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Two old hippies forged path for new economy

by Ogi Overman

In the interests of full disclosure, let’s get this out of the way at the top: As I admitted last week, economic theory is not my gig, never was, never will be. I don’t know Adam Smith from Adam West, Greenspan from the Green Monster, Galbraith from Gabby Hayes. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night, so I feel at least qualified to raise some questions and provide a starting point for debate.

The debate, as I see it, is this: Is our economic system broken, and if so, how do we fix it? If you don’t think it’s broken, stop right here and go back to your Lemmings for Limbaugh meeting. But if you see capitalism as inherently flawed, greed as a character failing and obscene wealth as, well, obscene, then maybe there’s the makings of a dialogue here.

Let’s start with a few basic assumptions:

• The maximization of profit should not be the end-all and be-all of capitalism.

• The profit motive, in and of itself, has value, provided the profits are earned ethically and spread equitably.

• The disparity between the top and bottom of the economic scale is far too great, and that some system should be put in place to guarantee basic necessities for the low end.

• Sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reason.

Now, starting at the top, no one’s suggesting that capitalism be scrapped, merely tweaked. Maximizing profit should also include maximizing worker satisfaction and should take into account that there is a greater good than making as much money as possible. At a certain level, profits should be plowed back to the workers as well as the investors and stockholders, saving a percentage for the benefit of the community, the environment, the less fortunate among us or society at large.

He who takes the risk makes the profit is a tenet of capitalism that actually makes sense. But in addition to profit, the system should also emphasize values and seek to drive social change. The profit motive can provide a means of making the world a better place, hokey as it sounds, by taking a fair profit and… gasp!… giving the rest away.

This obviously leads to the next assumption, that the disparity between the high end and low end of the scale is too great, that too few individuals have too much of the pie. The top 10 percent is eating 90 percent of the pie, leaving the other 90 percent of us scrambling for 10 percent of the crumbs. I’m not suggesting that socialism would be any better, merely that private-sector profits could be used to create conditions by which the low end could improve their lot in life.

Getting to the nitty-gritty, how does society impose its will on the oligarchy so that it voluntarily places the good of its fellow man on a par with maximizing profit? Answer: You show them that it is possible to make a boatload of money and do some good in the world at the same time. A graduated tax scale, whereby the rich pay a higher percentage, is how we’ve done it so far. But higher taxation only leads to more government intrusion, and the point in this brave new world is to break up the symbiosis of big government and big business. They’ve become incestuous, feeding off one another, each needing the other for its survival. Centralization is the fatal flaw of democracy/capitalism; the reason that so few international conglomerates control so much of the world’s wealth is because the various governments, not just the good ol’ US of A – created the conditions, meaning laws and loopholes, that allowed it to happen. Monopolies are not naturally occurring; there has to be governmental collusion.

So, what we’re talking about here is a more organic way of business formation, one that is more in keeping with the natural order of things. My friend, Rhode Island Roy the Radical Boy, calls our new system “decentralized economic cooperatives,” but there are many variations. I’ve heard “deep conscious capitalism,” “collectivism,” “socially conscious capitalism,” “participatory economics,” “green capitalism,” “social entrepreneurship” and “values-led economy.” I came up with “cooperativism,” meaning the spirit of cooperation must be equivalent to that of competition.

None of this is new, by the way. The model for this new way of melding entrepreneurial spirit and social consciousness was provided years ago by a couple of old hippies named Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who founded Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Their philosophy is summed up by a quote from Greenfield in a speech they made at DePauw University in 2002: “There is a spiritual aspect to business, just as there is to the lives of individuals. As you give, you receive. As you help others, you are helped in return. For people, for business, for nations, it’s all the same.”

Even I can understand that.

Ogi may be reached at ogiman100@yahoo.com, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 a.m. on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” hosted by Jim Longworth Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48.

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