FAQs about the Common Good Capitalism Movement

What is the common good?

Our agreement on the behaviors that give priority to the common good is in a constant state of maturing.

In ancient times, killing, stealing, and enslavement were acceptable. Today, accept during war, most people agree that killing and stealing is not acceptable common good behavior. It has only been over the last couple of hundred years that most people have come to agree that slavery is not acceptable. Concern for responsible stewardship of the planet is a more recent addition to behaviors we expect of each other for the common good. Honoring women and minorities with equal rights relative to white men is also a more recent maturation of what is considered part of our common good agreements.

Therefore, what is part of our agreements of what constitutes common good behavior is not static. It is constantly maturing.

This Common Good Capitalism Movement presents ways for us to do this through public declaration, self-financing, and giving priority to the common good. While also fully accepting responsibility for ourselves we now do it within the context of giving priority to the common good.

What is a movement?

The purpose of a movement is to change something in the way we all think. Usually what has been an acceptable social tradition is declared to be immoral. In this case, what has been an acceptable immature behavior, the giving of priority to self-interest, is being declared to be immoral, not mature human behavior.

We easily tend to think that the most powerful forces for positive change in our societies are the following, ranked in the order of which group is assumed to have the greatest power to effect change:

  • Politicians
  • Corporations
  • Consumers
  • Movements

We have discovered that a closer study reveals that the accurate ranking is exactly the opposite of this ranking.

As stated above, the purpose of a movement is to change something in the way we all think, about women, minorities, the environment, or whatever. If the movement is in support of more mature behavior, it usually gains in force until nearly everyone has changed to embrace the more mature behavior. Teachers begin to assume it when teaching children, non-profits become active in educating the public about it, and the next generation takes it for granted as part of what is assumed to be in the interest of the common good.

The consuming public is the second most powerful force. When their thinking changes their consumer behavior changes. Large for-profit, non-profit, and government organizations may attempt to influence our behavior, but to be successful it is necessary to respond positively to the maturation of the public. When it comes to bringing about maturation in the way we all think, the politicians are the least powerful. They are usually only able to affirm in legislation what has already become something supported by at least a majority of the public.

So we are launching this as a movement because it is the most powerful force for bringing about a maturation of our mutually held agreements of what constitutes giving priority to the common good. This movement is stating that the tradition of giving priority to self-interest, as individuals and organizations, is declared to be immoral. It is understood that it is not wrong; it is just immature. It is time for capitalism to mature into common good capitalism as a freely chosen association of individuals and for-profit and non-profit organizations in the private sector.

How did this movement begin?

Terry Mollner, since the 1970s a pioneer in socially responsible business and finance, has long been an advocate of the creation of this movement. On November 10, 2014, at the end of a speech about common good capitalism to Chetan Chawla's Social Business class at the Isenberg School of Business at the University of Massachusetts, he told the story of how the idea of creating the 350.org environmental movement emerged in a class Bill McKibben was teaching at Middlebury College. They had identified that for human beings to survive on Earth we needed to get the carbon content of the air down to below 350 parts per million. They decided to simply create a website to encourage people to take actions around educating the public of the environmental importance of that number. When they did people all over the world sent back pictures of actions they had taken to raise this awareness in their communities. Today 350.org is one of the most powerful environmental movements.

Terry then invited any student in the class who was interested in joining with him to create a Common Good Capitalism Movement website to speak to him afterwards. Students came up and two days later the Instructor, Chetan Awasla, and five students had lunch with Terry.

As Terry was awakening from sleep that morning and thinking about his upcoming meeting with Chetan and the students, it occurred to him that all that was needed was for the website to be a place where any individual or for-profit or non-profit organization could publicly declared that their highest priority is the common good and second priority profit, mission, or anything else. He typed up this idea, shared it with all at lunch, and all enthusiastically decided to join with him to do it. Here, in alphabetical order, are the names of that team that began this movement:

  • Chetan Chawla, Instructor
  • Vince Kozica, Business Management Major, Senior
  • Samantha Marino, Business Management Major, Senior
  • Terry Mollner, Speaker
  • Sonam Serpa, Business Management Major, Junior
  • Ashleigh Syphers, Web Design Major, Senior

Dr. Mollner has since written the book Common Good Capitalism Is Inevitable, available on Amazon.

Why do we give priority to the common good rather than have it be one of our values?

As we all know, prioritization is when all secondary and lower priorities compromise in favor of the highest priority. Secondly, we can't escape having a priority in any moment. Wherever we choose to turn our attention is our priority in a moment. We can only do something in time and space as a secondary activity once we have made this decision. Finally, our priorities are always present and active, not sometimes present and active.

To give priority in one moment to the common good and in the next moment to self-interest is the negation of having common good be our highest priority at all times. Therefore, what is important is what we choose to be our highest priority at all times. Then every other secondary or lower priority will compromise in favor of it at all times.

