Management

The Rise of Indie Capitalism


Alice Waters, the executive chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.

Photograph by Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Alice Waters, the executive chef and owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.

Here’s a shocking truth: Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party actually agree on something. They both hate crony capitalism, and they both love Steve Jobs. If this sounds freaky, let me add another weird fact: Practically all my students at the New School in New York, where I teach a course on creativity and capitalism, want to start their own companies. The New School is renown for being a bastion of lefty thought, going back to the 1930s and ’40s. My students want to be entrepreneurs. They want to be Kickstarter, kickass entrepreneurs. These students want to belong to what I call Indie Capitalism.

I use the term Indie deliberately to reflect a new economy that shares many of the distributive and social structures of the independent music scene—and the value system as well. Indie bands are hyperlocal, and Indie Capitalism is a post-global, local economic phenom (think 3D printing, locavore eating, and crowdfunding new products). Indie capitalists are über-urban, too, feeding off the cultural/entrepreneurial energy of cities—New York, Portland, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin. And they are, of course, super-participative. Indie Capitalists believe in our making of all things, with no clear boundaries between consumer and producer, investor and shopper. We are all of them.

There are many Indie Capitalists already among us. Alice Waters’s groundbreaking organic restaurant Chez Panisse has served as a model for the “source-local” food movement. Blue Marble Ice Cream, “Made in Brooklyn,” uses only local New York State cow milk and hires folks from the neighborhood. Chrysler Group tapped into the Indie culture when it hired Wieden + Kennedy to come up with the “Imported from Detroit” ad, with a song by Detroit-born Eminem.

My favorite Indie Capitalist is entrepreneur Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal (EBAY). He’s handcrafting Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules to take people and cargo to the International Space Station—and even to Mars. His company SpaceX integrates creativity, creation, and capitalism. So does his other company, Tesla Motors (TSLA), which is assembling and selling all-electric sports cars and four-door sedans out of an old California factory.

Indie Capitalism has three foundational principles:

• Creativity generates economic value. Creativity is the source of profit. Yes, efficiency can squeeze more out of what exists, but creativity gives us originality, which translates into a market advantage and big margins.

• Creativity drives capitalism. These past few years we have been victimized by the disastrous results of “creativity” applied to the financial sector (mortgage-backed securities, for starters). What we lost sight of is that the scaling of creativity to actually make things of value sold in the marketplace is the true heart of our economic system. It is the true generator of net new jobs, wealth, and tax revenue.

• Creative destruction is crucial to economic growth. Crony capitalism, which relies on monopoly and political power, is antithetical to entrepreneurial capitalism. A faster cycle of birth, growth, and death of companies boosts creativity, economic value, and growth.

The contours of Indie Capitalism are only just coming into view. They will change over time, as my students and millions of others build this new economic system. But in the reconnecting of creativity to capitalism, we have something to look forward to.

Bruce_nussbaum
Nussbaum, a former assistant managing editor of Businessweek, is a Professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School of Design and author of the forthcoming book, Creative Intelligence (HarperBusiness, March 2013). Follow him on Twitter or visit his Tumblr.

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  • EBAY
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  • TSLA
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    • $256.78 USD
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