A Thought Experiment Ending with Transparency and Social Businesses
We can see Americans increasingly rebelling against both the establishment left and the right. Even the mainstream media has had to cover this aspect of the transitions which both political parties are going through during this decade of endless predictable crises.
Acknowledgment of the corruption found on both sides of the political aisle is one of the core concepts which amazing outlets like We Are Change, Infowars and the Corbett Report attempt to spread. I have always found the current two-party system completely inadequate for aggregating the will of the people, and have long adored the idea of either more parties or no parties. So I am very excited to see this reach an ever more conscious level of the national dialogue, but I want to tease the ball a few steps further to help expand the range of potential solutions we consider for upcoming debates.
Below is a more relaxed, long-brewing brainstorm on a couple of paradigms I think might also contribute to paralyzing, if not controlling or co-opting, our best courses of action. These could hypothetically be highlighted to help divide and conquer the masses.
In some cases, the polarizing effect of having primarily two extreme camps to choose from on sub-issues may be hurting more than helping. We also sometimes see the negative effects of such polarization skyrocket when single ideologies are be forced on all scenarios, instead of a more flexible case by case basis. Fortunately the movement has loud voices warning people not to follow any one ideology.
So this is a humble request for the movement to keep pushing past the confines separating us to keep finding increasingly targeted solutions to counter-offer those provided from the top-down system. The better we can hone our arguments and improve our messaging to newcomers to alternative analysis and deep politics.
More VS Less Government? Quality NOT Quantity.
This is a simpler example, and relates to many of my good patriot friends who stand firmly with slogans for “Less Government.” To my eyes or ears, such statements feel a bit counterproductive to our shared goals for a few reasons, but maybe it only irks me.
“Less Government” is vague enough to be co-opted by almost any harmful solution provided. It is also not a rule/ideology you can always follow, unless you’re an anarchist…but then your sign should probably read, “No Government.” This formula should not be endlessly applied, and our libertarian friends sometimes take this mantra too far too blindly.
But more importantly, it implies that the size of government has a causal relationship with its level of corruption or negative impact. In my book, this feels quite unfair.
Larger organizations of any type may have more room for bad apples to hide and prosper. But our society’s policies, manufactured culture and promoted incentives have a far greater influence the positive or negative nature of the impact of organizations (governmental or not).
In a similarly apathetic political climate, a given corporation might have even less trouble buying out a smaller government than our current monstrosity. At the same time, there is a real threat of “Big Government” when corporations can entrench departments and pro-actively using government to directly enact corporate agenda, find ways to increase their budgets to keep expanding their government cloaked work, as we saw more publicly during George W Bush’s military-industrial reign. In the same administration we saw other corporate owned departments strip themselves down as much as possible, completely disassembling any form of meaningful regulation over themselves.
Our current [predictable] economic bubble burst could have been avoided/postponed if trillions of dollars in profit incentives not been allowed to manifest in the first place as derivatives, sub-prime mortgages and other legal Ponzi schemes. That scale of money is not just a motive with a universal adapter on it, but also notably contributes to increasing the vast wealth disparity.
Along these lines, and somewhat ironically, many of those using the “Less Government” slogan might also likely be in favor improving/returning real banking regulations to once against prevent these abuses which the world people and economies are suffering. I assume that a ban on toxic financial products (or any other way to regulate them) would generally be interpreted as “More Government” on this scale.
But if the incentives of our culture were shifted enough, and procedures were made ~100% transparent to the public, we might be able to find some government G spot where the government reflects the public’s interest. This might be theoretical, but it should be nearly attainable, not even requiring a revolution but incremental changes in the correct direction for a change. And seems to be what we should be striving for…ever more pure realization of those ideals inspiring us as youth learning about our republic/democracy (sorry, still insufficient understanding of that paradigms).
The causality implied in this association between more government and bad government also does not seem theoretically sound. With a truly responsible government, an increase in its size could simultaneously increase citizen freedoms. In conclusion, I argue we need to focus on uprooting the incentives for corruption in government, perhaps via campaign finance reform and revolving door protections, instead of just saying we want to change the size. A wise woman once told me it is not really the size of your government that matters, it’s all about how you use it.
