Sunday, April 03, 2011

An Idea is Formulating

I've worked in enough companies by now to find the common current that runs through them all. Its the culture that I dislike. A few years ago, an idea came to me about forming a foundation. The problem is, a foundation devoted to what, exactly? And more importantly, how would it be funded? Does the world even need yet another non-profit organization that solicits money from people to justify and continue its existence? For me, those are unacceptable terms. Thus, I indulge in my "If I won the lottery..." fantasies. Sometimes, its nice to dream...so long as you don't plan your life around it. It makes for a nice thought exercise. So, if you don't mind indulging with me, here is my , "If I won the lottery" fantasy.

The biggest reason why I should win the lottery is because I would do a lot of good with it. I know the cynics among you might scoff at that idea. But its true. You won't see me buying a mega-mansion. Homes in Portland are expensive enough, but I'd either buy a loft condo, a three-level townhouse, or a stand-alone in a cool Portland neighbourhood (I kind of like Laurelhurst, which has some Tudor-style homes which is my favourite architectural style). But I wouldn't be house hunting just yet. If I won the lottery, the first priority is to consult a lawyer and set up a trust fund. I'd pay off all of my debts and the trust fund would pay a reasonable wage to myself. I would spend a year on the road...traveling around the world to get ideas for what to devote my foundation work towards. And no, I would not travel first class, business class or private jet. I would still find the cheapest flights, stay in the cheapest priced motels or bed and breakfasts. It would be a step up from staying in hostels, which I officially feel too old to stay in now, even though it offers the best rates.

Once my travel period was finished, I would house hunt for the perfect dwelling for myself and buy my dream car: the Scion tC. It would likely be used, since I don't like the 2011 model design (why do car companies always change the model design when I find a car that I like? This happened after the 1994 Geo Metro hatchback, the 2000 Ford Focus, and the 2004 Hyundai Accent). I would look for a place to have an office and hire a couple of people and my foundation would be off and running, completely financed by my lottery win.

So, what would be the point of this foundation? Why do I need to create one, other than to be my own boss? Well, a lot of it has to do with my ongoing frustration with the management style of the companies I've worked for as well as what I've learned through my ghostwriting duties for the friend in a management (MBA) program. Management may talk a lot about ideas, but at the core, its all about protecting the status quo and stifling any real innovation. Plus, the power goes to the CEO's head and the hubris of believing that "the rules don't apply to me" often goes with the territory.

Here's a thought...what if there was a company out there that lived true to its principles and high ethical standards, where honesty is not only encouraged, but REWARDED? Where one's payraise is dependent upon the employee's ethical behaviour and diligent / competent work? Where lying, stabbing co-workers in the back, or personal dramas are not tolerated and in fact "fire-able offenses"? I would love a shot at being the boss, to put my ethical standards to practice and see just what kind of office environment would flourish. You can bet that as a boss, I would not tolerate drama queens, school marms, bullying behaviour, religious proselytizing, temper tantrums, and other high school hijinks. Conversations of substance would be encouraged. Honest dialogue and opinion would be expected (no one would be fired for making an honest observation). Could such an organization be possible?

I have a general idea for what I want my foundation to do. Of course, the name already exists (I would use the name of this blog as the name of my foundation, since it reflects the core of my philosophy). Basically, I see myself as an educator, but not in the role of a high school teacher or college professor like many people often suggest to me for a career. I'm not interested in lecturing several hours a day the same old stuff year in and year out. I'm more into research, thinking, and formulating ideas into a real workable policy solution. A think tank that integrates the best ideas from religion, spirituality, politics, entertainment, literature, society, and foreign cultures. The main focus would be to challenge the deeply-rooted American belief that capitalism is the be all and end all of human existence. It disturbs me greatly that so many people have come to accept capitalism as the final point in human development, just because the other economic systems don't work. Capitalism has defeated all other economic models because it is corrosive by its very nature. Capitalism is like the cancer virus: it kills everything it touches, including the host body, which means it will ultimately kill itself. The reason is because the bottom line of this economic system is GREED.

