We have words for racism and sexism, but wealth discrimination isn’t fully recognized. It is a bias in favor of the wealthy and against labor, the environment, and the community. Concern for the public good must become the animating force of our economic order.
Marjorie Kelly is a modern revolutionary who wants to democratize economics. She argues that our current economic system is an aristocracy run by corporations that pay shareholders as much as possible and employees as little as possible—while ignoring the public good. CEOs aren't all bad guys, Kelly says, they're just operating in a system that forces them to put profits above everything else. That's what she aims to change with her groundbreaking book, The Divine Right of Capital, which offers ideas on how to move toward a more humane, democratic corporate design.
Kelly's book is already a modern classic that reveals the mechanisms that lead capitalism to create social ills. She shows how the wealth gap, corporate welfare, and industrial pollution are merely symptoms; the real illness is shareholder primacy—the corporate drive to create more wealth for the rich, regardless of the cost. She says that 99 percent of "investing" is speculation benefiting the financial elite, not small investors.
Ordinary citizens can spur change, Kelly says, by pushing for reform on laws that govern the way corporations operate. "We must design a corporate system in which all economic rights are equally protected, not only the rights of shareholders," Kelly says. To that end, she advocates two key areas of reform: requiring corporations to be responsible to the public good, and putting more wealth into the hands of those who generated it—the employees.
Kelly isn't a dreamy-eyed idealist. She is the co-founder and editor of Business Ethics, a leading publication on socially responsible business, and a Missouri-born, third-generation entrepreneur (her grandfather started Anderson Tool & Die in his basement during the Depression). David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World, calls Kelly "our Thomas Paine for the new millennium."
Kelly draws inspiration from the nation's first revolutionaries, who rejected an oppressive monarchy. She says, "The lesson of history is clear: democracy always wins in the end."