“Hello, my name is Lea and I am a capitalist.”


But that isn’t my problem. My problem is how capitalism is now viewed as the root of all evil, and not the source of good things, like innovation, jobs, and charitable contributions. So this 12-step program is not about how capitalists can recover from their “disease,” because capitalism is not a disease of greed. It is instead about how the perception of capitalism needs to be recovered.


Step One: Clarify the definition of capitalism


The first thing we need to do is recognize that we are all capitalists one way or another. You may want to deny it, but unless you have all the money and things you need and buy or sell anything, you are a capitalist. You are a capitalist if you expect to:


–        earn interest on your bank accounts

–        get a return on your investments

–        get paid for the work you do

–        get paid for things you sell

–        be compensated for your ideas (intellectual property)

–        collect rent for the offices, buildings, and spaces you own…


If monetary compensation or services and products (barter) are occurring, then you are a capitalist. If you work for a living and get paid a wage, you are a capitalist. Let’s be clear: Capitalism and greed are not synonymous. There may be greedy capitalists, but not all capitalists are greedy.


Now that we are starting with a new clarity of who is a capitalist, let’s take the next step.


Step Two: Admit there is a problem!


Most 12-step programs are about the individual and the changes he/she needs to make to take control of and be responsible for how life is lived, the choices being made and the actions taken (or not). This 12-Step Recovery Program for Capitalists is no different in dealing with the responsibility of the individual, which is to make capitalism respectable. While we all have a role, it is less about the individual (person or business) and more about the system that is in place (and still being created).


Reality is staring us in the face: The economy is suffering, job creation is needed, and we have a financial house of cards in which our (governmental) spending cannot be offset by taxation (unless we can find a way to get more than 100% of revenue from the capitalists, e.g., you and me). So our welfare (not the government program) is about a transactional system of exchange, which is capitalism. Capitalism is about a transfer or wealth from those who need a good or service to those who can provide it. (Note: There are those individuals in society who cannot take care of themselves due to mental or physical issues and capitalism provides for them through its support of charitable groups and government programs.)


Step 3: Gain perspective on “Them” and “Us”


I remember an example from a college class in which the professor asked the class to define “them” and “us” using the perspective of various wars. Over time, and with changes in relationships, the “us” and “them” changed. Allies become enemies and one-time enemies become allies. It is by and large perspective and self-interest that determines the definition.


With capitalism the “us versus them” definition of the “evil capitalist” fails to acknowledge that we are the owners of capitalism through our activities and the things we want. We are employed and make up the “ruthless, unfeeling corporation.” The portraying of corporations, private sector investment, bankers, Wall Street, and the “1%” as a faceless “them” is so wrong. We, us, you and me, work for, buy from, sell to, and own (what is your retirement plan invested in) the mechanisms and institutions of capitalism, whether directly or indirectly!


“Us” might be defined as those who sell something, and “Them” as those who buy something. Note the roles are constantly changing. Your employer buys your time and efforts making him/her “them,” and we (“us”) are selling our time to them. You buy a house from “them,” but the bank collects the mortgage from “us.”


This third step has to take into consideration our perspective. Where we are standing determines who is “us” and who is “them.” This also means that our perspective changes when it is your money or my money that is being discussed.


Okay, before you bring up Warren Buffet who wants all of us to pay more taxes, to Mr. Buffet I say, “You first.” I am a capitalist and a small business owner. I pay for my own health insurance. I hire individuals and companies to do work for me, creating demand for those jobs and paying them for the work they do. I make contributions to charitable groups. Other companies hire my firm to provide products and services.


I support family, friends, charities and my community. I work hard for every dollar. I was not born into wealth, but I was born in a country where I am wealthy in the opportunities I can choose to pursue. If I am not happy with what I do, who I work for, where I live, what I have … I can work to change any of those factors.


If someone isn’t willing to pay me a “living wage” then I can go work for someone else, get a second job, or start my own business.


Step Four: Stop being generous with my hard-earned money


It is always easier to be generous with someone else’s money. For instance I had a conversation several years ago with a 19-year-old. Her firm belief was that everyone should give up 50% of everything they earn for other people who “need” it. Then she proceeded to talk about all the things she wanted to buy with the great wealth she planned to earn and accumulate: A house on the lake, a speed boat, a Mercedes, a jet ski, trips around the world, jewelry, designer clothes, and so on. I congratulated her on her ambition and goals. Then I asked her which part of that was the 50% she was going to give up. Was it 50% of each paycheck? Was it 50% of everything after she had all the things on her list? Where was that 50% coming from and when? You can probably guess her response: Silence, and a quick end to the discussion.


This illustrates a point that I have observed time and again: capitalists are evil and greedy … until you become one. Now I have met some very greedy people. I have met some people who would do anything for that next “thing” they want, but they have been exceptions. Most business owners, corporate leaders, in both for-profit and non-profits, both small and large entities do want to make money, but it is much more about achievement with money as a metric of success than anything else. For many small business owners, they would make more money working for someone else (at least in the initial years of the business) than they take home at the end of the day, even before taxes.


Step Five: Invest in the mechanisms


A clock does not tell time if the mechanism doesn’t work. A key aspect to opportunity, wealth creation, and “fairness” is to have a system in which all the gears work together. A well-oiled clock with all the parts working is a system that generates a product: Accurate time. The capitalist system breaks when there is an imbalance or one of the gears is broken, frozen, or otherwise not meshing with the other components.


The capitalist clock consists of many gears, including private employers, employees, vendors, business owners, service providers, manufacturers, and event government. When one of the gears needs to be changed, it has to be a gear of similar size, shape, and function or the clock doesn’t work. If “more time” is needed, you don’t get it by putting in a bigger gear (government); you get it by building a bigger clock with all the gears playing a balanced role and all growing larger proportionately. Alternatively in some cases, one gear could even get smaller (government) while the other gears get larger and produce more …


Step Six: Get off the couch (literally and metaphorically)


Have you ever had a goal that once achieved you weren’t as satisfied as you expected to be? The pursuit of the goal and your perception of what it would be like turned out to be the better part of the experience (it certainly lasted longer).


Humans are creatures of action, not inertia. We get a feeling of accomplishment and self-respect from accomplishment. However, we are also needy. We want things, sometimes things that are not good for us, particularly if they’re “easy.” Too often if we are given a choice of sitting on the couch playing a video game or getting out and engaging in the game (of life, sports, competition, business, career, etc.) we will sit … and put off until tomorrow. It is easy to sit and do nothing, but it’s not the normal way we are meant to live. We have the free will to choose to sit, but just because we sit and do nothing, does not mean we are entitled to part of what others have when they have chosen to get off the couch and act, achieve, and create.


Step Seven: Get Government out of competition


Have you ever competed against a “free” government service? Well, the recipient may not have to pay for it, but you did … through your tax dollars. Government services may look like a good thing, but by squeezing out private sector companies from providing certain services means that many services will go away and the government will be the only source. Around the world governments are engaged in providing services best left to the private sector… that is IF you want to continue to generate new ideas, tax dollars, jobs, charitable contributions, and…


Step Eight: Ethics, morality, and good behavior cannot be legislated


We have another new agency to “protect” us as consumers. I’ve heard it on the news and read it in the papers. While health and safety regulations are needed, they can’t ultimately protect us, because they are there to only “catch” those who violate the rules. But in reality, the rule breakers will keep on breaking rules, and the rule followers will keep on doing the right thing.


What do you know about Enron, WorldCom, MF Global, Bernie Madoff, and a score or more of others? There were regulations and regulators, yet they still failed, broke laws, and caused tremendous negative consequences for the economy. How about the scandals in the non-profit sector?


Do we say non-profits are evil? No. Yet they too are engaged in capitalism: They make money and spend it. Oh, but they are “non” profit you may say. Non-profit does not mean NO profit; it means that the money made goes to support a cause, pay salaries, etc. I can hear you say, “But no money goes to a stockholder.” But it does go to people, sometimes to people and benefits that the donors didn’t intend. But we don’t hear a campaign to do away with non-profits (oh and many don’t even pay taxes).


Step Nine: Build it, buy it, sell it. The world keeps going round …


Does China give us their goods? Do they lend us money for free? Do you go to the store pick up a product off the shelf and leave without paying (legally that is)? The reality is that when one location in the world becomes unfavorable to business through taxes, regulations, etc. the jobs and business (wealth) goes to where there is favorable treatment. Even within a country this happens. Take the example of Boeing choosing to put jobs in South Carolina. The business conditions were more favorable in South Carolina, so they put the jobs there. What would happen if it were illegal or unfavorable for those jobs to be in South Carolina? Do you think Boeing would put the jobs in the United States? I would bet not … they have other off-shore options.


If we are to think of the economy in global context, as some government leaders want us to do, then is sending jobs offshore good or bad? Well when you, your family member, neighbor, or someone you know or care about is unemployed and wants/needs to work, do you want jobs in South Carolina or South America?


When we can have infrastructure projects that create jobs, make us energy independent, and prevent our hard earned dollars from flowing to countries that are against the U.S. interests, and our government says “no” (Keystone Oil Pipeline) … do we pay more at the gas pump and have a huge heating bill? Risk national security? Compromise independence? And say we don’t believe we are capable of creating jobs and protecting our environment?


You may think based on what you’ve heard of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (from the Deepwater Horizon) that the US must have one of the worst environmental recordsin the world. Or that it was unchecked corporate greed that caused the spill. How would you feel if you knew that in Uskinsk Russia that every two months the equivalent of a Deepwater Horizon scale “leak” occurs (per an AP Business Story dated December 17, 2011 entitled AP Enterprise: Russia oil spills wreak devastation by Nataliya Vasilyeva)? It doesn’t make the spill in the Gulf acceptable, but it does highlight that perspective is needed on how we view our role and constrain “capitalism” in the United States versus the world.