My new mantra, in the wake of the debates over Terry Jones' Qu'ran burning is: "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." Which means, just because you have the freedom to burn any book you want doesn't mean you should. Just because you can outsource jobs to a country with a cheaper labour force doesn't mean you should. Just because you can pay yourself an exorbitant bonus (or even, a bonus PERIOD) while your company finished the year in the red and you had to lay employees off, doesn't mean you should. I want to promote a new economic system that I call "Ethiconomics." The bottom line of this new system is based in ETHICS, not greed. I'm not against a free marketplace (though a "fair" marketplace should be the norm), just the consolidation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. These corporate CEOs have to know that they aren't really worth the millions they get paid in salary and bonuses. After all, most of the creative, innovative ideas are generated at the worker level. Those who have seen the system not work so efficiently. The big-wigs steal ideas from their employees and reap all the financial benefit. And yes, what they are doing is THEFT. Robbing the creative employee of his or her fruits for thinking "outside of the box" (which no CEO is capable of doing. MBA programs are more about conforming minds around the latest business trends).

So, how about it Universe? Someone always wins the lottery when it gets up into the hundred millions. I would allocate the money well because I actually want to use it as a force for good. I may not change our capitalist economic system, but I would get to be my own boss and put into practice all that I've learned over the past two decades being the low man on the totem pole. I'm not interested in bossing people around, but I definitely want the power to inspire and influence people who work for me to be honest, ethical, and good people.

The following dialogue was taken from a friend's Facebook wall, which illustrates exactly why I'm frustrated by the conformist-minded folks who believe that capitalism is the be all and end all of our existence and that anyone who criticizes it is viewed as a socialist or a communist who needs to leave our country if he or she cannot accept capitalism. That answer is not good enough for me. Our country is following in the footsteps of the USSR, which is: blind obedience to ideology with no open minded ability to hear the truth from the people on the ground will only lead to a complete collapse. This happened in 1929 and in 2008, yet we keep propping up this system of greed, graft, incompetence, and inequality. How many people must be hurt by this system before people wake up that ANOTHER WAY IS POSSIBLE. That way is not socialism, communism, feudalism, or any other ism. The way is ETHICONOMICS. That is, economics with ethics. Where people in power understand the consequences of their actions on other people. If you knew that your annual bonus could only happen if you fire ten employees, would you really want to do it? Those ten employees will join other unemployed workers looking for jobs, their mortgages might not get paid, their children might go hungry, the government funds for unemployment insurance get spent. Its a chain reaction of bad, just so the CEO can deposit the money in an off-shore account or reinvest in the stock market casino of Wall Street. This is unacceptable and any American who defends it is brainwashed.

Anyhow, here's the dialogue (James' writing style uses a lot of elipses, so its not an indication that I deleted anything he wrote. I only edited out personal info not related to the debate).

Me: I've never known any corporation that values honesty. The way to the top of the corporate ladder includes lying, backstabbing, cheating, and screwing over anyone else. Yeah for capitalism!

Ron: So you ARE rooting for socialism, right Nicholas?

Ron: That's not a dig--just asking. Because I hear people advocate the principles of socialism all the time--they just have a real problem with the title.

Me: All "isms" have flaws. I'm in favour of a new economic system entirely. For lack of a better word, I call such a system "ethiconomics."

James: Socialist countries...
Pick one...
Move there...
Good luck...

Me: Funny that you're a "love it or leave it" type. How does America get better if people leave? Would our country have ended slavery, segregation, or allow women to vote if all those people fighting against the way things are moved? Life is about evolution. I envision an America dreamed about by Jefferson. A true meritocracy where honesty is the first value in every business transaction.

James:‎ Enlighten me, please...
If there is a system vastly superior to capitalism...
What is it, exactly?...
And exactly how did the US become the most powerful nation on the planet?...
Dumb luck, I suppose...

