The 4th Wave of Capitalism

By Brandon Peele

Ten years ago, I was at a crossroads. I had developed a lucrative skill set in finance, strategy, and business development, earned an Ivy League MBA, and was poised to become a world-beating executive. However, I had also begun an exploration into the nature of reality via the lenses of physics, psychology, ecology, and our wisdom traditions. I wanted to understand how best practices for human life intersected with economics and how my life could include both.

I was most struck by the conclusions of unity arrived at in each field. Physics quantumly entangled us; ecology and the atmospheric sciences made us interdependent; Big History gave us a shared genesis story that Wikipedia continues to record; Ken Wilber’s integral philosophy unites matter, ideas, individuals, and collectives; neuroscience gave us a social brain and empathy neurons; and economics wrapped our planet in a tight web of trade and currency policy. We no longer had to take mystics like Rumi and Whitman at their word. Unity is now a scientific fact and it appears that our species is on the verge of full realization of this oneness, with one major holdout - business.

I found that our economy rewarded outcomes (long hours, low wages, ecocide, ROI) antithetical to the now evident unified reality and best practices for human life (civil rights, access to organic food, clean air and water, healthcare and liberal arts education, leisure time for community, art, civic engagement, and finding purpose). I found that business was fighting a many-sided war versus the state (Tea Party), versus labor/children now qualify for school lunches), versus the ecology/unborn (50 percent of wildlife lost in the last 40 years), versus women (earning $0.80 for every dollar a man earns), versus African Americans (earning $0.59 for every dollar a white person earns), and versus science itself (climate change denial). When confronted with this reality, I suddenly felt shame for being a businessperson. Was I on the wrong side of history?

However, it would be history itself that would make this business-versus-reality war make sense, too. I needed to include the vector of time to appreciate how capitalism is ac- tually improving, inching ever closer to reconciling itself with our unified reality. 

Over the last 400 years, humanity has been transformed by three waves of capitalism. Currently we are experiencing the fourth wave: purpose. Each wave incorporates more unity, accounting for more types of capital and more of our best practices for living. The first three waves were free enterprise (liberating financial capital), labor (accounting for human capital), and ecology (accounting for ecological capital). The purpose wave (accounting for authenticity) includes the previous waves, and ushers in a new, more personal economic model.

The First Wave: Free Enterprise

In the first wave, Adam Smith advocated for free market capitalism as a vehicle for freedom and greater fulfillment, and for transforming humanity into a web of capitalist democracies. Other gifts of the first wave are the tech/startup/failure-positive culture and the belief that free enterprise can and should disrupt antiquated power structures.

The Second and Third Waves: Labor & Ecology

The next two waves addressed capitalism’s major faults, specifically its antagonistic relationship to the working class (the labor/ socialist movements of 1830 to 1930) and nature (the Green movement, 1910 to present). The lasting gifts of the second wave are collective bargaining, worker-owned cooperatives, OSHA, the 5-day/40-hour work week, child labor laws, and anti-discrimination laws. The lasting gifts of the third wave are conservation, renewable energy, sustainability, climate change diplomacy, ecological accounting, green businesses, and government agencies that regulate pollution.

The Imperfect Storm

These three waves are still crashing, still transforming our shores successively and always in this order - first, democracy/ entrepreneurship (e.g., in China), then labor (e.g., in Bolivia), then nature (e.g., in Brazil). Each country yearns for and yet resists each wave, sometimes finding itself battered about in the storm of these cross-currents.

America, for example, is still enmeshed in second-wave struggles as it underpays women and minorities, as the mid- dle class evaporates, and as unemployment and wage slavery persist. America is also engaged in third wave struggles at home and abroad over climate change, fracking, depleted soil and water tables, oil wars, deforestation, ocean acidification, pollution, and mass extinctions - realities that threaten the foundation upon which capitalism and all of humanity depend. And yet we feel another wave crashing on our shores.

The Fourth Wave: Purpose-Driven Enterprises

The Fourth Wave of Capitalism corrects for the third flaw in capitalism - the failure to account for authenticity and pur- pose and for humanity’s creative and psychological capital. The fourth wave is the transacting of business on the basis of authenticity, the creation of sustainable, equitable, and prof- itable Purpose-Driven Enterprises (PDEs), thus honoring the complexities of the first three waves while making business personally meaningful.


A PDE begins with the purpose of the founders, who treat their business as spiritual practice and, in so doing, treat their customers, employees, nature, and partners as gods. Increasingly, people are choosing to do business on the basis of purpose and authenticity, of soul resonance, and of a shared vision of a better world. Global communications firm Edelman, creator of the goodpurpose project, declares that “purpose is the new paradigm.”

The purpose economy is not comprised of old businesses slapping on partnerships with nonprofits (e.g., Susan G. Komen pink-washing natural gas fracking), but businesses that share a common genesis story - the sacred purpose of the founders. Patagonia is one of the first American PDEs (the first global PDE being Mondragon in Spain, founded in 1956). Patagonia is the soulful expression of its founder, Yvon Chouinard, to create great gear for its customers while marching forward to increase human dignity (see his book, "Let My People Go Surfing") and the rights of animals and plants (traceable goose down).

Numerous other PDEs include Clif Bar and New Belgium Brewing, as well as the up-swell in small-scale PDEs and worker-owned cooperatives crafting local, sustainable goods and services. Yet this wave is only beginning, as Gallup’s 2011 survey of American workers confirms that 71 percent of American workers are not fulfilled at work, i.e., their work is devoid of purpose and meaning.

In the long run, a PDE is the only enjoyable way of doing business and having a long-term competitive advantage, what marketers have historically called the “brand of you,” allowing each of us to give away our greatest gifts and to be fully self-expressed, engaged, and creative at work.

How To Surf The Wave

To surf this purpose wave as consumers, investors, and employees, we should choose companies that are driven by purpose. As entrepreneurs, we should:

1.) Embark upon purpose discovery work by reading and getting coached through the exercises in “True Purpose” by Tim Kelley, an MIT-educated former Silicon Valley executive and naval intelligence officer. If you prefer a more Christian approach, please check out Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life,” or for a more Eastern approach, Rod Stryker’s “Four Desires.”

2.) Develop a broad contextual understanding of psychology and ecology and economics so that your PDE includes, unifies, and amplifies all waves of capitalism.

3.) Build a community of purpose-driven, high-integrity peers whose goal is to support you in living truthfully, fully, and on purpose, and cultivate networks of other purpose-driven entrepreneurs via Bioneers and Net Impact.

If you choose this path of purpose, you not only open yourself to greater levels of personal fulfillment and success, but become a leader in the evolution of our species, reconciling business with the unity embedded in our sciences and religions and finding yourself on the right side of history. Your career will become an authentic, cogent, and inspiring answer to the question your grandchildren are sure to ask: “How did you live truthfully and create a more equitable, sustainable, and peaceful human presence?”

Brandon Peele is the Founder of The EVR1 Institute, where he helps people, groups and corporations find, live, and profit from their purpose. The EVR1 Institute recently launched a global purpose activation project,, to deliver free education and tools to answer the question,”What is my life’s purpose?” To celebrate August, Global Purpose Month, please explore The 21-Day Purpose Challenge, a global purpose discovery program and online community committed to finding, living and profiting from their life’s purpose.

This article appeared in Issue 3 | Summer 2015

To read more inspiring articles from Issue 3, including our cover story featuring Eileen Fisher, as well as inspiring stories featuring John Replogle of Seventh Generation, Pantheon Enterprises, Transatomic Power, gDiapers, and more - purchase a copy of Issue 3 online!

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