper analyses how individuals in the contemporary workplace are henceforth influenced by neoliberalism, and how this is reflected in the practices and dominant paradigms within WOP.
This article presents a critical reconstruction of the concept of postfordism, arguing for a regulation-theoretic approach that views Fordism and postfordism not in terms of production models based on a particular labour process but as institutional regimes of competition, within which there are one of four types of generic labour process: high-autonomy, semiautonomous, tightly constrained and unrationalized labour-intensive. It shows that over one-third of US employment is in low-autonomy jobs and sketch an analytical framework for analysing job quality. Contrasting the four labour processes with various measures of job quality produces 18 job types that reduce to one of three job quality categories: good jobs, bad jobs and decent jobs.
What is the problem with capitalism? Is it wrong, unjust, irrational, or bad? Is it evil or dumb—or is it just not working? While critiques of capitalism have become commonplace—particularly since the most recent global economic crisis—it is often unclear what exactly is being condemned. Likewise, the normative presuppositions and criteria of such criticisms have been left unspecified. In this paper, three approaches to the critique of capitalism are devleloped, distinguishing a functional, a moral, and an ethical argumentative strategy and paying special attention to the distinctive types of argumentation they mobilize.
The growth of precarious work since the 1970s has emerged as a core contemporary concern within politics, in the media, and among researchers. Uncertain and unpredictable work contrasts with the relative security that characterized the three decades following World War II. Precarious work constitutes a global challenge that has a wide range of consequences cutting across many areas of concern to sociologists. Hence, it is increasingly important to understand the new workplace arrangements that generate precarious work and worker insecurity. A focus on employment relations forms the foundation of theories of the institutions and structures that generate precarious work and the cultural and individual factors that influence people's responses to uncertainty.
Various studies on work intensification, on its development, its origins and its consequences.

Recommended Book Shelf

The 99 Percent Economy

by Paul Adler

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

by Thomas Piketty

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power: Barack Obama's Books of 2019

by Shoshana Zuboff

The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy

by Richard A. Posner

The Crisis Of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered

by George Soros

The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism

by David Harvey

Rebalancing Society

by Henry Mintzberg

The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again

by Robert D. Putnam

Debt: The First 5,000 Years

by David Graeber

Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power

by Noam Chomsky

A Brief History of Neoliberalism

by David Harvey

The End of Alchemy

by Mervyn King

The Global Minotaur: America, Europe, and the Future of the Global Economy

by Yanis Varoufakis

Globalization and its Discontents Revisited

by Joseph Stiglitz

The Affluent Society

by John Kenneth Galbraith

Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

by E.F. Schumacher

Black Skin, White Masks

by Frantz Fanon

Prosperity: Better Business Makes the Greater Good

by Colin Mayer

Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

by Mark Fisher

The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power

by Joel Bakan

onwards and upwards!

Journey Map