An Economy in Service to Life

Published on People-Centered Economic Development, 

This is the title of an article on Natural Capitalism Solutions offering an accurate account of how our current economy developed post war to create the asymmetry of wealth we know to day as the 1% vs the 99%

“Natural Capitalism Solutions is convening an international team of business people, thought leaders, scholars, investors and activists (see list of participants here) to craft a new narrative and strategy for an economy that works, in Bucky Fuller’s words, for 100% of humanity.”

Turning this vision into reality can’t be done without you. That is, without your donations.

It overlooks one thing.  In 1996 an economic activist invited to a voluntary position on Bill Clinton’s re-election committee, delivered a paper on economics for all humanity. He called it People-Centered Economic development and with the assistance of Clinton’s office, it got to work in Russia with the Tomsk regional Initiative.

This was 1999, in the wake of an economic crisis in which the Chicago school had no small part – Harvard’s Russia Project.  The story of How Harvard Lost Russia.

The 1996 paper had described a postcapitalist approach “measured and calibrated in terms of human beings”  which warned of the risk of uprisings due to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a minority.

“It is only when wealth begins to concentrate in the hands of a relative few at the expense of billions of others who are denied even a small share of finite wealth that trouble starts and physical, human suffering begins. It does not have to be this way. Massive greed and consequent massive human misery and suffering do not have to be accepted as a givens, unavoidable, intractable, irresolvable. Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around–if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day.”

This vision sounds a lot like what one homeless man began on his own

THE NEW BOTTOM LINE

Natural Capitalism gets more interesting with the case for an integrated bottom line.

A few years ago, it was the constant resistance from “sustainable business” which prompted me to take our work elsewhere. resistance meaning censored comments, blocked contributions and general hostility I wrote ‘The New Bottom’ LIne For Mixmarket.  It was the only article about Long Term Capitalism written in the past tense, describing nearly 20 years of business which embeds social and evironmental objectives in core operations. A people-centered business.

‘This is a long-term permanently sustainable program, the basis for “people-centered” economic development. Core focus is always on people and their needs, with neediest people having first priority – as contrasted with the eternal chase for financial profit and numbers where people, social benefit, and human well-being are often and routinely overlooked or ignored altogether. This is in keeping with the fundamental objectives of Marshall Plan: policy aimed at hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. This is a bottom-up approach, starting with Ukraine’s poorest and most desperate citizens, rather than a “top-down” approach that might not ever benefit them. They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first — not secondarily, along the way or by the way.

The New Bottom Line reappeared this week under the new ownership of those seeking profit from purpose, whereas the original described a profit-for-purpose model

IN SERVICE TO WHOSE LIFE?

The purpose of business we had argued was to benefit people

For P-CED it was those excluded above all, as was described in the 1996 paper:

“We are at the very beginning of a new type of society and civilization, the Information Age. Historically, this is only the third distinct age of civilization. We lived in an agricultural age for thousands of years, which gave way to the Industrial Revolution and Industrial Age during the last three hundred years. The Industrial Age is now giving way to the Information Revolution, which is giving rise to the Information Age. Understanding this, it is appropriate to be concerned with the impact this transition is having and will continue to have on the lives of all of us. In that it is a fundamental predicate of “people-centered” economic development that no person is disposable, it follows that close attention be paid to those in the waning Industrial Age who are not equipped and prepared to take active and productive roles in an Information Age. Many, in fact, are scared, angry, and deeply resentful that they are being left out, ignored, effectively disenfranchised, discarded, thrown away as human flotsam in the name of human and social progress. We have only to ask ourselves individually whether or not this is the sort of progress we want, where we accept consciously and intentionally that human progress allows for disposing of other human beings.”

The primary focus of our work in Ukraine had been a proposal to transition children from orphanages so appalling that many preferred to escape to a life on the streets helping to fuel an HIV epidemic.

Terry Halmnan’s service to life was commended by those he knew at Maidan who’d helped him and discovered his body:

The author of breakthru report “Death camps for children” Terry Hallman suddenly died of grave disease on Aug 18 2011. On his death bed he was speaking only of his mission – rescuing of these unlucky kids. His dream was to get them new homes filled with care and love. His quest would be continued as he wished.”

RESISTANCE IS FERTILE

Closing his 2009 presentation to the Economics for Ecology conference in Sumy, Terry said of the need for a new economy :

Thus the issue of ecology economics is not only ‘the third bottom line’, it might be more aptly renamed the economics of survival of the human species.  That includes everyone, regardless of one or another economic hypothesis or theory they might prefer.  We can endlessly debate and discuss von Mises/von Hayek free market economics/capitalism which proved successful except for the times it failed, and then study why it failed – repeatedly, the most recent failure in September 2008.  We can endlessly debate and discuss opposing Keynesian government interventionist economics/capitalism,  which proved successful except for the times it failed.  That has been an alternating pattern for the past eighty years in Western capitalism.  We can discuss the successes and failures of various flavors of communism and fascism.  At this point, the simple fact is that regarding economic theory, no one knows what to do next.  Possibly this has escaped immediate attention in Ukraine, but, economists in the US as of the end of 2008 openly confessed that they do not know what to do.  So, we invented three trillion dollars, lent it to ourselves, and are trying to salvage a broken system so far by reestablishing the broken system with imaginary money.

