A vision for a post-corporate world
I am afraid I’m becoming a socialist. It’s like becoming a junkie; you don’t start out to become one, it just sort of happens. I thought I’d kicked the habit – of socialism, not heroin – years ago, some time after the countercultural revolution of the ’60s degenerated into the decadent self-absorption of the ’70s. Socialism was in vogue during my college years and I had a rather serious flirtation with it, though the complexities of economic theory were far past the realm of my understanding. But lately, thanks to Bush Corp., I’ve been forced to give some thought to the possibility that socialism may be the last best option to our failing system of capitalism. Even if I don’t fully grasp the theory, it doesn’t take a Keynes to figure out that something isn’t working. Or, as we used to say in Burlington, even if it ain’t broke, it sure is bent all to hell.
Either way, you don’t have to look very far for the signs. Somehow a system that has as its sole ethic the maximization of profit, that rewards greed at the expense of integrity, that turns a blind eye toward dishonesty, and that ignores the unfathomable disparity between the rich and the poor is fundamentally flawed. So really the question boils down to whether it is systemic or merely a series of personal shortcomings.
Did Enron bilk thousands of employees out of hundreds of millions of dollars in pensions because the late and unlamented Ken Lay was a jerk? Did WorldCom declare the biggest bankruptcy in American history merely because of poor management? Did GlaxoSmithKline inflate the prices of their drugs used by cancer patients because of a few rotten apples at the top? Did Halliburton win no-bid contracts and reap obscene profits because Buckshot Cheney used to be their CEO? Did Jack Abramoff get to be the fourth most powerful man in America (behind Rove, The Duh and Deadeye Dick) because he is a smooth operator and persuasive guy? Did BP allow their Prudhoe Bay pipeline to deteriorate just so they could show stockholders a $70 billion profit last quarter? Did Apple (who are supposed to be the good guys) backdate stock options because upper management was due a windfall?
Well, the answer to all the above is yes. And no. Yes, there is colossal greed and arrogance at the top, there is horrible and short-sighted decision-making and there is influence peddling galore. But there is also an administration and compliant Congress that gives every conceivable tax break to big business at the expense of the middle class; there is an out-of-control military-industrial complex that seems to be accountable to no one; and there is a planet that is increasingly unable to sustain life as we know it because to do something about it might reduce profits of some of the world’s largest corporations.
So, it appears to me that the answer is that it’s the system, not just a few greedy bourgeoisie pigs (ooh, I haven’t used that phrase in a long time) that is at fault. Maybe it’s time, as the astrologists might say, to tear down in order to rebuild on a firmer foundation.
But what kind of bricks and cinder blocks should go into that foundation? I would not pretend to know how to build the house, but here are few of its keystones:
The needs of the overwhelming majority must take precedence over those of the few mega rich. Somehow the wealth must be more equitably distributed throughout the populace, rather than concentrated at the top.
The maximization-of-profit motive must be replaced by something along the lines of, say, the benefit-mankind-and-make-a-reasonable-profit motive. Entrepreneurship must still be rewarded, but not if it involves ethical compromises.
Business owners must voluntarily plow back a portion of profits toward the health and well-being of the community and/or the planet. The Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream model comes to mind.
The justification of all sorts of evil, duplicity and unseemly conduct under the banner of “just business” must be eliminated. Why is it that lying, stretching, embellishing the truth and assorted sins of omission are perfectly acceptable in a business environment?
Protection of the environment must be inviolable. Safeguards must be enforced and violators punished severely. Green economics, enviro-friendly products and conservation are not just the waves of the future but the keys to our survival.
And if all these elements look and feel and taste like socialism, so be it. If, centuries hence, there is ever to be true spiritual enlightenment among the species, the demise of capitalism will be the precursor. By spiritual enlightenment I mean an ethos wherein the well-being of one’s fellow man takes precedence over the selfish wants of oneself and where reverence for the planet is sacrosanct.
We won’t live to see it, but it’s got to start somewhere.
Ogi may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, heard each Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen each Friday at 6:30 a.m. on ABC45 and Sunday at 10 p.m. on UPN48 on “Triad Today.”