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Girish Shambu

One Capitalism Among Many: Situating Sustainability in the Business Classroom

Neither Laudato Si’ (2015) nor Pope Francis’s most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (2020) contain the word “capitalism.” And yet both have been discussed in the media as sharp critiques of capitalist business practices. This paper describes a pedagogical project to introduce basic ideas of sustainability into the undergraduate business classroom in conjunction with passages from the Pope’s writings and an account of the reception of these writings in the mainstream and business media. In the classroom, we frame sustainability within the context of capitalism, especially to emphasize that there is no single, monolithic capitalism. Instead, because capitalism has evolved dramatically over the last three centuries, we begin by historicizing it for students as an economic system. This helps students link social and environmental impacts of business practices to the current version of capitalism: neoliberalism. In addition, it allows students to consider the possibility of “other capitalisms” that might be more responsive to calls for greater sustainability. Our project is theoretically grounded in Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy’s periodization of capitalism into three eras: classic liberalism, egalitarian liberalism, and neoliberalism. Classic liberalism, which dates back to the 1700s, attempted to reduce the influence of monarchs and state leaders by advocating for a marketplace sphere that was “free” and outside the influence of the state. Egalitarian liberalism (or “controlled capitalism”) rose during the 1930s when the market failed to self-correct during the Great Depression, thus requiring the state to step in and launch extensive social and economic programs. The late 1970s witnessed the birth of neoliberal capitalism–our current economic regime–which resulted in policies such as deregulation and liberalization of trade and industry, that have since contributed to significant negative social and environmental impacts. The rationale for historicizing capitalism in the classroom has to do with going beyond merely equipping the student with the skills and knowledge necessary for the workplace. Additionally, it aims to make an activist appeal to the student as a “whole person” and citizen who might be moved, in the future, to join with others to be part of a movement for capitalist reform. The paper will report on this pedagogical project, which was implemented in two undergraduate courses: introduction to management, and operations management.