“Now there are, honestly, no answers.  It is all just guesswork, and not more than that.  What is not guesswork is that the broken – again – capitalist system, be it traditional economics theories in the West or hybrid communism/capitalism in China, is sitting in a world where the existence of human beings is at grave risk, and it’s no longer alarmist to say so.

The question at hand is what to do next, and how to do it.  We all get to invent whatever new economics system that comes next, because we must.”

I think he was being optimistic about the silos we’d ecounter, especially Guardian Sustainable Business where even mentioning this conference was verboten, removed as inapporopriate content.

Following the publication of the ‘Marshall Plan’ for Ukraine we’d see the same arguments for captalism appear from other directions . Notably the spiritual home of Chicaco school economics, who argued for Creating Shared Value. Breakthough Capitalism was another.  Neither had travelled any further than a lectern and they were arguing about business which could profit from solving social problems.

my attempted contribution came from what I described above as The New Bottom Line, business using its profit to serve social needs:

An inherent assumption about capitalism is that profit is defined only in terms of monetary gain. This assumption is virtually unquestioned in most of the world. However, it is not a valid assumption. Business enterprise, capitalism, must be measured in terms of monetary profit. That rule is not arguable. A business enterprise must make monetary profit, or it will merely cease to exist. That is an absolute requirement. But it does not follow that this must necessarily be the final bottom line and the sole aim of the enterprise. How this profit is used is another question. It is commonly assumed that profit will enrich enterprise owners and investors, which in turn gives them incentive to participate financially in the enterprise to start with.

That, however, is not the only possible outcome for use of profits. Profits can be directly applied to help resolve a broad range of social problems: poverty relief, improving childcare, seeding scientific research for nationwide economic advancement, improving communications infrastructure and accessibility, for examples – the target objectives of this particular project plan. The same financial discipline required of any conventional for-profit business can be applied to projects with the primary aim of improving socioeconomic conditions. Profitability provides money needed to be self-sustaining for the purpose of achieving social and economic objectives such as benefit of a nation’s poorest, neediest people. In which case, the enterprise is a social enterprise.’

In this case, for the project now being proposed, it is constructed precisely along these lines. Childcare reform as outlined above will pay for itself in reduced costs to the state. It will need investment for about five years in order to cover the cost of running two programs in parallel: the existing, extremely problematic state childcare scheme, and the new program needed to replace it for the purpose of giving children a decent life. The old program will be phased out as the new program is phased in. After this phase transition is complete, the state will from that time forward pay out less money for state childcare. Children will have a better life, and will be more likely to become healthy, productive assets to the nation rather than liabilities with diminished human development, diminished education, and the message that they are not important – the basis for serious trouble. There is no need whatsoever to give these children less than a good quality of life as they grow and mature. The only problem is reorganization of existing resources. “

You may read the article here and see where I was censored

The work of Erich Fromm was one of several key influences on the the white paper for People-Centered Economic Development. In The Art of Loving, Fromm wrote:

“Love of the helpless, the poor and the stranger, are the beginning of brotherly love. To love ones flesh and blood is no achievement. The animal loves its young and cares for them. Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose, does love begin to unfold. Compassion implies the element of knowledge and identification. “

Paradoxically, Editor Jo Confino now opines on love and business

Below are some of those who didn’t serve the purpose of sustainable business In Torez, the location of the Death Camps story, the victims of MH!7 would land on top of them

I’ll leave the last words on an economy in service to life to Terry Hallman who wrote

The term “social enterprise” in the various but similar forms in which it is being used today — 2008 — refers to enterprises created specifically to help those people that traditional capitalism and for profit enterprise don’t address for the simple reason that poor or insufficiently affluent people haven’t enough money to be of concern or interest. Put another way, social enterprise aims specifically to help and assist people who fall through the cracks. Allowing that some people do not matter, as things are turning out, allows that other people do not matter and those cracks are widening to swallow up more and more people. Social enterprise is the first concerted effort in the Information Age to at least attempt to rectify that problem, if only because letting it get worse and worse threatens more and more of us. Growing numbers of people are coming to understand that “them” might equal “me.” Call it compassion, or call it enlightened and increasingly impassioned self-interest. Either way, we are all in this together, and we will each have to decide for ourselves what it means to ignore someone to death, or not.

Economy in Service to Life – videos, links, readings