It’s Time to Redeem Capitalism
Patagonia's 50th anniversary campaign and the reality of capitalism.
Stewardship is in the Bible. In fact, God gave dominion of the earth to Adam in Genesis 1. It was Adam’s job to tame the earth, to fight the seasons for crops to feed his family. Adam named the animals. It’s not Christianity; many world religions have principles and instructions for man’s relationship with the earth.
From ancient times until now, man has been trying to tame it and to steward it. Farmers have become more and more efficient, producing higher crop yields from less land.
When the company Patagonia was created 50 years ago, its vision was simple: for-profit and responsibility to go hand-in-hand. Patagonia taught stewardship through outdoor clothing and gear; if you ripped something, they would fix it. The point was not to get the newest thing, but to get resources that last a long time. It was capitalism that put values at the very forefront of every decision, and so the company gained a loyal following.
But now, that same company enjoying all of the benefits of capitalism–getting to compete with other outdoor companies in the market, getting to choose values and vision, etc–is trying to overturn it. In Patagonia’s latest video to celebrate its 50th anniversary, a woman speaks a narrative, “It’s time to turn capitalism on its head.” “What’s next for Patagonia?” the narrator asks. “Saving our home planet.” The company’s 50-year celebration slogan is “Not Mars.”
But there’s an inherent problem. We’ve crossed the line from stewardship to a spiritual idolization of the planet; the planet is not something to conquer or to steward, but to worship. Climate change is their religion, their planet is their god.
Without capitalism, there is no room in a market to explore ideas and principles. Patagonia would not get to choose how to make its products. Instead, it would be a cog in a machine, with the only goal to produce under a communist or totalitarian state.
Companies bent on framing climate change as a climate “crisis” use fearmongering tactics to scare young people into submission. They can’t help but be willing to protest in the streets as Patagonia tells them that their world is ending and the only way to help it is to give their lives to the cause.
But the reason young people have so much time on their hands to rock climb, mountain bike, run, swim, hike, adventure, is because of capitalism.
Even when Lewis and Clark traveled west, guided by Sacajawea, it was for a great purpose, not just to explore. Now, my son and I can go ski with a beautiful backdrop of the Tetons, and we can explore great plains and mountains without it being an expedition; for us, it’s just adventure. What enabled us to do that? Capitalism.
Extra money in our pockets enables adventures and hobbies. Our ancestors worked the land from sunup to sundown. They built their own homes, tilled their own soil, fed their livestock, traveled long distances for trading. They woke up with the sun and went to bed shortly after sunset because lighting a home required a fire, candles, and/or kerosene. Our ancestors' time in the outdoors, the explorers' time circumnavigating the globe, the pioneers settling across the continent–all were in search of a better life, not just enjoyment.
But Patagonia’s entire framework, the reason they exist, is because we have free time to enjoy the great outdoors without needing to conquer it.
And so we are at a crossroads. The eco movement, financial institutions forcing their political ideology via ESG, and woke companies are wanting to turn capitalism on its head. Well, we are here to redeem it.
And redeeming capitalism goes beyond recreation. Today, 1000 children will die from diseases from contaminated water. The cure is obvious–get them access to clean water–, but getting there is politically difficult because the process to treat, filter, and move clean water involves affordable and reliable energy from fossil fuels. That political difficulty stems from the same people who want to “save the planet,” as their fight for the planet is anchored on ending access to the affordable and reliable energy needed for human flourishing.
But there is hope for the future; this is the best time to be alive thanks to energy, innovation, capitalism, democracy, and freedom, the freedom to explore, wander, build, innovate, and make money to use for recreation. Now is not the time to turn on capitalism.
Patagonia is a privately held company based in Ventura, California; they can set their own mission and vision, that’s the beauty of capitalism. But someone needs to tell them that turning capitalism on its head would take that very beauty and freedom away. Patagonia should celebrate capitalism, along with fossil fuels, for lifting billions of people around the world out of poverty, some of whom can afford Patagonia’s products. Perhaps instead of turning capitalism on its head for the planet, they might use capitalism to pull the rest of the world out of poverty.