Stacked against the expediency of most American commerce, Whole Foods is a stand-out: It rewards its employees reasonably, emphasizes their autonomy and creativity, pays its execs at non-plutocratic multiples, sets standards for animal welfare, gives a leg-up to artisan producers, has strong environmental commitments, uses 100% renewable power. And so forth. It is also profitable. Last year, Whole Foods had sales of $11.7 billion, and income of $744 million.
Is it a model for the future of capitalism?
John Mackey, who founded the supermarket in the late ’70s, thinks so. And his new book, Conscious Capitalism, written with the marketing professor Raj Sisodia, lays out the plan in great detail. According to the authors, Whole Foods is in the vanguard – along with Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Panera Bread, UPS, and others – of a new type of business: purpose-driven, inclusive of stakeholders, capable of “doing what is right because they believe it is right.” And they want others to join them, not only because it’s the right thing, but because capitalism itself needs saving.
“Businesspeople have allowed the ethical basis of free-enterprise capitalism to be hijacked intellectually by economists and critics who have foisted on it a narrow, self-serving, and inaccurate identity devoid of inherent ethical justification,” the authors say. Capitalism has an “intrinsic goodness and virtue” – but too many managers operate with “low-consciousness,” and believe “profit maximization” is their only responsibility. The result has been significant environmental impacts, “stressful and unfulfilling working conditions,” “unhealthy appetites and addictions,” and a fall in business’s social legitimacy.
The solution is “conscious capitalism,” which involves companies appreciating their “higher purpose,” so that stakeholders are “less likely to care only about their immediate, narrowly defined self-interest.” It means integrating stakeholders to “create win-win-win-win-win-win … solutions to transcend … conflicts and create a harmony of interests.” It means developing leaders with “finely developed systems intelligence” that “transcends the limitations of the analytical mind that focuses on differences, conflicts and tradeoffs.” And it means a work environment based around “decentralization, empowerment, and collaboration.”
Tradução: há que voltar a Keynes, mas só se a ideia for mesmo a de salvar o capitalismo de si próprio.