Capitalism 2.0: How natural laws can create a more equal economy
Lions, lightning, and rivers all have one thing in common. We can use the laws of nature to build a regenerative economy and fix rampant inequality.
John Fullerton is the founder and president of Capital Institute, a non-partisan organization working to create a more just and sustainable way of living on earth through the implementation of a Regenerative Economy.
After spending years immersed in the sustainability challenge of our age following his Wall Street career, John is now a globally-recognized thought leader in the New Economy space. The architect of the concept of Regenerative Capitalism, John is the author of Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns Will Shape the New Economy and the Future of Finance blog.
JOHN FULLERTON: So living systems have—one of my teachers is Sally Goerner. She was our science advisor until she retired and we still draw on her work extensively. She taught us that living systems have what are called healthy hierarchies. So it's not that hierarchy is bad; it's that hierarchy where the top extracts from below is definitely bad and unsustainable.
So, take the lion in the forest or in the jungle; the lion is at the top of the food chain, but the lion sits around sleeping most the day rather than eating and killing all day, and the lion, therefore, serves a very healthy purpose, hierarchical purpose, in the food chain, keeping the balance between smaller animals and large animals. But when the king of the jungle decides to extract as much as possible for its own benefit you have a very unhealthy system, and unfortunately that pretty well describes how the modern capitalist system works where there are benefits of scale, the bigger get bigger, they get more powerful, they get more political influence, but their intention is to maximize shareholder value because that's what we do. So the cycle of growing inequality is sort of locked into the system design.
Now how we deal with that in a human economy is not trivial: the oak tree "knows" in a forest that it serves to support a lot of life. I suspect the only answer in the short-term we have in a human economy is an enlightened regulatory regime that understands these principles and has incentives and disincentives that cause the market players to move toward a more healthy hierarchy. So, for example, in the banking sector—and this actually exists post-financial crisis, it's just not extreme enough—there are disincentives to becoming big and complex, they're just not strong enough. They should, in my opinion, be strong enough that it would force the J.P. Morgans and the Goldman Sachs' of the world to, of their own the volition, become smaller and less complex and become more in alignment in service of the economy. So things they do that are extractive should get penalized and the things they do that are in service of the real economy, which they do do, should get incentivized. So you don't need to "break up the banks", you need to create an incentive system that causes them to behave in such a way that they would be aligned with the principles of living systems—which by the way are fractal.
Every living system, again going back to your body, your cardiovascular system is fractal. You have a few large veins, a lot of medium-sized veins and tons and tons of the capillaries. That fractal system exists in oak trees and in humans and in river systems and in lightning bolts. So it's a strong argument in favor of not allowing the banking system or any sector of the economy to be so concentrated with a few massive firms that then end up undermining the health of the small ones, which is essentially what's happened across our entire economy.
So, my work around this idea of regenerative economics started through this journey of discovery, trying to wrestle with what's actually at the root cause of our modern economic system. And that's a bit of a long story, but I can't really jump to the conclusion without giving a little bit of context. So I think we're in a much bigger shift than most of us yet realize. We're in a shift in an understanding of how our economies actually have to work. And we've been in what is called the modern age since the scientific revolution, and the secret to the modern age or the magic of the modern age was the scientific method and reducing what's complicated into buckets that can be understood. And that reductionist method has been the driver of great progress in many, many areas. An iPhone or a bicycle or a car are all products of a reductionist mindset, and since we've been in that mode for 400 years it's literally baked into our DNA at this point.
The only problem with a reductionist method is that it's not the way the universe actually works. You, as an individual, are not the sum of the parts of your body and you know that you're only healthy if those parts are all working symbiotically together as a whole. The reductionist method, what people refer to as the mechanistic age, doesn't allow us to keep track of the whole. And many of the problems that are manifesting in our economy I believe have a root cause in the limitation of the reductionist method.
So, for example, we discover oil, we burn oil, we have all this great growth and all this great progress, but we didn't know burning oil would release gases to the point that we would heat the climate, so it's an unintended consequence that only with a holistic understanding of how gases in the atmosphere affect the weather systems that are linked to our energy use could one have seen that problem.
So now we're trapped in a system that is burning fossil fuels at greater and greater rates, and yet we already have the consequences of climate change with predictions that are literally dire for humanity and other living species on the planet. So, to get to a regenerative economy you first have to say, well, that system is fundamentally unsustainable, it cannot go on forever. And we will either burn up the planet or on the social side, we will increase inequality to the point that we have civil strife and civil wars.
And so my search was really for how could one design an economic system that didn't have those outcomes? And I know I'm not smart enough to figure those out so the idea is really very simple: living systems that sustain themselves in the natural world work in accordance with certain patterns and principles. Your body does, an entire rainforest does. And so the work we're doing at Capital Institute, which is building on the shoulders of many, many people that have been thinking this way for literally centuries, this holistic approach to understanding systems is really the root or the source of what this idea is that we call regenerative economies.
So, think of a regenerative economy as the design principles that work in sustainable living systems, it's the process that allows a system to be sustainable. As opposed to sustainability, which is kind of a goal, which is—boy if we could just reduce these problems we can get to sustainability. We believe you only have a sustainable system—whether it's a human person or an entire ecosystem or a business or an entire economy—if it follows the same patterns and principles that living systems work in accordance with. And what's magical about it is that it turns out those principles and patterns are very aligned with the wisdom traditions, eastern, western, but eastern in particular, and indigenous that have been around for many, many thousands of years.
So, at the end of the day, my argument is: either make the case that the human economy is the only example of a system that doesn't need to obey the same patterns and principles that all other living systems—that sustain themselves—follow, or we better figure out how to get the human economy in alignment with those principles. And regenerative economics is the beginning of an inquiry into what that looks like and how one might actually manifest that in the world.
- The modern economy is an example of an unhealthy hierarchy, says John Fullerton, founder and president of Capital Institute. Unlike all other living systems, its design is not sustainable.
- The laws of nature show how hierarchies can be healthy: "The lion is at the top of the food chain, but the lion sits around sleeping most the day rather than eating and killing all day," says Fullerton. All nature is hierarchical, but sustainable; look at the similar branching patterns of tree roots, river systems, lightning bolts, and our own cardiovascular system.
- How can we modify capitalism to become self-sustaining? Financial incentives and disincentives could create a regenerative economy that reduces inequality. If we do not design a better kind of capitalism, "we will increase inequality to the point that we have civil strife and civil wars."
Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Are we enslaved by the finer things in life?
- The Roman writer, Tacitus, argued that the Roman Empire was built by enslaving conquered people who became accustomed to fine living and luxury.
- Technology today has become so essential to our daily lives that it seems impossible to break free of it. It's as much a cage as a luxury.
- Being dependent on a thing gives it power over you. To need something or someone is, for better or worse, to limit yourself.
- There was a massive die-off of marine life 359 million years ago, and nobody knows why.
- A new study proposes that the Late Devonian extinction may have been caused by one or more nearby supernovae.
- The supernova hypothesis could be confirmed if scientists can find "the green bananas of the isotope world" in the geologic record.
Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.
- An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
- Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
- Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
The plica semilunaris<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NDg5NTg1NX0.kdBYMvaEzvCiJjcLEPgnjII_KVtT9RMEwJFuXB68D8Q/img.png?width=980" id="59914" width="429" height="350" data-rm-shortcode-id="b11e4be64c5e1f58bf4417d8548bedc7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The human eye in alarming detail. Image source: Henry Gray / Wikimedia commons<p>At the inner corner of our eyes, closest to the nasal ridge, is that little pink thing, which is probably what most of us call it, called the caruncula. Next to it is the plica semilunairs, and it's what's left of a third eyelid that used to — ready for this? — blink horizontally. It's supposed to have offered protection for our eyes, and some birds, reptiles, and fish have such a thing.</p>
Palmaris longus<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzQ1NjUwMn0.dVor41tO_NeLkGY9Tx46SwqhSVaA8HZQmQAp532xLxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="879be" width="1920" height="2560" data-rm-shortcode-id="4089a32ea9fbb1a0281db14332583ccd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmaris longus muscle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> We don't have much need these days, at least most of us, to navigate from tree branch to tree branch. Still, about 86 percent of us still have the wrist muscle that used to help us do it. To see if you have it, place the back of you hand on a flat surface and touch your thumb to your pinkie. If you have a muscle that becomes visible in your wrist, that's the palmaris longus. If you don't, consider yourself more evolved (just joking).</p>
Darwin's tubercle<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NjgxMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODUyNjA1MX0.8RuU-OSRf92wQpaPPJtvFreOVvicEwn39_jnbegiUOk/img.jpg?width=980" id="687a0" width="819" height="1072" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff5edf0a698e0681d11efde1d7872958" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Darwin's tubercle. Image source: Wikimedia commons<p> Yes, maybe the shell of you ear does feel like a dried apricot. Maybe not. But there's a ridge in that swirly structure that's a muscle which allowed us, at one point, to move our ears in the direction of interesting sounds. These days, we just turn our heads, but there it is.</p>