A checklist is the opposite of priorities; it is giving priority to one thing one moment and another thing another moment. However, a survey, such as the B Corporation survey, is very valuable for double checking to determine if we can witness evidence that the result of giving priority to the common good is visible in particular behaviors around relationships with employees, safety, the environment, and the community.

It is our all the time priority that determines everything else we do. So it is essential that we determine if our highest priority at all times is the common good or self-interest.

Is it legal for a for-profit corporation to give priority to the common good rather than profit? There is a belief that, according to the laws and court findings in states, the legal priority of a for-profit corporation has to be the "financial interests of the shareholders."

There are two appropriate responses to this. One argues that giving priority to the common good is best for the financial success of the company. The other is that giving priority to the common good is the context within which such legislation exists and, therefore, has always been primary.

Terry Mollner, one of our founders and recently retired after eighteen years on the board of Ben & Jerry's, attempted to buy it in 2000 and then successfully participated in its purchase by Unilever. The purchase included a contract that basically obligated Unilever to allow Ben & Jerry's to remain a separate and wholly owned company within Unilever and continue to give priority to the common good. The board of directors continued in existence with Terry on it, is self-perpetuating, and can sue Unilever for breach of contract if it fails to have the percentage of the annual budget for social activism be less than the percentage on the day it was bought.

The result has been that for the last twenty years Ben & Jerry's has been the first common good corporation inside a multinational. Its highest priority is the common good and second priority is profit. The result? Ben & Jerry's is arguably the most profitable ice cream company on Earth. Whether one supports its social activist positions, people love that it is an organization taking action for the maturation of us all. For many years in a row it won the Wall Street Journal's award for being the most loved company.

Ben & Jerry's only supports positions that it believes will result in the maturation of the way we live together in the confidence that as people learn more about them they will join in supporting these maturation processes. Ben & Jerry's was one of the early supporters of a sustainable environment, getting money out of politics, gay marriage, and GMO labeling. All have increasingly gained support from the public.

At a recent Ben & Jerry's board meeting, with two top managers of Unilever present, Terry asked all in the room which of the following two priorities for their lives they would choose if they had to choose one of them. The two priorities would be to be a good human being or profit. Being a good spouse, parent, friend, neighbor, and citizen or profit? All his fellow board members, Ben & Jerry's executives, and Unilever executives visibly nodded that they would clearly choose to be a good human being. Terry then said, "Ben & Jerry's is one of the most profitable ice cream companies on Earth because it has pricing power. It has pricing power because it is so loved by all. This means that Ben & Jerry's method of business and marketing is not an alternative form of business. It is a more mature form of business.

Its secret is its priority is the same priority of human beings."

Thus, giving priority to the common good is not an alternative way to do business. It is a more mature way to do business including in terms of increasing profit. Thus, this set of priorities fulfills the legal obligation of companies to give priority to the financial interests of shareholders. Their financial interests are best served by giving priority to the common good.

However, there is a second more powerful argument.

When two human beings come together they have two choices: to compete or cooperate. If they choose to compete, they are in a constant state of conflict with each other. If they choose to cooperate, they have chosen to give priority to the common good of the two of them as if two parts of a whole. Cooperation, like the natural cooperation of the parts within our physical bodies, is when the parts give priority to the whole. When many people do this, we call it "a society."

Thus, giving priority to the common good is the context within which everything else that occurs in a society is secondary or lower in priority, the same way the parts within our physical bodies, when we are healthy, naturally give priority to the common good of our entire body.

Giving priority in legislation to the financial interests of the shareholders is a secondary priority, not our primary priority. It is within the context of assuming we are living in a society where, by definition, we agree that our highest priority is the common good.

No wise judge, jury, or government official is going to find fault with executives of companies who declare they did something for moral reasons, for the common good of all, when it is clear that it was, indeed, for that purpose. They made moral behavior a priority over using and abusing people and things for profits. Giving priority to the common good, to moral behavior, is the fundamental priority within which all societies exist or they would not be societies. All subsequent priorities are always secondary to this priority. It makes no difference how the societies are economically organized, as capitalist societies, communist societies, feudal societies, dictatorships, or tribes.

So from either direction, that of giving priority to profits by giving priority to the common good or overtly giving priority to the common good because that is the fundamental priority of any society, giving priority to the common good increases profits. People respect, love, and value the business. As a result they strongly support it and the business has one of the most valuable things for financial as well as all others forms of success: loyal customers.

In his book, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, a physician and sociologist who teaches at Yale, Nicholas Christakis presents a strong argument there is a biological and sociological basis for naturally giving priority to the common good.

Is our global society ready for Common Good Capitalism?

