The Purpose of Capital: Elements of impact, financial flows, and natural being

Reviewed by Philo Alto, Asia Value Advisors

Today’s global economic progress is increasingly being overshadowed by worsening inequality, socio-economic and ideological fractures, and the dangers of climate change. In response, there has been a growing chorus among thought leaders and practitioners on how capital might be used to sustainably and inclusively advance economic progress. 

Questions abound. As Harvard professor Michael Sandel puts it, our societal values have become too ‘financialised’, which has turned us from market economies into market societies. Likewise, Anand Giridharadas in his book Winners Take All: The elite charade of changing the world laments the ability of the world’s elite to buy airtime in global public opinion on how capitalism remains the best system to tackle the same social ills that it has arguably created.

Jed Emerson’s eighth and latest book is a timely addition to the discourse, inviting readers to revisit our understanding of the purpose – or the ‘why’ – of capital. He does this by offering a historical lens through which to view two key and related premises in today’s narrow understanding of the uses and values of capital: first, the bifurcated notion of financial/economic as distinct from social/environmental value; and second, our compartmentalised understanding of financial markets as wholly distinct from, and inconsequential to, their impact on ourselves, the ecological communities and our planet.

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