Goosebumps<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzEyNTc2Nn0.aVMa5fsKgiabW5vkr7BOvm2pmNKbLJF_50bwvd4aRo4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d8420" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="8827e55511c8c3aed8c36d21b6541dbd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Goosebumps. Photo credit: Tyler Olson via Shutterstock<p>It's not entirely clear what purpose made goosebumps worth retaining evolutionarily, but there are two circumstances in which they appear: fear and cold. For fear, they may have been a way of making body hair stand up so we'd appear larger to predators, much the way a cat's tail puffs up — numerous creatures exaggerate their size when threatened. In the cold, they may have trapped additional heat for warmth.</p>
Tailbone<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQwMjc3N30.nBGAfc_O9sgyK_lOUo_MHzP1vK-9kJpohLlj9ax1P8s/img.jpg?width=980" id="9a2f6" width="1440" height="1440" data-rm-shortcode-id="4fe28368d2ed6a91a4c928d4254cc02a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Decade3d-anatomy online via Shutterstock<p>Way back, we had tails that probably helped us balance upright, and was useful moving through trees. We still have the stump of one when we're embryos, from 4–6 weeks, and then the body mostly dissolves it during Weeks 6–8. What's left is the coccyx.</p>
The palmar grasp reflex<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA5NzMyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY0MDY5NX0.OSwReKLmNZkbAS12-AvRaxgCM7zyukjQUaG4vmhxTtM/img.jpg?width=980" id="8804c" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="67542ee1c5a85807b0a7e63399e44575" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Palmar reflex activated! Photo credit: Raul Luna on Flickr<p> You've probably seen how non-human primate babies grab onto their parents' hands to be carried around. We used to do this, too. So still, if you touch your finger to a baby's palm, or if you touch the sole of their foot, the palmar grasp reflex will cause the hand or foot to try and close around your finger.</p>
Other people's suggestions<p>Amir's followers dove right in, offering both cool and questionable additions to her list. </p>
Fangs?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Lower mouth plate behind your teeth. Some have protruding bone under the skin which is a throw back to large fangs. Almost like an upsidedown Sabre Tooth.</p>— neil crud (@neilcrud66) <a href="https://twitter.com/neilcrud66/status/1085606005000601600?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hiccups<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sure: <a href="https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG">https://t.co/DjMZB1XidG</a></p>— Stephen Roughley (@SteBobRoughley) <a href="https://twitter.com/SteBobRoughley/status/1085529239556968448?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Hypnic jerk as you fall asleep<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What about when you “jump” just as you’re drifting off to sleep, I heard that was a reflex to prevent falling from heights.</p>— Bann face (@thebanns) <a href="https://twitter.com/thebanns/status/1085554171879788545?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <p> This thing, often called the "alpha jerk" as you drop into alpha sleep, is properly called the hypnic jerk,. It may actually be a carryover from our arboreal days. The <a href="https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html" target="_blank" data-vivaldi-spatnav-clickable="1">hypothesis</a> is that you suddenly jerk awake to avoid falling out of your tree.</p>
Nails screeching on a blackboard response?<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Everyone hate the sound of fingernails on a blackboard. It's _speculated_ that this is a vestigial wiring in our head, because the sound is similar to the shrill warning call of a chimp. <a href="https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN">https://t.co/ReyZBy6XNN</a></p>— Pet Rock (@eclogiter) <a href="https://twitter.com/eclogiter/status/1085587006258888706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Ear hair<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ok what is Hair in the ears for? I think cuz as we get older it filters out the BS.</p>— Sarah21 (@mimix3) <a href="https://twitter.com/mimix3/status/1085684393593561088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Nervous laughter<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">You may be onto something. Tooth-bearing with the jaw clenched is generally recognized as a signal of submission or non-threatening in primates. Involuntary smiling or laughing in tense situations might have signaled that you weren’t a threat.</p>— Jager Tusk (@JagerTusk) <a href="https://twitter.com/JagerTusk/status/1085316201104912384?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 15, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Um, yipes.<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Sometimes it feels like my big toe should be on the side of my foot, was that ever a thing?</p>— B033? K@($ (@whimbrel17) <a href="https://twitter.com/whimbrel17/status/1085559016011563009?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 16, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Fifty years of research on children's toy preferences shows that kids generally prefer toys oriented toward their own gender.
- A recent meta-analysis overviewed 75 studies on children's gender-related toy preferences.
- The results found that "gender-related toy preferences may be considered a well-established finding."
- It's a controversial topic: Some people argue that these preferences stem from social pressure, while others say they're at least partly rooted in biology.