The history and evolution of capitalism - exploring the polycrises inherent in our contemporary economic system!


Before embarking on the journey, please read the Good Organisations (draft) manifesto to familiarise yourself with the concept.

the good organISations manifesto (Click on the icon for pdf)

In this article we argue that a more fundamental change in how we think about work and how we design organisations is necessary. We build on neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics and suggest that a shift towards “eudaimocracy” might help to craft organisations that foster “organisational aliveness” and contribute positively to society. Drawing upon moral philosophy, sociology, complexity science and positive psychology we start to develop a set of principles and practices that could pragmatically bridge business ethics and management. In this context, we especially highlight the need to revise institutional governance, establish virtuous communities and develop practical wisdom and agency across the organisation. Using the concrete example of traditional HR processes, we examine how a novel approach could help to foster individual and collective flourishing and more radically address some of the shortfall of previous approaches.

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The Hunt for Good Organisations Commences!

Learning Journey

We being by Framing the Transformation Context. Beyond the known scenarios of technological disruption and market dynamics, we examine capitalism's flaws and explore its root causes, delving into the history and evolution of the corporate social responsibility movement. This section broadens our horizons to get us thinking about how organisations could contribute to improve our economic system beyond capitalism. For those who have never thought much about moral philosophy, this is an opportunity to get up to speed and ready for departure.

Core Concepts (click icons to jump to discovery)

Capitalism is Failing (1)

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

Root Causes of the Crises of Capitalism (2)

Reflect on the root causes of this alleged failure. Why doesn't the "invisible hand" appear to work effectively? How does capitalism contribute to crises like climate change and growing inequality, both within and across countries?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Has Not Worked (3)

Critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism are not new. Why is business failing to address the problems?

How Could Our Economy Improve Beyond Capitalism?

Based on all of the above, note down in your journal some personal reflections. What would you suggest should we do?


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 Transformation Context: Business As A Force For Bad

In the early stages of our exploration into exemplary organizations, we embarked on a quest to pinpoint some of the most pressing concerns within contemporary capitalism. Our intent was to glean valuable lessons from the current shortcomings and challenges, seeking to understand how we might mitigate the associated suffering. To delve deeper, we conducted interviews to examine the crises of capitalism and their underlying root causes. Simultaneously, we delved into a plethora of concepts and proposals aimed at adjusting, reforming, or even revolutionizing our existing economic system.

Click on each concept heading to learn more...

🗁 Concept 1: we can no longer ignore that Capitalism is in crisis (left slide)
So where are we and our businesses today? I hate to say so, but in spite of all of us trying hard, despite countless restructurings, agile transformations, government interventions, yoga classes, it seems many of our organizations are still more suffering machines than wellsprings of well-being; Mental and physical health in the workplace are decreasing almost everywhere in the world. Here in the UK, 74% of the working population professes to be stressed out. Whilst the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is literally “taking the world by its ears”, our organisations have collectively produced numerous outcomes that nobody really wanted —burnout and loneliness, inequality and hunger, and ecological collapse. And, sadly, when people ask me about good organisations, I often find it much easier to provide examples of bad organisations. Some treat their employees as expendable, adhering to antiquated, oppressive production methods. Others exploit natural resources without concern for the environment or future generations, or produce harmful products, often deliberately concealing the truth about them. Often managers lack moral standards and focus solely on generating profit without contributing value, or even paying taxes. No surprise, that in a recent survey 56% of global citizens believe “capitalism does more harm than good”.
🗁 Concept 2: there are multiple ROOT causes for ITS decline (middle slide)
If we take a closer look, we can see that our economy has been drifting on dangerous currents for a while. Not only did society friction as Robert Putnam shows, but also as Karl Polanyi so brilliantly stated in his Great transformations, we invented instrumental rationalism and fictitious commodities – human life became labour, relational community and assistance became financial exchange and money, and nature became land and property. Man proudly declared that all the world was up for sale!

From being mainly focused on public interests 2 centuries back – to explore new territories, build public roads or provide critical services – we moved towards family enterprises and private entrepreneurs who still were careful in balancing private and public interests – to eventually craft ever larger global corporations who ended up in cementing an absolute aristocracy of shareholders and their interests. Today, we ever more often see corporations pulling all the stops, including the sensible ones, to please their feudal patrons: perpetuating wasteful consumerism to lure customers, exercising monopoly power on their platforms against competitors, exploiting employees, suppliers and finite resources, or seeking to influence national governments in a single-minded pursuits of ever faster growth. And at the same time, we are living the inversion of principle-agency relationships through an increasing financialisation of the economy: where investor-shareholders do not any longer care about the businesses they own as going concerns, but simply seek to extract maximum private return on invested capital.

Interestingly, I often encounter very clever people who tell me very earnestly not to worry because technology will save the day. And, frankly, that makes me even more worried. I strongly believe that technology often unwittingly amplifies what is already in our minds. As Steve Jobs once quipped: robots don’t have dreams! If we forget our own humanity, how can we expect our robots to cherish life. Technology is always what we make of it: it can unleash unimagined opportunities but also harbours the spectre of even more suffering. Rather than being threatened by the long shadows of power-hungry bureaucrats we could soon find ourselves exploited not by nasty bosses but by not-so-intelligent data-driven algorithms. 
🗁 Concept 3: attempts to reform capitalism have mostly failed (right slide)
The inconvenient truth is that the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement, in many cases, has failed miserably. What we witness today is nothing short of purpose-washing—a desperate attempt to slap a shiny veneer of social consciousness on organizations that continue, at their core, to be driven by profit above all else. Adding solar panels to the roof of our head offices might change the optics, but won't change the destruction of the environment. Hiring Purpose Officers or linking executive bonuses to ESG ratings will not stop the exploitation of workers. Adding free yoga classes won't magically fix what's fundamentally broken and look mostly like a cynical ploy to maintain the status quo.

