Capitalism as a Moral Framework

As a publicly traded person, I embody the spirit of capitalism in all of my endeavors. I am constantly thinking about how my ventures will impact my life, and my overall ability to contribute to society. Being publicly traded is not for everyone, but I think I have found a way to realize the main benefit of being publicly traded, without issuing shares in oneself.

The biggest take away from being publicly traded has been my adoption of “capitalism as a moral framework”. This may sound as if I am interested solely in profits and economic value over other aspects of my life, however, upon further contemplation, you will find that this moral framework contains a lot of wisdom about how to life a better life. Capitalism is a system wherein you can earn money by creating value for other people — you make them a table, you create an application from which they derive value, you make someone a coffee. This system can be leveraged by individuals to gain a better understanding of their impact on others, and learn how they can create more value in society.

Practicing capitalism as a moral framework can be done by evaluating one statement in situations where you need guidance: “what would I do if I were a company”. Capitalism demands that you generate value for other people, otherwise you cannot advance in society. If you consider yourself to be a company, then you can gain access to an additional perspective of the value of your work. If you are generating value for others, they should be willing to pay for your services. The inverse is also true.

Therefore, capitalism can act as a form of moral compass. Indeed, some actions — philanthropy and general giving, for example — do not warrant a capitalist mindset. In business, and dealing with others, however, capitalism can help you ensure that you are generating value for them. Even if you are not willing to charge for the services you are providing, you should constantly think about whether people would pay you for your services, and how others would feel if you were no longer there to provide them with your services. If you provide mentorship to others, then they should be willing to pay for your services. If they truly value your impact, then they would feel bad if you decided to stop mentoring them. In this scenario, no money has been transacted, but we have analyzed the problem from a different angle which gives us a better understanding of our impact.

There is another dynamic to this concept as well. If you think like a company, you will be able to become more conscious of the limited resources you have available, and the limited time you have to do things. We are always finding excuses to put things off, or even, in some cases, fabricate reasons why we are unable to do something altogether. Have you ever heard of anyone say "I am not good with numbers”, or “I am terrible at remembering names”? If you think like a company, you would realize that everything you do is an opportunity for growth — an opportunity to advance your impact and work — and therefore would strive to become a better person each day. You would not let excuses get in the way of personal advancement, because you would understand that every time you try, you are increasing your knowledge. You may think that this framework only applies to decisions relating to finance — purchasing a car, making an investment in a new company, et cetera — but there are broader implications as well. Consider this: if you were a company, would you eat a donut every day? Metaphorically speaking, the company would want to stay healthy — or able to perform its duties — so they can have a greater impact on the world. If you were a company, would you read 20 pages of a book each day? The company would want to advance their exposure to new knowledge, because it may help them make more informed decisions in the future, and so you should follow through and read those 20 pages.

In my experience as a publicly traded person, I apply this concept in all of my decisions to ensure that I am generating value for my shareholders. They have made a commitment to helping me succeed — both through investing in me, and providing decision-making support — and the least I can do is earn them a good return on their investment. I like to consider myself as a company — my corporate alter ego of JamesG Trading embodies capitalism as a moral framework in all ventures — because it clarifies my position in life and allows me to understand where I can improve to generate more value for others. Even if you do not have a community of shareholders (I wouldn’t expect that you do), imagine how your shareholders would react if you made a certain decision. If you purchased a car when you live in NYC, would your shareholders see that as you making an investment in becoming more mobile, or would they see it as an inefficient allocation of your capital based on the other transportation infrastructure available in the city.

I am not saying you have to act like a company. Rather, you should think like a company. After practicing this concept for a few weeks, you will realize that capitalism is a very powerful moral framework. You should be able to identify what interactions are bringing you the most value, and which you are continuing merely as a courtesy to others but are generating no value for anyone. In the next decision you face — What am I going to eat for dinner? Should I enroll in Lambda School? — think like a company.