The Capitalism VS Socialism Paradigm
This is a case with much graver polarization, and it might be totally unnecessary. One of my dad’s core mantras is all about looking for the right questions to ask. Despite Chomsky’s blind spots or self-censoring on select topics, he is of course brilliant, inspiring and an early influence of mine. So I really like his approach on this here (click here for video).
“Suppose you’re in the 18th century. Should you be asking, ‘Which is the best kind of feudalism?’ I mean that’s all it was. So which is the best kind of feudalism, and slavery, and monarchy and so on and so forth. It just wasn’t the right question. I mean the right question is, ‘Is there something better?’ Like say, parliamentary democracy. Even though there were no examples of it. There were seeds of it, but no functioning examples. I mean seeds of had it been developed and usually crushed, as in England, but these were legitimate struggles. And you know, they succeeded. I mean by now you have parliamentary democracies, which aren’t fantastic but are better than feudalism.” – The World: The Noam Chomsky Sessions
Suppose you’re in the 21st century, what is the best kind of capitalism? The best socialism? Is capitalism better than socialism? What blend of the two would be best? Why are we limited to these questions?
Capitalism or socialism often represent the two main options offered to us in response to most problems, but we don’t even consider trying to come up with any new forms of national economic or governmental organization. Case by case, those rooting for capitalism might tend to dismiss socialist solutions, and vice versa, mostly to stay loyal to their dominant ideology. But as humans we sometimes get trapped into acting like these ideologies are the mythical unified theory of everything in physics, applying it to every aspect of society.
An occasionally mentioned aspect to the discussion is how many ‘socialized’/nationalized services and industries, most people have long approved of like THE MILITARY, Highway System, Federal Waterways, FBI, Bureau of Prisons, Census Bureau, National Park Service, Social Security and all the other free services provided by the executive and legislative branches. So it seems we could have been considered a part-capitalist, part-socialist country for decades. Even better are the number of recent cases we see where the profits privatized while the risks a nationalized, like the painful bank bailouts and Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The point of terms like ‘crony capitalism,’ is to point out just how far we are from the pure idealized form touted by talking heads. In fact, it seems the bigger mutant capitalist corporations have become so efficient at their business that they went ahead and took over our government, saving us the trouble of regulating them. But if we reign the beast in soon, we may yet have a chance to replace weapons research budgets by incentivizing less harmful technologies across the board.
Unfortunately these ‘ism’s may be false options on yet another level, given another alternate analysis arguing that our country has been best defined as fascist for decades now. This is rooted in the comprehensive corporate influence on most important functions of government, controlling both candidates in a single-party state. A plutocracy (or corpocracy, corporatocracy) has emerged very clearly, along side some of the largest and most offensive wealth inequities in modern history.
It is also bizarre that there is such passion for either of these economic systems, as we have seen examples of both producing failed states when inappropriately implemented…bringing us back my focus on quality over quantity. Our capitalist experiment has been going for just a few hundred years, and this current incarnation of crazed crony-capitalism has clearly dominated at least the past century. It seems clear the technological advances provided by our capitalism incentivized by wealth has potential for enormous net benefits for our species in the long run…but the judge is still out, between our food mono-cultures, biodiversity, GMOs, nuclear and biological weapons.
Another large unmentioned issue when debating socialist versus capitalist solutions is the source of the taxes. An interesting thought experiment is to first ask some one if they would favor socializing some service, perhaps health care. Then ask them if they would still be opposed to it if typical citizens once again did not pay any income tax, while the Fortune 500 moves out of the Cayman Islands to start correcting the record wealth disparities. The nature of who or where the finances come from to run all nationalized services should be a critically important factor in what people think is worth paying for.
The final problem I have with these false options is that they don’t seem to be completely mutually exclusive. As Chomsky says later in the video above, there is no reason businesses cannot be managed democratically controlled by their workers and community, and compete with other businesses managed the same way and others. But there are other ways to improve the capitalism formula without giving up the typical management hierarchy of today.
