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Envisioning Mutual Benefit

Ms. Shamsa Belgrave is currently a sophomore at Swarthmore College, with a growing awareness that America’s current form of capitalism is damaging to so many because we’ve collectively allowed it to be overcome by damaging ethics. She’s exploring the potential that America’s form of capitalism can be reformed if not transformed to a more equitable system by revamping its underlying ethics. We're pleased to share our platform for her voice to be heard.

In today’s capitalist society, one of the ways in which scholars have approached a more equitable system is through exploring the possibility of ‘mutual benefit’. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the concept of mutuality and illustrate some of its real world applications as well as address some fundamental flaws.

It’s no secret that there are ample flaws in the way that capitalism is practiced today. The system itself has become the face of exploitation globally, perpetuating some of the most prominent issues we see today – this is all to make a profit. The exploitation of workers worldwide to many companies, industries, and individuals themselves mean little in comparison to the immense profit that comes from it. The same goes for issues of environmental degradation – in comparison to the profit made from exploiting environmental resources and disregarding its impacts, we’ve created a culture that is seemingly incompatible with empathy and healthy morality.

Modern capitalism can be summarized as an insatiable desire for profit by any means necessary. Activists have noted this for years and ample solutions have been pitched to solve the various problems created through capitalism. One solution that has a lot of potential is introducing the ethic and practice of mutual benefit.

Image Credit: Ink Strategy for Asia P3 Hub

Mutual benefit calls for participation in the economy to be profitable not only for yourself but for those we engage with. To me, this most evidently works to solve issues with unjust labor practices. The exploitation of workers through sweatshops around the world and policies that simply disregard the wellbeing of workers could be resolved through pursuing mutual benefit.

In terms of ‘profit’, I would like to extend that to not only mean money but profit in terms of health and the wellbeing of others as well. One of the many issues I’ve noted is that capitalist societies have a crude obsession with money. What amount of money is ‘enough’ and when did money become more valuable than the lives around us? Simply thinking in terms of monetary gain is not enough to make mutual benefit work. It’ll be a short term solution to a deep rooted societal emphasis on consumerism, materialism, and monetization over everything.

With this in mind, the core aspects of modern capitalism inherently leads to a conflict of interest regarding mutual benefit. Thinking of mutual benefit in terms of money and profit alone isn’t a just way to practice this concept. With issues such as income inequality, environmental degradation, and much more that capitalism perpetuates, we need to dive deeper into the extent of which mutual benefit will be practiced.

My addition to the previously defined idea of mutual benefit would be consciousness of the affects of our interactions with the economy itself. This would extend mutual benefit to include all entities (e.g., business owners interacting with one another; employers interacting with employees; industries interacting with the environment; consumers interacting with businesses). Every individual would have a responsibility of practicing mutuality to ensure that small everyday decisions don’t contribute to long term issues in the future. To me, mutual benefit is incomplete if we’re thinking solely about monetary benefits.

With that being said, the practice of economic mutuality is one that requires deep societal awareness and above all – empathy. On the hands of business owners is not to engage in practices that harm the things around them. On the hands of consumers is to be conscious of spending and what their purchases are actually fueling. That isn’t to say ‘disregard self interest’, but contribute to a practice that's long term effects will beat short term gratification and profit.

Economic mutuality requires a conscious societal effort to make change. It would require a collective acknowledgement of the greed and exploitation inherent in the way capitalism is practiced today. It would also require a collective acknowledgement that the ethic of "maximize shareholder value" was just one man's opinion (howbeit an influential man) that we don't actually have to live by. Mutuality would ensure that we benefit from these decisions as much as the entities that we engage with.

‘Is it possible?’ is the real question. Although there’s mass condemnation of current unjust practices in capitalism, is that truly enough to create a change? How would we ensure that mutual benefit becomes an ethic woven into our society when for so long things have been quite the opposite? Speaking for this current generation, people do care. More than we admit. The practice of mutuality is one that potentially can start to heal damage done throughout the years and I believe that exploring it as a viable solution will lead to more strides in improving capitalism as we know it.

What about you? Share your story, question, comment, idea, disagreement -- yes, we welcome disagreement for the sake of mutual benefit! -- with us at We will give a thoughtful response.

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