Hence, I believe the time has come for us to take a step back. Our businesses have worshipped and propagated a seductively materialistic and individualistic narrative, where individual freedom, money and property have become ends in themselves. We are losing our own humanity in a hubristic treadmill of growth for growth’s sake. So, what do we really believe in? What do we really stand for? These questions are both existential and fundamental. We create our organisations for a purpose, to achieve something together which individually we could not achieve. And I strongly believe that 50 years after Milton Friedman’s famous “the business of business is business”, both personal and organisational “success” must transcend a quest for money and shareholder value. The question is: how...


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.

3 - csr has not worked
The Sustainability Lie: Why Responsibility Comes First

Isn’t it funny that sustainability is on everybody’s lips these days, but environmental and societal degradation are occurring at unprecedented levels? And ain’t it curious that the planet is burning, but few people in (solar-powered!) corporate or political headquarters are sweating?
(6 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.

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 (, 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.
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: CSR Has Not Worked

Core Concept 3: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Has Not Worked

Please reflect for yourself: Critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism are not new. Why is business failing to address the problems?

1) What is CSR (and Corporate Sustainability)?
2) What are the reasons why CSR is not working?
3) Can CSR work within a Capitalistic system? 

Corporate responsibility and sustainability tackle the relationship between business and society. However, the two fields of study have converged to become deeply entangled and blurred so that researchers from both research traditions now speak to the same business risks and opportunities. A field’s development is shaped by the clarity of its constructs and underlying assumptions; however, such clarity has eroded in responsibility and sustainability research. By tracing the development of these fields, we show that responsibility and sustainability were historically distinctive. Responsibility research took a normative position, railing against the amorality of business; sustainability research took a systems perspective, sounding the alarm of business-driven failures in natural systems. The convergence in responsibility and sustainability has not only confused constructs but has also vacated vast tracts of unexplored territory that can inform the relationship between business and society.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is failing at the very time it is emerging as a new discipline. This has implications not only for CSR itself, but also other disciplines wanting to understand the role of the private sector in the global political economy. This article highlights some of the evidence for this failure, but more significantly shows how it is rooted in an orthodoxy that the discipline has created but is unable to examine. As a result, CSR treats as ideationally and historically neutral particular concepts and practices that define what business’s relationship with wider society can mean. The article uses the perspectives of different social science disciplines to reveal the structural dimensions to CSR and some of their consequences. It proposes an alternative analytical framework for use by CSR and as an entry point for international relations and other disciplines wanting to understand the ways in which business shapes and responds to globalisation and influences the possibilities of contemporary society and governance.

A corporation is considered responsible when it attends to the evident conditions of some social or environmental problem. But imagine how much more responsible it would be to address the underlying cause of that problem? Finding a new way to recycle waste may be good, but helping to reduce the generation of that waste is better. Not good, however, is Coca-Cola’s promotion of exercise programs for obese children, because its own products are a significant cause of that obesity. This, like greenwashing—pretending to be environmentally friendly—borders on what we can call Corporate Social Irresponsibility, or CSI. Read more on corporate irresponsbility in this article by Henry Mintzberg.

Corporate social responsibility has become an important topic for both academics and practitioners. CSR typically stands for corporate responses to ethical, environmental and social issues. Whilst extant research has predominately focused on CSR in relation to external stakeholders and taking a macro-institutional and/or functionalist perspective, we provide a critical engagement with the interactions between CSR, employees and management control within organizations. Qualitative data gathered at two management consultancy firms demonstrate how CSR discourses and practices serve to construct an idealized image of a socially, ecologically and ethically responsible corporate self. In this way, CSR works as a form of aspirational control that ties employees’ aspirational identities and ethical conscience to the organization. The article discusses the implications of CSR concerning cynical distancing, ethical sealing and the space for politics and critique in corporations.

Climate change represents the grandest of challenges facing humanity. In the space of two centuries of industrial development, human civilization has changed the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans, with devastating consequences. Business organizations are central to this challenge, in that they support the production of escalating greenhouse gas emissions but also offer innovative ways to decarbonize our economies. In this paper, we examine how businesses respond to climate change. Here the authors Wright and Nyberg develop a grounded model that explains how the revolutionary import of grand challenges is converted into the mundane and comfortable concerns of “business as usual.” We find that critique is the major driver of this process by continuously revealing the tensions between the demands of the grand challenge and business imperatives. Our paper contributes to the literature on business and the natural environment by identifying how and why corporate environmental initiatives deteriorate over time. More specifically, we highlight the policy limitations of a reliance on business and market responses to the climate crisis.

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

Responsible Business: How to Manage a CSR Strategy Successfully

by Manfred Pohl, Nick Tolhurst

The End Of Corporate Social Responsibility

by Peter Fleming, Marc Jones

onwards and upwards!

Journey Map