Capitalism doesn’t say businesses must compete by maximizing-profits, which is very selfish and short-sighted, that’s just how we’ve been playing. If more large-scale businesses stop going public to make them legally bound to maximize profits for shareholders, they will be free to be the best business they can be across all dimensions which humans care about.
If customers and investors take more initiative to carefully vote daily with their dollars for social-benefit-maximizing businesses, which show enough conscience to mitigate their externalities while provide the world beneficial products and services. Dollar votes are currently the most powerful form of voting we have, far better than the false choice A or B every 4 years. More resources for the information required to educate these daily decisions are likely to emerge, like The Better World Handbook. But this social-benefit-maximizing business model is a marvelous idea champions by Muhammad Yunus, the Social Business. I strongly recommend you explore this concept and this man more, here is an except to wet your appetite:
This general concept of a social business is also finally catch hold in America. This is possibly a side-effect of the long-awaited liberal pendulum swing, and the tough economic times of our decade. Yunus was just last year awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.
His microcredit banks have brought millions out of poverty in Bangladesh over the past four decades — side-note: this should theoretically be a plus for eugenicists because population naturally stabilizes as a country develops, and this may be the most natural, positive and creative method being successfully tried. A few test-runs of similar microcredit banks are finally being started up in America.
According to the web site of B Corporation, a leading certification firm to certify businesses adhering to enough of these kinds of social business principles, over 300 companies have become certified with a branded B Corporation status since 2006, including Seventh Generation. The 300 represent $1.1 billion in revenues, 54 industries, and $750k in annual savings.
There is a parallel movement around the country to grant legal tax status to B Corporations which one assumes will offer various benefits back to these businesses. My home state of Maryland signed the nation’s first Benefit Corporation legislation on April 13th and Vermont passed it on May 19th, 2010. Whether or not their state is ready for it yet, businesses can start taking a confidential survey NOW to learn what areas they need improvement on, to work towards a longer-term goal of becoming fully certified.
Full disclosure: my very cool 9-5 work, Rescue Social Change Group, based in San Diego, is already looking into this process and looks forward to becoming certified without having to alter our existing small social business model infused from the beginning. What can I say other than, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Conclusions: Transparency and Social Businesses
Alone, neither left nor right, neither more nor less government, neither capitalism nor socialism can save us. So let us please not choose our preferred solutions solely because they fit into one ideology or another. Rationally look at the situation and find the longest-term good we can muster no matter what ‘ism’ it implies.
In place of protesting for less (or more) government, I would protest for transparent government. Any sized government can work for its people if they have information and access. What jerks in Congress can forever avoid voting for bills if they are specifically honed only on increasing transparency? As a general note, shorter bills in Congress may generally help both these issues and finding more worth-while common ground. Campaign finance reform is quite possibly the other most serious roadblock to real control over our own government.
‘Do you lean towards Capitalism or Socialism?’ – Maybe I’m into Social Businism!
Either ideology, taken to the extreme, becomes quite a scary beast, so please don’t use them as the primary basis for every decision. It’s just like being tempted to just vote down your party-line…what does that party stand for, exactly…and as related to a specific modern-day issue?
In this next economy transition, we could try to replace a portion of the 100% worthless trinket capitalism products and services with social businesses to compete on a few fronts with the corporate-industrial complex, targeting first the industries vital to human life an well-being. With the proper public education, product labeling and accessibility, we can gradually shift to only pay for products made with our long-term interest in mind, instead of someone else’s short-term bottom-line.
And it should turn out that plenty of industries and niche markets do not need to ditch their profit-maximizing models. Hopefully many key industries will end up dominated by social businesses and see a rebirth to provide options healthier for us, our neighbors and our planet. There will also always be room for profit-maximizing businesses to coexist even after this, but that decision would be in the hands of those markets.
So if enough people like this, it is one possible direction we could try to steer towards while we’re fighting the smaller battles: the widespread conversions and start-ups of real Social Businesses, followed up by communities supporting them simply with our patronage.
Why wait for Washington when we can make these moves ourselves?