Grant Mccracken: Concatenating Capitalism

Lynne Kiesling

Grant McCracken always has insightful interpretations of various human/social phenomena, and in this recent post he offers one that he calls “concatenating capitalism“. In discussing “eco-entrepreneur” Joshua Onysko and his work developing his Pangea Organics products, Grant makes a decidedly beyond-Schumpeterian observation about the role of entrepreneurs in transforming the economy and the daily lives of consumers:

But Joshua is not interested in the usual life trajectory of the entrepreneur.  No, he is intent on the reformation of capitalism.  He wants to change the way we think about products, packaging, manufacture, retail, consumption, and the planet.  (Some Pangea products have seeds embedded in the packaging…to make the garbage bloom.)

In a sense, Joshua is exercising the advantage of his generation.  My generation (boomers) tend to see the world as a series of discrete episodes.  What happens here doesn’t have any necessary connection there.  My generation can see consequences but we tend to think of them as capital letters joined by little arrows: A > B.  It’s clear that Joshua thinks more in terms of concatenation, where events run in all directions at once.

I think this deceptively simple insight is profound because it illuminates the inherent non-linearity and complexity that characterize the aggregation of real interactions in real markets, a connection that Grant goes on to make in his characteristic thought-provoking way:

It is the genius of capitalism that it is so very pliable.  It doesn’t really care about the details, just so long as interested parties can engage in transactions that work to their respective advantage.  Indeed, it has conventionally preserved that brilliant act of reduction that Adam Smith accomplished in Wealth of Nations.  It removes from consideration everything extra-transactional, all the cultural, social, political, ecological factors coming in and going out of the transaction.  All of these were, in Kuhnian terms, extra-paradigmatic.  The model didn’t include them.  It didn’t need to know about them.  Onyesko and the double entrepreneurs appear now to be reinstalling these factors, making them visible, thinkable, calculable, perhaps even manageable.

I’ve left out quite a bit, so do go read his whole post, and more of his work.