John F. Ince

Hi, I’m John Ince and I’m an author, blogger, podcaster, documentary filmmaker and social entrepreneur with a special interest in money, banking, philanthropy, social finance, social enterprise and sustainability.

I’ve reflected from time to time, on a curious irony: why should the son of a conservative Wall Street banker, today be cast in the role of evangelist for a sweeping and visionary blueprint for systemic change towards a more creative and conscious form of capitalism: Capitalism 3.0?   Upon reflection I can see clearly that the course of my personal transformation from potential cog in the system to evangelist for systemic change was foreordained by the force of serendipity.  A few episodes in my life stand out as illustrative.

In high school I often sat near the back of the classroom next to, Steve, middle son in the only Chinese American family living in our upper middle class, New York City suburban community.  Steve and I shared an iconoclastic view of the world, sometimes passing cryptic notes to each other commenting on various quirks of our school system and teachers.  One day in social studies class, our teacher was attempting a lesson in economics.   She was describing the wondrous operations of efficient and free markets.  Steve and I both found something lacking in her analysis and “encouraged” her to explain exactly how free markets operated to the benefit of all.  We asked pointed questions based solely on the logic of what she presented, pushing to a point where she grew increasingly flustered.  A few times she got completely lost in her analysis, much to the delight of Steve, me and our fellow students.  That night when I got home, my mother asked me what had happened that day in social studies.   Apparently the teacher had called both my mother and Steve’s to complain that we had intentionally embarrassed her in class.  My mother seemed none too concerned by my precocious nature at the time.  Little did she know what lay ahead.

I lost touch with Steve after graduation and often wondered what had become of him.   Almost 30 years later, I opened up the morning paper to see Steve’s picture on the front page and an article proclaiming to the world that he had just won the Nobel Prize in physics.  Today Steve Chu is President Obama’s choice for head of the Department of Energy, entrusted with the ambitious charge of moving our energy system towards a green, clean and renewable future.  Steve Chu, like me was a contrarian both as a scientist and as a head of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab.  In high school we challenged spoon fed economic ideas.  Today we’re both challenging the status quo again.

*****

While an undergraduate at Harvard in the late sixties, I lived in Dunster House on the Charles River.  Dunster achieved a reputation as a hotbed of radical activity during the student protests.  One evening at the dining hall, rumors spread that the FBI had tapped some students’ phones, including the phone of Al Gore, who lived in Dunster.  Gore’s father was embroiled in a bitter campaign for reelection to the U. S. Senate against a conservative opponent who was making headway by raising the issue the younger Gore’s involvement with anti-war protests.  Operatives from Al Gore senior’s campaign soon showed up on campus and told Al to knock it off.  He may have stopped protesting then, but he hasn’t stopped now and has been recognized for his efforts with a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award.

During the student protests, I cast myself in the role of interested observer and was fascinated by popular unrest as an instrument of systemic change.  I attended teach ins, rallies and mass meetings, because I found the logic of the protests both exciting and compelling.  I was intellectually attracted to the rhetoric about both the protests of the Vietnam war and the larger questioning of the system. Back then, very few of the students understood the system or how it really works, though they more than happy to rail against it.  Their strategy for bringing down the system was to use the sledgehammer of public protest. That’s what the “revolution” was all about.  Somehow, by taking over buildings and organizing rallies, those who ran the system would cave into student demands, abdicate their throne of power and a better system would prevail.  With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the student’s bravado was naive.  But the passion behind the rhetoric was real.

Today, many of those who were then searching for solutions, are ensconced in positions of power.  Ben Bernanke, who would live a few houses away at Harvard, is now Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  John G. Roberts, who would live nearby in another Harvard house is now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  A few years later, Barack Obama studied at Harvard Law School and after classes used to play basketball in Hemenway gym, my favorite playground for “jungleball” at Harvard.   Barney Frank, who back then was a tutor in Dunster House, is one of the most powerful members of Congress as Chair of the House Financial Services Committee.  Al Franken, who lived in Dunster a few years after me, is now a U. S. Senator.  Little did we know that future national policy should be so strongly influenced, by a group of precocious students who back then were acting out ill formed ideas.

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