How would you reinvent Capitalism? (Corporate consciousness)

Note: Last week, I received the following email from The Nation magazine seeking my input on their upcoming special issue on “Reimagining Capitalism.” I am unfamiliar with this publication and I’m sure how I got on their mailing list. Their email reads,

“The Nation asked sixteen activists and economic thinkers, “If you had the ability to reinvent American capitalism, where would you start? What would you change to make it less destructive and domineering, more focused on what people really need for fulfilling lives?”

Their responses provide a provocative sampler of smart ideas—concrete proposals for reforming the dysfunctional economic system in fundamental ways. These brief essays should stimulate imaginations and maybe start some healthy arguments. At the very least, they demonstrate that the nation is alive with fresh thinking and bold outlines for big change, and that we can change the way we talk about what’s possible.

Now we want to hear from you. Send us your succinct proposal—not more than 400 words please!—by July 4. We’ll publish a forum of reader responses with elaboration and annotations for the most imaginative ideas.
All the best,
Peter Rothberg
Associate Publisher, The Nation”

So, that’s the task, at hand. In August 2009, I wrote the following essay after the U.S. and global economic meltdown. That year, it was one of three commentaries, that I wrote, which were submitted to the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) by its Chair, Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, who’s a member of my audience. This piece has been modified and expanded to address this discussion. I think the issues raised back then continue to ring true and remain unaddressed in the halls of academia, in corporate boardrooms, in the media, on Wall Street and in our nation’s capitol.

I have decided to share this essay with some of my audience members – those teaching at some of the U.S.’s and the U.K.’s top business schools: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, Northwestern, UCLA, USC and London. All were added beginning in 2010 and have never had an opportunity to read the original version.



P.S. I should disclose that I am a corporate dropout having worked for seven, large and small, companies in an eight-year span (1996-2004) where I was fired from four of my sales jobs before quitting altogether. I’ve drawn great insight from this experience, but it’s not my only perspective in writing this piece.

See below: Corporate consciousness

June 11, 2011

Corporate consciousness


Ted Burnett

Dear The Nation,

What’s lacking in American capitalism is consciousness, not smart ideas. We need honesty, truth, not just brains. That’s what’s gotten us in all this trouble. As defined by Wikipedia, consciousness is often used colloquially to describe being awake and aware—responsive to the environment, in contrast to being asleep or in a coma.

The American business community and industry for way too long have been “asleep at the wheel” in how they operate from procuring their raw materials, from sensitive regions in the U.S. and from around the world, to how they manufacture their goods and the byproducts they generate – the hazardous pollutants dumped on the land, pumped in the air and water, to their conduct within their organizations (how they treat their employees) and their external communication (how honest is their PR and advertising?).

Investors, the citizen/taxpayer should demand this, but sadly we don’t know to because we’ve all been brainwashed, we’ve all been lied to, for so long, about how these reasonable and responsible needs would negatively impact their bottom line. Instead, our society unfairly shoulders some of their real costs of doing business – economically, environmentally, politically, socially and spiritually without ever enjoying some of the profits. We’ve always been slaves to this wonderful economic system called capitalism. Ouch! Old southern plantations have long been replaced with factories, mills, plants, towering glass and metal office buildings in business districts across America and nobody’s anymore free than the African slaves were while working in the fields. Yea, we get paid, but even that’s become stagnant.

Leading up to the economic meltdown not one member from any of these industries – mortgage lending, banking, Wall Street brokerage firms and investment banking or insurance “blew the whistle” on the overheating of their company, their industry or our economy.

Too hungry for illusionary revenue and profits, all had their heads buried deep in the sand and they saw no problems on their radar screen until the storm had already hit. There was no awareness by any of these smart executives working in their boardrooms, on Wall Street or in Washington. The systems were too impotent to respond to the threat. The basic problem is a lack of housekeeping. Nobody wanted to face reality, so instead they chose to live in a blind state of insanity, and was it ever? There was nothing random about the impending man-made storm, so why didn’t any of their wonderful algorithms detect it? Its 2011, has anything changed?

Smart ideas, whatever they look like, won’t cut it in a society that’s already bankrupt and on the verge of, either, a total collapse or a revolution. We need a God-consciousness in how American companies operate going forward. Profit can’t be the sole purpose or the entire mission statement for why an organization exists; it must share the same healthy environmental, political, social and spiritual values as our new society. Otherwise, it remains a threat and will ultimately cannibalize the very society that it’s serving. What do I mean by cannibalize?

Look up the average debt load each American now carries and note the lack of any personal savings. We’re giving them our entire paycheck and then some. They’re eating us alive. That’s insane. Capitalism as we know it is artificial, it’s inflated. It’s based heavily on the created demand, caused by marketing and advertising, and not based on our intuitive needs. Awareness and the organic economy are the real answers to repeating these expensive national economic crashes where nobody ever learns a damn thing.

So, I say, “Clean house and keep the lawn mowed!”

Ted Burnett
Daphne, AL US

Copyright © 2009 – 11. All Rights Reserved. “Corporate consciousness” by Ted Burnett.

My other essays can be viewed at my blog – I can be contacted via email at – My biography can be viewed at

 Ted Burnett: I'm an American thought leader and pioneer on the subjects of human, organizational and societal development and health. I write about the role that integrity, dignity, sanity play, as well as, on the topics of spirituality, faith, freedom, happiness, problem solving and risk taking. I produce and deliver original, world-class commentaries on business, political, social and spiritual matters to a global audience of world leaders, chief executives and key decision makers, top faculty and notables in the fields of academia, banking, business, foundations, government (including heads of state, lawmakers and governors), healthcare, media, non-profits and policy institutes. Website: