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Reinventing Capitalism in Liminal Time

Capitalism is a system we humans created and constantly reinvent. These reinventions unfold in small and subtle steps punctuated every few decades by a major disruption. These major disruptions can be thought of as liminal time.

Liminal time usually refers to the void between leaving the tried and true – whether or not we liked it we were at least familiar with it – and before landing on the new. Think of that feeling you had between leaving your old comfort zone and not yet settling into the new. Remember the loneliness after a painful romantic breakup? Or think of the fear of an abused spouse forced to flee danger without a plan beyond getting through the front door. I’m speaking of transitions and the unknowns.

Medical professionals have described liminal time as the feeling of suspension as one slips between life and death. When speaking of deep and exhausting spiritual growth, mystics have described liminal time as the “dark night of the soul.” The economic liminal time from the crash of 1929 and up to about a decade later we call the Great Depression. You get the idea.

Image Credit | Shannon Carter @ Wipf and Stock

With the full threat of Covid-19 looming, in March of 2020 the global community entered an economic liminal time that continues three years on. At first this liminal time pandemic forced everyone to stop running so hard, literally and figuratively, and forced everyone to take an economic pause. This pause, while economically painful for so many, can be viewed as a gift to reinvent, just like any liminal time event. Remember reinventing yourself during the liminal time disruption of relocating or after losing a favorite job? Stressful times like that are often when we are forced to experience our most productive personal growth.

For about the first eighteen months of the Covid-19 pandemic everyone was busy enough with crisis management that I’m not too critical of our governments and corporate leaders for not acting on this gift to reinvent. But three years on and as the world’s economic engines continue to languish, this gift is at risk of slipping away and of us slipping back into our old ways. Now and with a sense of urgency, we would be collectively smart to be intentional about this liminal time opportunity to reinvent capitalism. It’s not too late to accept and work with this gift.

What does this round of reinventing look like? For America and our brand of capitalism, it means making the transformative move from what I and Aaron Hedges termed plantation economics (exploitative practices and ethics, beginning with the ethic of maximizing shareholder value) to what we termed partnership economics (sustainable practices and ethics, beginning with the ethic of mutuality).

Where does this round of reinventing begin? It begins with us all participating rather than spectating. We can’t sit on the sidelines simply complaining or wishing things were better. There is no such thing as passive partnership. Partnership involves actively working together for results that benefit as many stakeholders as possible. As we’ve written elsewhere, partnership economics is grounded in an ethic of mutuality, an ethic that is consistent with the words of Jesus, Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, MLK Jr. and many others.

The following are just a few starter examples of reinventing capitalism steps based on partnership economics that you can take and contextualize to your situation:

  • For businesses and their leaders: move public corporate earnings reporting from quarterly to at least semi-annually, as a first step toward redirecting the focus away from short-term and limited perspectives. This move will give public corporations breathing room to make healthier, long-term decisions.

  • For governments, elected officials, and civil servants: apply an enough-ratio to government budgets. Military spending is an easy example. In 2022 America spent more on defense ($801B) than the next nine highest defense spending countries combined ($777B for China, India, UK, Russia, France, Germany Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea). How foolish is this?! Instead, limit military spending to an enough-ratio that does not exceed other self-preservation needs, such as a 1:1 ratio with what America spends on its own infrastructure building and maintenance. The partnership economics concept of enough-ratios can be applied to any spending metric.

  • For every professional: stop running your profession like a competition. Adam Smith did not teach economic Darwinism. That deadly extremist view didn’t get traction until very late into the 20th century. Instead, practice your profession like a ministry that provides physically, financially, spiritually, and socially for you, your employees, and as many stakeholders as possible.

  • For individuals and our collective culture: publicly praise those who use their honorably earned wealth to financially advance others, beyond their own families. Reward those who do so with your purchases. Make “making and partnering” the new competitive game of a reinvented capitalism.

We are still in liminal time introduced by the Covid-19 pandemic. So are our world economies and capitalism as a system. Let’s not waste this gift of the pause but use it to bring new order out of old chaos. Let’s use this gift to intentionally reinvent capitalism again, away from a system that humanity serves and toward a system that serves humanity. Toward a better capitalism. You, too, can start somewhere. Today! Now!

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.

Our Amazon #1 New Release Book (2021) and Kindle #1 in Law Ethics & Professional Responsibility (2022): Unleash more with Better Capitalism: Jesus, Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, & MLK Jr. on Moving from Plantation to Partnership Economics.

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