A powerful analysis of how the bias toward wealth that is woven into the very fabric of American capitalism is damaging people, the economy, and the planet.
In this bold manifesto, Marjorie Kelly identifies a key driving force behind the multiple global crises we face today: financialization.
It’s the problem we’re not yet talking about. There’s too much financial wealth in our system. To address this, Kelly highlights alternative economic models that are already in place, outlining what the foundations of a new, more democratic economy could be and the pathways we can take to get there.
Publications and Appearances Related to Wealth Supremacy
Chasing Financial Equality. The Climate and Financial Emergencies are One. Available on youtube, Apple podcasts, and Spotify (September 26, 2023).
Regneration Journal: Wealth Supremacy — an interview with Marjorie Kelly (September 25, 2023).
LA Progressive Interview: Marjorie Kelly discusses Wealth Supremacy with host Sharon Kyle (September 21, 2023)
Fix Capitalism: Review: Wealth Supremacy (September 19, 2023)
Counter Punch: End Wealth Supremacy (September 15, 2023)
Fast Company: Investors are raking in profits by privatizing water. Everyone else is paying the price (September 11, 2023).
The Laura Flanders Show: Catastrophic Capitalism in 2023: The Invisible Causes of Economic Inequality (September 10, 2021)
Impact Alpha: Challenging wealth supremacy to realize the dream of systemic change (September 6, 2023).
Naming the Problem
Economists have warned for decades about the problems created by financialization: economic injustice, society-wide fragility, planetary crisis, monopolies, asset poverty, deep damage to democracy.
We don’t recognize financialization as a problem because we see swelling portfolios of assets as positive, normal, benign. Yet, the finance sector has become the locus where outsize inequality—the deep fissure that is undermining national cohesion–is generated.
We see the world through the lens of capital bias. Similar to the lenses of racial and gender bias, which once seemed normal and unremarkable. Until we name bias, it remains invisible.
By identifying the ways in which wealth supremacy and bias toward capital is embedded into every aspect of our culture and economy, Kelly turns inside out the presumption that our current economic system is a great wealth creator.
—sapping the resilience of society.
Bias is the DNA of our economy. We live in a system of capital-ism. In a democratic society founded on the truth that all persons are created equal, we have permitted an economic system based on the directly contrary principle that wealthy persons matter more than others. Possess greater rights, greater voice. And claim a limitless right to extract from the rest of us.
You cannot make this system of bias moral. Moral capitalism is as impossible as moral racism. The solution is system change – a next system beyond capitalism and socialism: a democratic economy, enabling us to have at last a fully democratic society.
Wealth supremacy and its twin, capital bias, are perpetuated by seven myths that Kelly exposes.
Challenging the Myths
At the heart of Wealth Supremacy are these myths, so deeply embedded in our culture that we don’t recognize capital bias as the force that is destroying the planet, undermining financial stability for working families, and upending democratic values.
- The myth of maximizing: No amount of wealth is ever enough.
- The myth of fiduciary duty: Expanding wealth is a sacred obligation.
- The myth of materiality. Environmental and social damage is not “real” unless it impacts capital.
- The myth of the income statement: Income to capital (profit) must be maximized, while income to labor (expense) must be minimized.
- The myth of corporate governance: Workers are not members of the corporation; membership is exclusively reserved for capital owners.
- The myth of the free market: Democracy must be subdued, so that corporations and capital can move freely throughout the world.
- Myth of Takings: The first duty of government is to protect wealth.
More than just a trenchant analysis of the flaws in our current system, Wealth Supremacy offers a vision of a workable, practical alternative that puts our common good before maximum private wealth accumulation. Marjorie Kelly highlights economic models that are already in place and offers insights on how those models could lead to broader system change.
Central to all of this is our capacity to believe and see that another world is possible. “We will never win against extractive capitalism if it’s a matter of power versus power,” Kelly writes. “The real power we the people possess— the ultimate power—is legitimacy. When we withdraw legitimacy, we fatally weaken the system, turning its cultural foundation to sand.” That is the point at which we can suffuse democracy into our economy and build the new political-economic system now necessary for our survival.
Important quotes from the book
Extractive capitalism is a modern-day colonizing force. Today’s empires are portfolios of assets. Their first myth is that they must limitlessly expand. —Page 1
It’s rarely explained to us how expanding pools of great wealth create and rely upon the precarity and indebtedness of the rest of us. Instead, our culture tends to view “wealth creation” as benign and wonderful. This bias toward wealth makes it difficult for us to digest the warnings of economists that the world is awash in far too much financial capital, just as the atmosphere is awash in too much carbon. —Page 14-15
At work in extractive capitalism is more than personal greed. It’s a cultural worldview, a habit of mind, so pervasive as to be invisible. We can call it a bias, akin to race bias and sex bias, but toward capital and wealth, toward ensuring that economic activity is focused primarily on benefiting those who possess wealth. —Page 12
When the stock market falls 20 or 30 percent, headlines blare the news. The number of insects worldwide has fallen an estimated 75 percent over fifty years, and this went unnoticed for decades. Insects are not assets of DuPont; industrial chemicals are. Since many 401(k) plans and institutional portfolios hold DuPont shares, we’re implicitly hoping the value of chemical assets will increase as we hope for these portfolios to rise. The insect apocalypse is designed in. —Page 32
Instead of having an economy designed to produce more value in the real world, for regular people, the economy’s machinery has been rejiggered to produce higher asset valuations. These financial assets have become a burden, a giant sucking action squeezing consumer pocketbooks, creating unemployment, pushing housing prices to unreachable heights, creating monopolies that hobble family businesses, blocking our ability to tackle climate change, destabilizing the economy with stock market booms and busts. And enabling billionaires to capture democracy. —Page 83-84
Donella Meadows reminded us that the single most effective place to intervene in any system is at the level of mindset: the mind out of which the system arises. Where the soul of the regime lives is inthe idea of the regime. What’s in control is the paradigm of wealth extraction. —Page 137
The real power we the people possess—the ultimate power—is legitimacy. When we withdraw legitimacy, we fatally weaken the system, turning its cultural foundation to sand. —Page 24.
