Embracing spiritual capitalism for economic sustainability

Businessman-turned-charity founder Ali Horriyat is on a mission to put spirituality and equality, not exploitation and profit, at the heart of modern-day capitalism.

Horriyat hit the headlines after giving away his entire $100million personal fortune to highlight climate change and the environmental risk of capitalism.

In this exclusive article for Business Matters, the philanthropist, social reform campaigner, and CEO of The Hope and Harmony Humanitarian Trust (HHH Trust) argues that modern capitalism must be replaced with spiritual capitalism if humanity is to survive into the next century.

The current social model of capitalism is often attributed to 18th century social philosopher Adam Smith, considered the “father of modern capitalism”.

The connection of capitalism to Smith, however, is unfortunate. If we read Smith’s understanding of economic structure, we notice an ever-widening gap between his observations and modern capitalism.

Much of his masterwork, The Wealth of Nations, advises on ways to benefit society as a whole. It is not a guidebook to individual wealth generation; the word “greed” appears only once across its 1,000 pages.

Smith never discusses capitalism by design. He often refers to the economic element within the total social structure of society as “commercial society”. He believed primarily that the morality of a nation will guide its social development and, while economics is important to progress, it is but one element of society.

He would consistently remind the reader that a just society that will advance through developmental stages via a growing economy is one that cares as much for its poor as its wealthiest.

Even the idea of a laissez-faire capitalism was not Smith’s creation. While he studied free trade, and wrote on the manner in which economic equilibrium can be attained through the market’s self-adjusting mechanisms, he was in favour of a society that is governed justly for the protection of the vulnerable in society.

Capitalism today is disharmonious. It is also highly immoral, dysfunctional, and destructive, based on the goal of profit maximisation. If Adam Smith had indeed promoted such behaviour that the richest indulge in today then history would have labelled him a villain.

He never said that banks should individually seek profit maximisation, never sharing the benefit of economic growth with the public. He also never suggested that a well-governed society is one which bails out its elite in financial recessions. Yet, that is exactly what happened in the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

We learned that while profiting, our richest view profit as an individual endeavour; while incurring loss, our richest relate to economic loss from a socialist perspective of a societal concern. Our tax contributions went directly to bailouts of immoral capitalists while the public suffered immensely for the recession bankers caused in greed.

Far from this ideal of selfish pursuit of profit maximization as the end goal, which truly became the Achilles heel of modern capitalism, Smith was promoting societal betterment by pushing for a more rewarding system for the efforts toward a greater public service.

Today, capitalism is a model that corruptively and greedily suppresses any of the moral ideals Smith championed while promoting a system of governance comprising financial domination by wealthy segment acting in self-interest and preservation.

We have spent the better part of the century misconstruing Smith’s socio-political treatise of economics in order to crown a villain as the father of financial genocide. I propose revisiting Smith in order that we may be fair in making reparation.

Spiritual capitalism, or ‘social capitalism’, would align with Smith’s ideals. For Smith, the purpose of benefit to the individual rested not in profit maximisation. Instead, he believed that people would perform efficiently and seek to present their best effort if rewarded for their contribution.

In turn, the important part of this reward would be that the public, collectively, benefited most from each individual’s highest-quality output. According to Smith, the benevolence of social capitalism would halt the progress of greed. As an individual became greedy, and functioned in a manner contrary to public good, the government would interfere in protecting the public. More so, if the government did not interfere then the moral abidance of the public would steer the selfish person away from causing public harm.

The extreme of this interference becomes either socialism or communism. Smith was not advocating either of those exclusively, but was suggesting for government to ensure a just environment protecting all members of public. He envisaged an economic system in which the general regulation of the market is left to the public’s appeal, influenced by the competitive drive and leading to more superior end products. Government interference is required to control foul play which may reduce overall benefit to the whole, and societal moral standards reflect an ethical standard that advances the economy aiding the development of society as a whole.

Tying this together would generate a model in which spirituality, politics, and economics play substantial roles to perfect its social model for the betterment of life for all members. This is, in essence, social capitalism.

To elevate social capitalism to a functional model, there needs to be a primary purpose for the individual to care for the whole. The idea of upholding moral value is grand but today’s economic version of cutthroat, murderous capitalism shows that moral values cannot overcome selfishness and profit maximisation.

This is where we need spiritual capitalism to replace social capitalism. Whereas social capitalism attempt to favour the whole instead of the selfish procurement of maximal profit, spiritual capitalism goes further to ensure that the meaning of life is understood through the value of economic benefit to society, however WITHOUT profit as the priority.

Morality is an existential essence. In this aspect, we can understand Smith’s concept of the commercial society as a society first and foremost which entails support, interaction, and harmony.

Support and harmony can spill over into the economic sphere to ensure sustainability. In selfishness we cut down every tree and make lots of money but now we are going to become extinct because of the negative effects. It matters not if we die in modern capitalism because life has no value in any laissez-faire economic model.

Therefore, following the modern capitalism model, though economically sound, makes no logical sense. The only reason we live the way we do is that we are delusional with respect to money.

Profit maximization to the delusional mind means ultimate happiness at the intersection of profit maximisation. However, being that profit is mathematically relative to that which we relate our life value of happiness, we can never truly achieve freedom or nirvana through profit maximisation because we continually seek the next rung elevating happiness. In short, we continue selfishly chasing the carrot on the hamster wheel.

Spiritual consciousness allows for safely stepping off the wheel. Once delusion subsides, we unveil the trouble we had subjected ourselves to.

The spiritual aspect within a spiritual commercial society, or spiritual capitalism, would attach two guidelines. Firstly, spirituality guards against egotism which ultimately energizes selfishness; and, secondly, spirituality promotes harmony in society.

Smith believed that humans have a natural desire to develop. The purpose of bettering oneself is the desire for a more secure life, and the most valuable trait of this improvement is maintaining life, without which there can be no improvement. Therefore, it is in the interest of preserving the self that we present our best effort.

Ironically, the self-interest concept turns communal because my best effort will produce what will then be enjoyed by another to a value capacity of my ability. Once we learn to incorporate non-monetized values into our economic model then we can safely entertain competitive trades.

The trouble our capitalist model currently faces is that it is based on the success of the most selfish and greediest. If we witness a panda hoarding bamboo in the forest, fighting others to protect the stash, we would be shocked. If we see the panda trade bamboo with other hungry pandas for more superior benefits in return, we would suggest this panda is capitalizing on the community. If we observe the panda burning the remaining bamboo to raise the value of trade, we would call in veterinarians to isolate this panda and assess the disease.

Our delusion is so deep, however, that we perform just as the panda. Moreover, for the most successful human capitalist we offer the greatest reward and praise for this accomplishment. We all need a doctor!

The goal in redefining the modern understanding of capitalism is to redirect people, the commercial society, to a harmonious purpose, functioning collectively in a specialized labour force allocating resources efficiently and sustainably to service the entire planet.

Spiritual capitalism should be the economic pursuit of global happiness maximisation. If we leave it to regulation to protect life and the environment, we will fail because the wealthiest corporations view regulations, fines, and other hindering instruments only as obstructions to overcome financially.

If corporations do not change their economic models immediately to prioritise spiritual purpose then, simply put, we will not have a world in which these corporations can trade.

For more information about the HHH Trust, visit www.hhhtrust.org.