Thursday, February 07, 2008

The business of business is the bottom line: The bottom line is human value.

It's a very simple idea, so very simple that only a Harvard business degree and a few years of martini lunches could conceal it from you. Alternet articulates:

Immigrants Come Here Because Globalization Took Their Jobs Back There

By Jim Hightower, Hightower Lowdown. Posted February 7, 2008.

Excerpt from Page 2:

Although you never hear it mentioned in debates on the issue, you might start with this reality: Most Mexican people really would prefer to live in their own country. Can we all say, duh? Pedro Martin, who has seen most of the young men and women in his small village depart for El Norte, put it this way: "Up north, even though they pay more, you're not necessarily living as well. You feel out of place. Here you can walk around the whole town, and it's comfortable. Life is easier."

Their family, language, culture, identity and happiness is Mexican -- yet sheer economic survival requires so many of them to abandon the place they love.

Again, why? Because in the last 15 years, Mexico's longstanding system of sustaining its huge population of poor citizens (including small self-sufficient farms, jobs in state-owned industries and subsidies for such essentials as tortillas) has been scuttled at the insistence of U.S. banks, corporations, government officials and "free market" ideologues. In the name of "modernizing" the Mexican economy, such giants as Citigroup, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and GE -- in cahoots with the plutocrats and oligarchs of Mexico -- have laid waste to that country's grass-roots economy, destroying the already-meager livelihoods of millions.

The 1994 imposition of NAFTA was particularly devastating. Just as Bill Clinton and the corporate elites did here, Mexico's ruling elites touted NAFTA as a magic elixir that would generate growth, create jobs, raise wages and eliminate the surge of Mexican migrants into the United States. They were horribly wrong.
"Wrong" would imply a widespread, honest confusion about the reality of supply and demand; the impact of restricting access to markets and using the power of government and vertically integrated economies to gain control over entire market sectors, with the ability to dictate wages and prices.

A better term would be - if one is willing to be charitable - a self-deceptive masturbatory fantasy for those who's idea of "winning" dictates that there be "losers."

That's not capitalism, it's theft. In any truly capitalistic exchange, in any truly free market exchange, every party walks away with a profit defined in terms they most value.

Now, a little fraud and graft is tolerable - but not when it's the dominant form of business and governance. Society, business, culture and indeed, the public peace all depend upon people being confident that their investment of power and tax money will bring an adequate and just return for them and a better life for their children.

We are not speaking of an abstract "value," of luxuries and indulgences. We are literally counting in terms of the statistics of life and death, quality of life indexes, infant mortality rates, the incidence of stress-related disorders and of course, the great American sport of "going postal."

All of these things are the consequence of a system of accounting that neglects the consequences of where the money comes from, where it goes, and what it does between here and there.

People do work for you. People buy things from you. People invest in your ideas. If you are hurt, out of work, or just want a decent lunch that hasn't been spat in by an unhygienic slave laborer with a constant, low grade infection - that is also a "People thing."

So the welfare of the people you and your business depend on IS your business.


No successful business, nation or economy has ever been or could be a "zero-sum" operation. The result has to be better that what could be done by subsistence-level individuals or small groups. Fortunately, this is pretty easy; the sum is greater than the parts. But only if the person or group in overall charge recognizes that every one of the parts must be visibly better off than they were before being made part of "the sum."

They are your suppliers, your workers, your consumers and your relations, they are your cousins, your customers, your publicity, your quality control; they do everything that you cannot do to make or do whatever is that, as an Important Executive, you do.

The welfare of the country you are based in and live makes your business possible. And even if you "offshore" your business, that simply means that you have another, probably more needy population to be responsible to and for.

You couldn't do it without them. Indeed, there wouldn't be any point, because given an entire business community like you, the only people able to afford your product would be those who were competing with you, or unwilling to settle for your plebeian, mass-produced substitute for craftsmanship.

The fact is, only an economy as robust and as huge as that of North America as a whole could have withstood the depredations and outright looting cheer-led by the Regan Revolution.

Well, the Irish might have been able to "make do" by taking in each other's laundry, but it's pretty much impossible to make do by taking in each other's bullshit.