A world half plutocratic and half democratic cannot long endure. One half will eventually supersede the other. This is occurring today before our eyes, as the plutocratic economy attempts to consume the democratic polity. The alternative, the solution commensurate with the problem, is system change – suffusing democracy into our economy, and building the new political-economic system now necessary to our survival. —Page 129
Praise for Wealth Supremacy
“Marjorie Kelly has the rare ability to combine her decades of business-insider insight with the imagination and conviction to reinvent the future. Setting out entrenched systemic problems, she lucidly and compellingly counters them with inspiring systemic solutions. If you want to understand the economy we’ve inherited and create an economy worth bequeathing to our children, read this book.”
—Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics
“‘Virtually all successful businesses end up in the maw of finance,’ says Marjorie Kelly, who brilliantly explains financialization and why its bloated form has become so destructive for human well-being. She documents the myriad ways the owners and managers of huge pools of capital skew power away from workers, diverting the fruits of productivity to outrageous incomes for the very few. She describes the terrifying prospect of finance absorbing the natural world as a new ‘asset class’ of ecosystem services. And then she lays out the possibilities for transformation, for a new form of political economy that would transfer wealth and power from the hands of the few to the control of the many. It is a critically needed vision of a sane, humane, ecological economy, built with practical examples that have the potential to carry vision to reality.”
—Neva Goodwin, Distinguished Fellow, Economics in Context Initiative, Boston University, and former Codirector, Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University
“I love this book. As Marjorie Kelly says in this brilliant work, our public discourse does little to question the core assumptions of our economy. Kelly explodes these as misleading myths. We badly need to build a future based on a new and transformative economic vision, and I cannot think of a better place to start than Kelly’s book. Highly recommended.”
—James Gustave Speth, author of America the Possible; former Dean, Yale School of the Environment; and cofounder of the Natural Resources Defense Council
“Marjorie Kelly inspired the B Corp movement with The Divine Right of Capital.”
—Jay Coen Gilbert, cofounder of B Lab
“Marjorie illuminates the perversion of the financial systems and incentives we humans have built. And she does it in a way that sneaks up on the reader. Reasonable, gracious, kind—making it pretty darned hard to ignore the message and the inspiration she offers.”
—Leslie Christian, Senior Investment Advisor, NorthStar Asset Management, and former CEO, Portfolio 21 Investments
“The Divine Right of Capital was transformative to my thinking as an entrepreneur: what is the purpose of any business if not to improve the lives of everyone it touches? This was the spark that ignited our decision to transfer ownership of Dansko to our employees. Wealth Supremacy deepens our resolve to imagine a new paradigm, reversing decades of extraction in Belize by giving the land and its resources back to the people in trust and creating a regenerative agribusiness to support it.”
—Mandy Cabot, founder of Dansko and cofounder and Director, Silk Grass Farms, Belize
“The Divine Right of Capital was my matrix moment in unveiling economic reality. In Wealth Supremacy, Kelly builds on that classic—naming the invisible sickness of our time, the deep bias that legitimizes the unsustainable extraction of wealth. She describes this disease so clearly it can never be unseen.”
—Gideon Rosenblatt, former Microsoft executive and Steward, Token Engineering Commons
“Marjorie Kelly invites us ‘to begin by seeing’—to view the real world of capitalism where extraction and individualism reign. Her book is a call to denaturalize the myths controlling our lives and stop sleepwalking past the awful abuses of our times. The democratic economy she describes is an inspiring—and conceivable—future, but one where we must collectively awaken to take action.”
—Ian MacFarlane, CEO, EA Engineering, Science, and Technology, PBC
“What might it take for a wholesale reset of our obsession with and idolization of extreme wealth, when it’s so clearly stealing the future? It starts by naming it: Wealth Supremacy.”
—Willow Berzin, Chief Assembler, Coalition of Everyone
“I’m still reeling from this book. It’s splendid—a compelling vision of an Economy for All and how far we must go to achieve it. I predict that the term ‘wealth supremacy’ will replace ‘income inequality.’ It’s way more expressive.”
—John Abrams, founder and President Emeritus, South Mountain Company, and author of Companies We Keep