How to Start a Business When You Don’t Believe in Capitalism

Not too long ago I posted on the facebook, “I don’t even really believe in capitalism, but I feel like an official business since I paid quarterly sales tax for the first time today.”

For those not aware after our family was deported from Bolivia, I started a small business called Edible Lawns. The business is modeled after landscaping companies, but focuses on using your yard to grow food (vegetables, fruits, chickens, even fish) and create more environmentally friendly landscapes (xeriscaping, native landscaping, compost and rainwater systems). I also intend for it to be something similar to a B Corporation which incorporates more than one bottom line into the company’s legal structure including social and environmental factors.

I also have written a lot about my thoughts on economics which should make it clear that I am not a particular fan of our current economic structures. So, what’s a “tree-hugging socialist” like myself doing starting a business?

First, I hope you noticed the quotes and intended sarcasm in describing myself as a “tree-hugging socialist.” Those type of designations are usually intended to create some sort of  us-and-them paradigm. That’s exactly what I try to avoid. The reality is always more complicated than those designations which is exactly why I don’t feel all dirty starting a business.

The truth is that we live in a world that is governed by a particular economic system and structures. I can’t snap my fingers and expect it to change overnight. I still have to deal with those realities in my daily existence which means paying my mortgage, buying food, health insurance and gasoline. There are ways in which I hope to subvert these structures in the way I organize my own economic life through bartering, scavenging for free materials, growing more of my own food and starting a business which can help others do the same.

So, I would rather pay the bills doing something I can feel good about and which hopefully contributes to creating the kind of world I believe God intends. Right now, the only ways to do this are through either a non-profit or for-profit structure. I mentioned that B (or Benefit) Corporations are a new legal structure that attempts to navigate a third option for socially and ecologically responsible businesses.

The recurring question in my life is how change happens. Is it by working within the system or doing something radical outside it which challenges and threatens the existing structure? Is it some combination of both or another option I don’t understand yet? I have studied social movements from civil rights to the Occupy movement for answers, but those movements eventually become co-opted once they reach a certain stage. So, the answer is still not so clear to me.

What does seem clear is that change does not happen by standing still. Real meaningful change seems to require both the radical shifts in thinking and the gradual education of the masses through incremental changes.

Take my favorite topic as an example, compost. I have taken the radical step of composting my own waste with the intention of using it to grow my food creating a closed nutrient cycle. This is a few steps beyond the average citizen’s ability to change. Most people don’t even compost their food waste. How can I expect them to poop in a bucket? So, you start with something more palatable, but never as the end in itself. Without the vision for a sustainable world, we will simply recycle ourselves into oblivion. But without a willingness to walk with people along the way, we won’t ever get there.

That’s why I’m a capitalist, business owner who doesn’t think that capitalism will be around forever or that it is the best possible system for organizing our lives together. I don’t see it as cognitive dissonance or hypocrisy. I see it more as loving the world and vision for sustainable living more than my own self-righteousness.

  • http://minifarmproject.com/ Jeanine

    Love this post! I want to do many of the same things you describe here, especially creating a closed nutrient cycle in which I reuse ALL of the nutrients my family and I take from the soil, and yes, that includes human excrement. Most people find it revolting, but I wonder how composted human poop is much different from animal poop.
    The world needs much change, but in the meantime, you’re right – there’s only so much we can do. It’s going to take much of society a lot of time to change their ways. I hope it happens fast enough to avoid mass suffering that I can only imagine.
    I wish you lived closer to Ohio! I’d definitely hit you up for a consultation once I acquire my own piece of land this fall.

  • http://radref.blogspot.co.uk/ Phil Wood

    I appreciate your gentle way with the contradictions. Like you, I’m no fan of capitalism but warm towards social entrepreneurship. In the end, whatever our left of centre credentials, there has to be a better alternative to capitalism than state socialism. Capitalism is driven, unjust and exterminist but it seems a shame to waste the raw creativity that lies behind entrepreneurship.

    • http://wwje.wordpress.com/ lucas

      Well put Phil!

  • http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com Martin Lack

    Excellent stuff Luke, thank you for the inspiration. I think I will have to do the same because, when working for other people (employers and/or their clients), it has repeatedly proven impossible for me to hide my discomfort at being presented with conflicts of interest (i.e. usually being asked to act in the interests of clients – rather than the environment).

  • Pingback: How to Start a Business When You Don’t Believe in Capitalism Part 2: Quitting | What Would Jesus Eat?()

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