01/07/2013 07:35 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2013

'Fiscal Drift' and the Need for a Rising 'C-Level'

The congressional fiscal issues have been momentarily delayed; while physical issues like the damage reaped by Sandy and the rising sea-level are on hold. Governor Chris Christie is right to be spitting mad that critical current issues were by-passed in the theoretical/political drama of the so-called "fiscal cliff." Interesting that Paul Craig Roberts believes that the "fiscal cliff" is a diversion from other fiscal issues like the debt held by four too big to fail banks. He has some credibility as the former head of policy at the Department of Treasury under Reagan, and the editor of the Wall Street Journal for a number of years. The other veiled issue he writes about is the future suffering that will arise due to the very low interest rates of recent years, with the buying power of retirement funds continuing to diminish every day. Considering this fiscal drift, it seems that there should be an outcry for a higher "C-level." Starting with the commander-in-chief, maybe we need to agree on new standards for chiefs!

With apologies to Native American culture, the chiefs (CEOs, COOs, CIOs) are the one percenters we heard complaints about for some time last year. These privileged chiefs are all over the world. In a socialistic society, the Chiefs of Industry may in fact be heads of government (Putin is often referred to as an oligarch and Europe's richest man) and in a capitalistic society, the Chiefs of Industry may have such influence in governments that they might as well be running them. And herein lays a major problem. The scale and complexity of today's world seems to require massive control of the means of production, of natural resources and of man-made infrastructures. This fact has led to a blurring of economic considerations with governmental mandates whether the government is democratically elected or not. As President Bill Clinton, when commander-in-chief, reminded himself daily: "It's the economy, stupid!"

If we should have any hope for a better world, the chiefs must be expected to prioritize the common good. The eagle feathers on Indian chiefs' headdresses signified vision and wisdom. Their mandate was to look seven generations down the road and guide their tribe with this end in mind. The chiefs of today, our common "C-level" executives, perhaps should only maintain control if it is in the best long term interests of society. This is first a matter of good governance and is up to consumers and investors to keep corporate Boards' feet to the fire. It is second a matter of good education. Even if you believe that empathy is a natural human capacity, it certainly can be unlearned especially when bad behavior is rewarded. On the other hand, ethics can be taught, and could provide a framework for decision-making that supports good behavior and discourages bad behavior (see Ashoka's empathy initiative). If we teach empathy in our society, our future chiefs will become the visionary leaders we need for the common good.

It is time we un-blurred the lines between government and business. If human rights and the ideal of equality and justice for all is the chief mandate of good government, it cannot allow the influence of industrial chiefs to favor their economic interests. And chiefs educated to be in touch with their own goodwill would not seek such leverage.

So, to repeat, hope for a positive social future requires:

A culture that teaches, and mandates ethical individualism;

A government that is focused chiefly on human rights and justice for all, leaving the business chiefs out of it, stupid; and

A business sector that encourages corporate self-governance and mandates leadership that maximizes real profit: that is, profit that keeps the business evolving, but more importantly, profit in the sense that society gains, because of sustainable products and services that benefit the environment and the human community.