There are, of course, different layers of maturity of being a society. Humans, tired of constant war, first chose the model of cooperation with which they were most familiar, the parents with children model. One way or another they chose a leader (parent), often called a "king," and the rest became dutiful children. We can call this "the child layer of social maturity."

As they matured into recognizing that in the teen years we discover we each have the ability and right of individual free choice. This trend only emerged at the national level 244 years ago with the emergent of the USA and today more than two-thirds of the nations on Earth are democracies. The leaders are now chosen through competitive voting. We can call this "the teen layer of social maturity." It gives priority to honoring each individual's ability and right to exercise individual freedom. This trend only emerged at the national level 250 years ago and today more than two-thirds of the nations on Earth are democracies.

Our next layer of social maturation is when we realize that when we reach the higher layers of human maturity we "freely choose to give priority to the common good and second priority to our ability and right to exercise individual freedom." This is the result of noticing that we are now a global society and if we do not each mature to where we freely choose to give priority to cooperation for the common good, some of us could destroy the ability for all of us to remain alive on this planet. Throughout history behavior at these higher layers of human maturity has most often been labeled "moral behavior." It is "freely choosing to give priority to the common good of all."

Common good democracy and common good capitalism will, therefore, eventually emerge.

Common good democracy is when the priority is a direct, genuine, and cooperative search for truth together. Common good capitalism and culture is when there is a direct, genuine, and cooperative process of giving priority to the common good that honors and builds on respect for individual freedom. This can only be the result of people maturing to freely choose to give priority to the common good. It cannot be legislated. It can only be the result of free choice where it is clear that it is a free choice. Thus, this can only occur within the private sector as the free choice of individuals and free association of organizations. This is why governments are not being asked to participate in the maturation of capitalism into common good capitalism. They will eventually seek to provide supportive legislation, but it is not necessary.

Practically, the result will be that competitors will primarily cooperate for the common good by reaching agreements and secondly compete. It will no longer be the choice to do one or the other (socialism or capitalism). Instead in a way it will be to fully do both and give priority to "freely choosing to give priority to the common good." Full competition will continue to occur as the second priority, as ferociously as before. Since this model builds on respect for individual freedom and free markets, it is appropriate to label it "common good capitalism."

As mentioned earlier, indirect cooperation among competitors has already reached a high level called "duopolization." This is where two companies dominate a product market. At a General Electric board meeting in 1981, Jack Welch, the CEO at the time, declared that if a company is not number one or two in its product market it should get out of it. What he was saying is that a monopoly is illegal but a duopoly is legal.

Ever since the highest priority of companies has been to become number one or two in each product market or to get out of it. It is not necessary for the two companies to be talking to each other to know they are both doing this. Only when discussing a merger or acquisition can they legally talk to each other and not run the risk of it being seen as collusion. Yet today everyone in the business community knows that the highest priority is "duopoly monopoly," legal indirect collusion for mutual self-interest. (An recent excellent book documenting this is Monopolization: Life in the Age of Corporate Power by David Dayen)

When the public becomes fully aware of this, it will demand we graduate into common good capitalism: direct cooperation for the common good and competition as secondary and fully present as well to sustain its creative free market benefits.

One form this will take is that the two duopoly participants in a product market, such as Ben & Jerry's and Haagen Dazs or Home Depot and Lowe's or Walgreens and CVS Health, will have a public meeting that also includes the smaller competitors. Also present will be a representative from the anti- trust division of the government. All will meet for the purpose of reaching agreement on raising the common good level playing field upon which they will compete.

For instance, they will all agree to have their minimum wage be the livable wage in each production area. They will agree to certain minimum environmental standards. They will agree on actions to reduce racism. They will agree on the percentage of profits they will donate to charitable and educational organizations. Relative to one another, their agreements will not cost them a penny. Yet they will be giving priority to cooperating for the common good. It will also be the only way the public will allow them to continue their duopoly monopoly positions. Therefore, this will also be best for the "financial interests of the shareholders."

As we each mature into the higher layers of human maturity, common good capitalism is inevitable. Therefore, for the survival of human life on Earth, it is time for us to voluntarily begin our self-conscious graduation into it. We must do so in a way that respects and honors our ability and right of free choice. The Common Good Capitalism Movement is a set of options that will honor individual freedom yet allow people and organizations to take actions that will result in us self-financing in the private sector our maturation into common good capitalism.

Most small and local businesses are already giving priority to the common good. They are embedded in their communities and donate to support them in many ways. Yet they are restrained from paying higher wages to their employees and being as environmentally responsible as they would like to be because of the standards set by the large corporations. Therefore, as more and more small and midsize companies publicly declare that their highest priority is the common good, the large corporations will eventually join out of either enthusiastic free choice or necessity to survive. This movement will also provide the recognition many mostly small and local organizations deserve. They are not beholding to the financial markets and already give priority to the common good. They will be the first adapters and highly respected by many for doing so.