Capitalism at the Crossroads: The Challenge for Wake Forest’s Center for the Study of Capitalism

October 1, 2020

by Christina Elson

We may not do it consciously, but each of us grapples with the future of American capitalism. The next time you find yourself fretting about the pandemic’s impact on your company’s brand or market share, or muttering that you need better technology to complete the big assignment you just got from your boss, or worrying about your kids not finding gainful employment after graduation, you’re tackling the same issues that animate the Wake Forest University Center for the Study of Capitalism (CSC).

True, you may not have an experienced group of thought leaders helping you navigate those challenges the way CSC does, but you’re pondering many of the same questions. To wit, how can we:

  • Infuse a greater sense of purpose into our jobs and places of business, especially as we wrestle with the existential threat of climate change and the worst public health crisis in a century?
  • Bridge the technology gap, make our companies smarter, leaner, and more technologically savvy, and create better opportunities for our young people to compete in a global economy?
  • Address the inequities wrought by free markets, while recognizing that not every capitalist inequity has a solution?
  • Continually re-evaluate what broadly shared prosperity should mean for our families, communities, and nation, e.g., what does a long, safe, and happy life mean for us now? How about a generation from now?

If you sense that your country, your community, and your company are at the crossroads of these big issues, you’re not alone. That’s why Wake Forest University created CSC. It fits with the university’s historic mission: Pro Humanitate, to improve the human condition through cooperation and resourceful thinking.

With the help of our Affiliates, some of the most inventive minds in business today, CSC is studying the enormous challenges that surround the present and future of U.S. capitalism. Our goal is to assist employees, investors, and other stakeholders in making enlightened choices and building a capitalist system that works for them – and works for people and institutions across the spectrum.

The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered major disruptions, even turmoil, in the U.S. and global business communities. Bankruptcies and layoffs are threatening to reach Great Recession levels. A friend of CSC volunteered in mid-September that the pandemic’s economic toll is like an earthquake – and the mental health toll will be like the tsunami that follows an earthquake.

Our education system, therefore (including Wake Forest’s undergraduate and graduate curriculum), must be realigned to provide our young people with the skills they’ll need to succeed in a radically different, and perhaps unsteady, global marketplace. CSC wants to be at the forefront of the effort to reexamine the relationship among business, government, and civic leaders. We want to inject into the debate a sense of urgency, a desire to help create a society in which all Americans can realize their potential.

Our modus operandi is ambitious: to work with data-driven analysts, researchers, communicators, and students to foster a better understanding of capitalism and its role in a technological world that changes with breathtaking speed. CSC’s work revolves around four impact areas:

  • Environment: How can we mitigate climate change and other crises while still promoting global development?
  • Health: How can we sustain a healthy, growing world population?
  • Education: How can we generate intellectual development opportunities, so that everyone has a chance to compete in and contribute to a capitalist economy?
  • Systems: How can we enhance the interactions among our business, community, and government institutions to spark creative approaches and greater prosperity across the board?

To help realize our own potential, CSC will need input from two key sources: the public, especially Wake Forest alumni, students, and faculty; and our Affiliate strategists, which now includes corporate crisis communicator Richard Levick; entrepreneur Billy Prim, the founder of Blue Rhino and Primo Water; and John A. Allison, the former Chairman and CEO of BB&T Bank. We are actively seeking to grow our list of Affiliates and take on additional responsibility

How is CSC carrying out its mission? Through creating curricula for learners of all ages and launching a dynamic series of symposia, podcasts, and online postings designed to bring the work of thought leaders to our community. We are working with our Affiliates to launch our first annual symposia in 2022.

The CSC is home to two series. The Future of Capitalism series focuses on how the current crisis is forcing us to rethink business as usual. Topics include the importance – and perils – of whistleblowing in Corporate America, rising media bias, and profound changes to college and professional sports.

CSC’s The Inc. Tank focuses on fast-moving technologies such as AI, synthetic biology, blockchain, and their impact on business and society. The fall season features programs on voting technology, blockchain for human health, detecting PTSD, the benefits and challenges of having multiple jobs and careers over time, and more.

Our aim is to keep everything as real and accessible as a couple’s family budget discussion around the kitchen table. To do that, we’ll need the help of the Wake Forest community. Please contact us at and let us know if there are topics you’d like us to broach or experts you’d like us to interview.

There’s an adage in the business world that now applies to CSC’s task: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” As tragic as America’s current public health, economic, and social justice crises are, they nevertheless provide us – and CSC – with an opportunity to reshape and revitalize U.S. capitalism. Please follow CSC’s journey on:

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Christina Elson is the executive director of the Wake Forest University Center for the Study of Capitalism.