How does change happen? There is a common belief that the only way systemic change can come about is if the entire system collapses. Much like the inevitability of the fall of Rome, the balance of life suggests America must suffer as much as she has prospered -- and solely through destruction can she be reborn. I don't know about you, but that idea scares the crap out of me. If the systems that provide my creature comforts were to break down, I think I would be genuinely screwed. I have no clue how to build a yurt, and I don't think I could subsist on berries and bear feces. I have never shot a gun, and I would have a really hard time self-manufacturing electricity to check Facebook. But that doesn't mean I don't want change... I am just hoping, maybe naively, it can be achieved incrementally.
Obama promised change in his 2008 platform, and now the Occupy Wall Street protests are demanding it. Although they are criticized for unclear, broad messaging, or for being a group of rich kids flirting across drum circles, their widespread effect has more power than what the naysayers claim, who say the protestors are saying nothing. There is an energy so potent and contagious that it is becoming a movement with revolutionary intentions. Although I fully appreciate the messaging, I do not believe our political and economic systems can transform if they are linked with and controlled by the motherboard of capitalism as it has currently manifested. As long as the main incentive of both our economic and our political system is the same, I don't buy into the ideal that real change can take place. The people at OWS are trying to take back the power, but the systems that control the people are not going to give it up without a fight.
Aristotle once said (Politics 1.10, translated by Benjamin Jowett):
"Money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of all modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural."
Money is better than having to bring 7 goats to get your clothes back from the dry cleaners, but when money is the motivating force of the economy for money's sake, then it becomes highly problematic. Publicly traded companies have one main responsibility, which is to make money at all costs. This creates a conflict that extends through all arenas of business because companies make decisions that will make them the most money regardless whether the cheaper chemicals in your kid's toys have noxious off-gassing fumes that will give you cancer of the eyeball. This breeding of money has birthed a common denominator of business that is exploitative to the core.
One would hope that our government would protect us from corporate irresponsibility, but when big business funds elections the political system will never prioritize the people over profit. If politicians were to try and create standards that would effect a company's bottom line, like enforcing labels on GMO foods so the public could decide if it wanted fish genes in the strawberry jelly, they wouldn't get any funding for their campaigns. We want and expect our politicians' actions to echo their promises, but policies are compromised by the connective tissue between Wall Street and campaign finance. In a capitalist system we first have to change the way we do business, to change the way we run our country.
The only way Wall Street is going to change fundamentally is if its policies are reoriented to propagate the triple bottom line business model. Each decision must take into consideration not just profit, but how it will affect both the people who consume the product and the planet that provides the resources. It is not enough for major companies to green wash for good PR. The global standard of business has to be philanthropic at its roots for any actual improvement in our political arena to take place. Wall Street needs an eco-makeover with a triple bottom line standard so that our government may actually prioritize the health of the planet and her citizens.
This is where the top 1 percent comes in. There is obviously a gross misdistribution of wealth in this country, but are all the rich people going to get together and say "Wow, this is getting boring, having everything. This has got to end! We should pay way more taxes pronto and get rid of all this excess money!" Morally, yes they should, but the likelihood of that psychological shift is not in the cards. Maybe the French had the right idea by cutting off the heads of the rich for their revolution, and maybe that would make a fascinating reality show, but as it stands these are still peaceful protests. So if the rich want to keep their heads they are going to have to go back to kindergarten and learn how to share. And I am not just talking about giving away a small percentage to charity, but the vast majority of wealth that is invested in Wall Street.
If the fiduciary responsibility of Wall Street is to make money for the shareholders, then now is the time for shareholder activism. The shareholders must be patient enough to understand that a business that honors the triple bottom line is really the only truly sustainable model. New companies that may threaten the livelihood of big business need to be supported by people with the vision and foresight to wait for their ROI. The rich need to commit to impact investing.
Maybe re-imagining the way we do business isn't as sexy of a revolution as Che had pursued, but be honest with yourself, what are you willing to give up? Would you die for health care? Are you wiling to kill for a better mortgage rate? To change how business is conducted on a global scale, we need some hippy trustafarians that have the money and insight to see it through. The revolution may not be televised, but it still needs to be funded.
Follow Toni Nagy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tonibolognamind