Without people willing to do for you, you would be doing something far less important-seeming. If you wish it put more charitably, and in all honesty, with equal accuracy; the very real skills you have in critical thinking, decision-making and entrepreneurial risk-taking are worthy of great reward and recognition - but not so much reward that it costs people more to have you around than doing whatever it is you do than to make do for themselves.

You can conceal a negative value for a while, by monetizing the rewards and taking out the costs in seeming intangibles and indirect consequences - but remember, all your peers are doing the same thing - and being forced into gated enclaves filled with Stepford Republicans as an inevitable consequence.

The definition of a "ghetto" is a place where a certain sort of person is forced to live, for fear of the consequences of straying. It may be well-padded, filled with comforts and luxuries - but the more concentrated you are, the more obvious it becomes that it might be more profitable to loot the place than to depend on you for a job.

The US religion of Evangelical Reganomic corporatism has brought matters to that point. The vast majority of people in this nation would be better off if they were rid of people who think of them as a class to be manipulated and exploited.

We have been here before, and I would have thought that the results of dealing with the matter before would have been obvious - even to a Harvard MBA. The post-war "economic miracle" was no miracle, it was the result of people centered policies. Ironically enough, it was a great time to do business, if your idea of the point of being in business was to build a business. Of course, if your entire goal was to suck all the economic value from the area around you into your own pockets, leaving the company and the entire region an empty husk - well, that would be the more "modern" pattern; the ethics of Enron, the values of Ted Haggard, the vision of "trickle-down" voodoo economics.

But I guess you just can't put a price on a good education, the wonders it does perform. Apparently the real magic of Harvard (and Yale, of course) is four years of the conscientious elimination of conscience and the inculcation of an ethic that considers the only ethical duty of a company to be to it's shareholders - and even then, only to the extent that they are more likely to catch you fiddling with the books.

But shareholders are not the only people that invest in or make sacrifices for companies, and increasingly, the neglect of that reality is coming due. It's not just shareholders, it's "stakeholders." And if you look around the business community you will find that the most enduring, most genuinely successful people and businesses are those who understand that if you wanna get, you gotta give, that the only honest deal is where both sides walk away feeling better than they did walking in and that the worker is worthy of his hire - and her self-respect.

I mean, if you don't believe me, ask Armand Hammer. The man has made billions by being ethical. Not in spite of it, because of it.

But then, Hammer has never tried to compete with sociopaths - and it's a sad fact that is the current corporate ideal, despite the clear idiocy of trying to shackle sociopaths to the corporate plough.

People always seem to make the mistake that no mater what the values expressed by the leader of a "team" or a "corporation," that loyalty will buy them an exception from the application of misrule.

Not hardly, not ever, not once in the history of human civilization has this ever been true. The tales of Gilgamesh illustrate this point, if Shakespeare and the Bible are too current for your tastes.

But oddly enough, they don't teach much history or literature to MBA candidates, and no critical thinking that doesn't involve spreadsheets.

Even so, it should be obvious to the great majority that the current situation is unsustainable; an economic and social disaster approaching like a slow-motion avalanche. Just as the Great Depression, the people who will be most completely crushed will be those who are the imprudent and the foolish, the gamblers and the grifters.

Our nation - indeed, our continent - is in an economic position where we cannot afford people who cost us more than the contribute. If that's possibly true of an illegal immigrant flipping burgers, how much more true is it of some party apperatchnk like Chertoff or Brown; pundits as incompetent as Kristol or vicious and vapid twits like Malkin and Coulter?

The people with influence, who trade on their influence, who have profited by the appearance of influence - well, this is where we are, based on the directions they gave. Quo Bono?

Should they not share in the negative profit their hard work has brought to us all?

1 comment:

hawa said...

I am a fairly new reader to the blog, and I love the way you state your points.

I have been on a total quest to learn all I can about the economy (especially the impact of unethical large corporations on economic well-being).

I hope you don't mind the quotes I borrowed from your post (including credits) and used at my own blog (post reference below):

Let's Talk ECONOMY - Part III: Did you ever consider that the illegal immigrants don't wanna be here??


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