Trying to make some sense out of the events of recent weeks, I find myself making connections that may or may not be obvious to others.
We had an industrial disaster, which continues to gush like an open wound beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The event could and probably should become a symbol of our society’s bottomless addiction to oil combined with the profit motive gone wild. Numerous insipid suggestions to insert safety mechanisms and procedures by government agencies carrying the legacy of “business-friendly” administrations were simply brushed aside by a colossal corporation (ironically, one with a decent track record of sustainable development) in the single-minded pursuit of profit. Not to single out BP here — the entire industry simply decided to forgo the recommended voluntary measures, claiming they were too expensive.
As Dale Wannen astutely points out in his recent post, BP, Massey Coal and Goldman Sachs are all clear examples of where the lack of government regulation has had catastrophic consequences.
David Corn picks up the same theme in his essay, What’s Wrong with Big Government? He adds the recent computer glitch on Wall Street and the Times Square bombing attempt as other reasons why a government might actually be a good thing to have around at times like these.
Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves why our American forefathers got together and decided that a government could be a good thing to have, provided it wasn’t a monarchy and that it protected the interests of all citizens. What exactly should it protect us from? Surely one thing should be the threat of attack by large well-organized outside interests who would come in and change our way of life in pursuit of their own agendas.
Has anyone noticed that a recent compilation of the top 100 economies in the world shows that 51 of them are corporations? That’s right. And do these corporations hold our best interests first and foremost? I think recent headlines speak for themselves on that score.
And yet somehow, we have a highly publicized movement, readily handed the bullhorn by the corporate run media establishment (no big surprise there) driven by a concern over “excessive government spending and taxation,” that is threatening to tip the balance in our next election. The Tea Party Patriots claim that their mission is “to attract, educate, organize, and mobilize our fellow citizens to secure public policy consistent with our three core values of Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets.” Does anyone else see a disconnect here?
So what does any of this have to do with the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit?
As we attempt to move from the one p which most companies still consider the capital P, to three p’s, profit is going to have to slide over and make room for the other two as equal priorities. Despite our highest hopes, it’s clear that this is not going to happen entirely by itself.
David Korten points out in his 2001 book, When Corporations Rule the World, that in a healthy society, there is a balance between the three primary sectors of business, government and the public. When the Soviet Union failed due to the excessive influence of the government sector, this was taken as a signal to open the floodgates of free market capitalism, as if the fact that they had it wrong, automatically proved that we had it right.
Perhaps the hard truth is that we both had it wrong. The desired state is one where the power and influence of all three sectors maintain a balance. This will only occur when there is someone keeping an eye on the big picture, with the authority to take corrective action when the balance of the system is in jeopardy, while at the same time allowing for economic innovation and the rights of individuals.
Remember what Winston Churchill told us, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
It’s been a painful and difficult few weeks, especially for those folks on the Gulf Coast, but let’s hope that we will come away from this as a smarter people.