Step Ten: Pick a new theme song; how about Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive


You may not recall the song recorded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1944 Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive (music written by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Johnny Mercer), but it is something we should all practice. Criticism of capitalism stems from looking at those who do something wrong and generalizing it to include “all” capitalists. We are hypercritical of the mistakes and disregard or nitpick the successes as being “too successful.”


A colleague from Brazil put it this way when I asked how doing business in the United States differed from other countries: “In the U.S. you focus on what you have done wrong or things that have gone wrong. The rest of the world focuses on what they’ve done right and what worked.”


Now I am not advocating putting on rose-colored glasses, but I am advocating working for our country and not against it. I am also advocating that those who work, produce results, and achieve should be viewed as something to be proud of, and not the problem.


Achievement is the key to self-respect; it’s an internal measure versus self-esteem something we get through what others think of us. Our system needs to be about a hand up, not a hand out.


Step Eleven: Take responsibility, be accountable


When programs aren’t working, we all know it. If things work, it is obvious. Some signs that things are working:


–       More jobs are available than candidates (versus hundreds or thousands of candidates applying for a single job)

–       Free flow of capital to investment opportunities

–       Real monetary growth (i.e., GDP growth)

–       Prices on goods and services rise

–       Housing sales increase

–       Sound business practices (e.g., lending, investing)­ are in place across all business sectors

–       Tax revenues grow from having larger revenue base, not higher tax rates

–       Market enlarges, providing more competition and more opportunities


Driving down just about any street in the United States (with possible exception of areas around Washington, DC), you can see the effects of policies that aren’t working: “For rent” or “Going out of business” signs; empty and boarded up buildings; roads that need to be paved; bridges that need to be repaired; and parking lots that are nearly empty. Things are broken and continuing to deny it won’t make it better. A message for the government as well as for individuals: Take responsibility and be accountable! Don’t blame someone else when what you are doing doesn’t work. Learn. Evaluate. Do something different.



Step Twelve: Acknowledge a higher power than government


When it comes to government, especially a republic such as the United States, its citizens grant it the powers to act or withhold action. Government works for us. We do not work for the government.


Currently government attempts to put restraints on success. They want a bigger piece of the work and achievement of capitalists. Regulations, higher taxes, picking winners and losers through programs (through loans and bail outs), and a multitude of actions large and small, transparent and hidden are impeding our ability to succeed.


Without capitalists—and this includes business owners, entrepreneurs, corporations, small business, investors, mom and pop stores, independent contractors, and employees—we would have no funding for any venture. Whether we trade goods, services or use money as the means of exchange, the value that we place on the items being exchanged “makes the world go round” and enables advancements in technology, improved medical care, clean water, communication, and a means to survive and thrive. No, not everyone will partake of these benefits equally, but in proportion to what they contribute whatever that role may be. Whether by the sweat of their brow on a construction site or in a boardroom, building a dam or engineering it, writing a book or doing the books (accounting), every role is valuable, but valued differently. Without the thinkers and the creators of innovation, technology and transformation of ideas into things that can be built and used, there are no jobs.


It is not a matter of degree in education that ultimately decides how much you earn, but it is the degree that you work with a skill set that determines value. I’ve undoubtedly paid my plumber more for a house call and an hour’s work than I have my attorney. Why? Because when the plumbing is broken I need it now and I value that highly. When I need my attorney, I pay him his/her rate for the work performed based on how I value it. I get paid for my knowledge and expertise, to advise, write, and solve problems. We each (who work) labor in our own way … the wage or payment received is arrived at based on how those of us engaged in the transaction value the actions.


When government decides your wage (the value of your effort), there is one sure thing: It will undervalue it. The final step of recovery is to fix the problems, not the symptoms. Income disparity results from an uneven playing field caused by non-market factors: The government and its programs. Some regulations are necessary for health, safety, and security, but they should never be extended to the point that freedom is lost. Furthermore, regulations can never fully protect us from those who would do wrong. They can have the opposite effect in that we rely on “the government” to protect us and encourage us to delegate responsibility for thinking to for ourselves. Too often we default to a thought process of “where they are regulated” or “there is a rule they have to follow” or “it must be okay because everyone else is doing it.”


Personally I believe that there is an ultimate higher power—God—who has granted us our inalienable rights. He also grants us the ability to make choices between right and wrong. To live according to rules higher than man’s and charges with governing ourselves and holding each other (and our governments accountable). Caesar (government) can have his taxes, but not every dollar I make.


I’m going to cling to my God, my rights, my freedoms, and my capitalism. What are you clinging to?


Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC

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