Business, Capitalism, and Money Guilt. A Cure.
welcome to your Sunday Love Letter by Kelly Diels. I send these every Sunday by email and publish a few of them here, on my website. If you’d like to get ALL of these doses of radical encouragement, you can subscribe, here.
One of the reasons so many of the culture making entrepreneurs I work with feel bad about making money is because we keenly perceive the injustices of capitalism. We don’t want to prey on other people to get more for ourselves.
It’s pretty natural for us to feel that way. That’s been our dominant experience in capitalist economies. Most of us have been on the receiving end of that kind of financial predation and we don’t want to recreate it in our own work.
Good. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Because business and capitalism are not the same thing.
When Jeff Bezos and Amazon shareholders conspire to create a machine that underpays workers and suppliers in order to hoard the excess being withheld from them, at scale, that’s robber-baron capitalism.
When my neighbour starts a bakery and generates a thriving livelihood for herself, that’s small business and livelihood.
It’s not necessarily the size of the company that’s the differential (though that’s part of it). It’s the business model, the business practices, the intent, and the outcome.
Are you intending to create a machine that extracts underpaid labour from people in order to hoard the excess?
Or are you trying to create a valuable exchange that allows everyone party to it to thrive?
Exchange and trade amongst community members existed long before capitalism. Money existed before capitalism. This might not be helping my case, but even credit and debt existed before capitalism — and long before money! (They were essential features of gift economies.)
All this to say that it’s critical we do NOT conflate culture-making businesses that are designed to be non-oppressive with extractive capitalism. They’re not the same thing.
Creating thriving livelihoods for ourselves by providing goods or services in exchange for cash is NOT the same thing as robber-baron capitalism. No guilt is required.
In fact, our money guilt and refraining from building thriving businesses might actually be helping to SUSTAIN exploitative capitalism.
- Tada Hozumi makes the case that money guilt is a function of white supremacist capitalism –> “I also don’t forget that entrepreneurship has always been central to the survival and preservation of communities of colour. By nature we are less employable and creating our own businesses has always been a way for us to sustain our cultures. So money-shaming can also have white supremacist implications.”
- In Caste (it’s an extraordinary book, definitely read it) Isabel Wilkerson points out that in the post-slavery/Reconstruction USA, laws were passed prohibiting black Americans from starting their own businesses. Implicitly that tells us that business and livelihood can be in opposition to predatory capitalism.
In other words: We are not the robber barons. We are the culture makers…and it’s important that we stop suffering and start flourishing.
When we suffer, the unjust system is working exactly as intended.
And…nope. Let’s interrupt that with culture makers businesses that are (1) designed to be non-oppressive and (2) produce thriving livelihoods for everyone, ESPECIALLY people with non-dominant and marginalized peoples. Let’s release our unnecessary money guilt — it’s a function of puritanical, white supremacist capitalism — and flourish, right now.
love + justice,
PS I teach a course on Copywriting for Culture Makers, but really it’s new-world guide to building audience, power + livelihood, online — without using exploitative marketing tactics. Check it out?
PPS If differentiating between capitalism and business feels generative to you, you might like the book The Myth of Capitalism by Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearn.