I keep thinking about the swiftness with which Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) collapsed. In the span of 48 hours, it went bust because as interest rates rose, VC capital to SVB’s portfolio companies decreased. That required the companies to start withdrawing deposits from SVB to fund day-to-day business operations but those deposits sat in bonds that were losing value by the day. The need for cash forced the bank to sell their illiquid bonds at a loss, and boom, financial panic.
Whenever I hear stories like these, I strangely have a surge of hope that it portends the fall of capitalism. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish financial hardship on anyone. I don’t relish the idea workers won’t get paid or that their retirement accounts will vanish. But I do very much wish corporate capitalism will fall. Big corporations running the show are destroying, well, everything. There’s a place for small-scale capitalism in the form of local shops and restaurants, but these huge conglomerates exacerbating wealth inequality are choking the life out of us.
I had a visceral experience with wealth inequality this week when I went to San Francisco for an appointment. Every 10 feet I either spotted an unhoused person or was solicited by one. It’s overwhelming to be somewhere people are shouting, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” every few feet, and not because they’re hawking goods but because they are in desperate need of something as basic as food.
I cried multiple times when I came home because it’s heartbreaking to witness the evils of capitalism in your face like that and also to know things could be different. The U.S. is the beating heart of capitalism and materialism and visiting Australia reminded me of that. I was abroad for Valentine’s Day and I barely remembered the holiday was occurring because there weren’t hearts displayed in every storefront. There weren’t exhortations to stock up on chocolate and teddy bears whereas here, every holiday is an opportunity to sell something, and the pressure to buy more, more, more is always there.
Is it any wonder SVB execs did what they did? I’m not absolving them of wrongdoing but I am saying we live in a culture where this sort of behavior is encouraged. And yet, SVB did fail and in that collapse, I take heart remembering my spiritual teacher said capitalism will explode like a firecracker, and furthermore, no one will know it’s about to happen even 15 minutes before.
The time element is likely hyperbole but the strong grip capitalism has on our society is not interminable. It can change and it will change because capitalism will collapse under the weight of its own greed. I don’t know what that turning point will be. I don’t know what event will finally cause capitalism to explode like a firecracker, but I know it’s coming. And I also know I welcome that world because I experienced a small taste of it when I was in Australia, which yes, is a capitalist country, but not nearly as materialistic as the good ole U.S. of A.
I dream of a world where capitalism is a faded memory. A world where compassion, kindness, and care for others are valued over greed and amassing as much wealth as possible. A world where in the moments we wonder if that future exists, we remind ourselves it does because as SVB shows us, capitalism will explode like a firecracker and it may happen fast.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.