This week, a jury of 12 citizens handed down three guilty verdicts in the death of George Floyd. For many, this is a sign of a system that’s slowly working to provide equal protection for everyone.
It might seem odd to talk about this monumental case on an investment website. Capitalism, especially at the multi-national, corporate scale, is not often viewed as a vehicle for redressing historic misdeeds. But it would be a mistake to summarily cast aside the role that consciously applied capitalism can play.
Mission-driven, for-profit companies actually exist
No company is perfect, Axon Enterprise (NASDAQ: AXON) among them. But the company’s mission has been the same from the very beginning: “to protect life.” It has since expanded that mission to include, “to preserve truth,” and, “to accelerate justice.” Those three aren’t hard for everyone to get behind.
What started out as a project “to make the bullet obsolete” — which led to the development of Taser stun guns — has evolved into something much bigger. Today, Axon’s technology can capture body camera footage — creating the most trusted record we have of what happens during officer-involved use-of-force incidents.
In the case of George Floyd, bystander footage — more than Axon body cameras — was the key piece of evidence that galvanized a massive global movement to say “something needs to change.” But in countless other cases, Axon’s cameras have definitively revealed both criminal use of force by police, as well as justifiable use of force that helped protect lives.
The advantages of making a profit
In 2019, Axon founder and CEO Patrick Smith was speaking at a college where protestors had gathered unhappy with his presence. One of them asked, “Mr. Smith, your company makes hundreds of millions of dollars selling for a profit to government agencies, how on Earth can we trust you?”
Smith’s response was telling. He described losing two friends to gun violence as a young adult, and wanting to do something about it:
I could have gone out and started a non-profit to try to go after this problem. However, on a practical basis, that would mean I would have to spend a large portion of my time out asking people for money, for donations. Instead, I focused on seeing if I could develop a business model that could create technologies to address the problem. … Thousands of agencies around the world use TASER devices and body cameras today, and more than 200,000 people have been saved from potential death or serious injury with our systems. It is inconceivable that any other approach I could have taken would have near this scale or impact.
Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner has long said you should “make your portfolio reflect your best vision for the future.” Last year, Smith published a book, The End of Killing, with a bold goal: policing without killing — at all — by 2030 through the use of non-lethal weapons. That is certainly a vision for the future we can all get behind.
There’s a role for everyone in making our future whole. NGOs, local governments, nonprofits — any group of people randomly meeting to make the world a good place to live. There’s enough space for everyone.
But we shouldn’t forget that companies — which because they turn a profit have an inherent level of sustainability — can also play a role. No, this doesn’t include every publicly traded company. But we all can be proud to support the cause of those it does include. I fervently believe they, too, can be a force for good — for everyone — in our shared future.
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