Me: Capitalism was simply a stage in human evolution. Its corrosive, though, and unsustainable in the long term. Our planet has only finite amount of resources and we can't have unlimited growth and consumption forever. At some point, our planetary environmental structure is going to collapse, causing a massive human die off. Even the Pentagon has long range planning for the next major war over resources. If you think our petrowars are vicious, just wait until we fight over fresh water supplies. This is where massive human deaths are going to happen, because we can live without oil. Fresh water, not so much.

James: I applaud your idealism...
But, the human race is replete with imperfections...
Consequently...
(And I hate to break the news)...
Utopia is non-existent...

James: Again, the question...
If not capitalism...
What is the better alternative?

Me: I'm not a utopian by any means. But one cannot stop evolution from happening. Life is certainly better for most people in the developing world than it was sixty years ago and a century ago.

The recent economic collapse occurred because greed was left unchecked by governmental safeguards. We seem to go through this process over and over again. Capitalism cannot be trusted to be left alone without oversight. Our Founding Fathers understood human nature, which is why they set up a government system of checks and balances. Unfortunately, they did not foresee the power of billion-dollar corporations on our government to turn a blind eye to unethical practices. Enron is the perfect case study of the problem with unregulated capitalism.

James: And the solution is?...

Me: A new economic model does not exist at the moment, but there is something better than capitalism: an ethically based economic system where greed is punished and ethical behaviour is rewarded. I don't think Americans are at that point yet. We need to keep getting screwed over by corporate capitalists until we've had enough and rebel and bring the violaters to justice. Maybe at the next economic collapse. Europeans are not as enthralled with capitalism as Americans are, so perhaps new economic theories will emerge from there. Socialism is also unsustainable in the long term.

James: By whose yardstick do we measure what is ethical?...
Barney Frank?
Chris Dodd?

Me: Ethics...do we really need to debate this?

Is it ethical for a CEO to lay off hundreds of American workers while exporting the jobs to India for cheaper wages, while giving oneself a multi-million dollar bonus and other assorted perks while the company finished the year in the red?

Ethics transcends partisanship. You're not going to get me to defend an unethical politician, regardless of what party they belong to. I did not like John Edwards for the same reasons I did not like George W. Bush.

James: Something I tell my staff @ work...
If you bring me a problem...
Accompany that problem with a suggested solution...
A realistic solution...
Something that can be tried and tested...
As long as there are dishonest people...
Your suggested solution, though laudable, is not realistic...
Capitalism isn't the problem...
But, I agree, unsavory characters within the system, is...
Imagine if a capitalist system were void of any "bad apples"
It would be, far and away, the greatest system...
Instead of being just the best among the choices we have, now...

Me: There are more problems with capitalism than just greed / dishonesty. I actually favor the death penalty for CEOs who defraud their companies. Blacklisting corrupt CEOs from ever having another white collar job is also another measure I would favour. Honest / ethical behaviour should be rewarded, dishonesty and greed should be punished.

Unlimited growth should no longer be the measure of success. The focus should be on quality not quantity, even though quality is harder to measure than quantity. A shift away from corporations is also necessary, as small businesses provide a decent livelihood for people.

I've seen too many good people leave companies I've worked for while lying, backstabbing schemers get promoted. I'm no fan of corporations. I'd love to have my own organization some day so I can implement ideas I have for ethical behaviours.

Ron: You assume that a business is in business to prop up employees. Employees are a by-product of a businesses success. Outsourcing is merely the "Darwinistic" adaptation to an anti-buiness atmosphere. To paraphrase Hayek, I'd rather deal with the greedy capitalist who lives down the road and doesn't control my freedoms, than with the socialist who must evaporate them to fit his worldview." mind you, that's more than a one-off paraphrase.

I agree with you though, the war over resources is coming. But it was Darwin's God that said it.

James: So, Nicholas...
Since we live in the here and now...
Shackled by the bonds of capitalism...
What is the immediate, realistic, solution to the problem?...
I would love a world filled with honest, ethical, and moral people...
But, I think you will have to admit...
That just ain't gonna happen...
What, now?...

Me: I like Gandhi's idea of "noncooperation with evil." I don't own a car, so I'm not having to buy gasoline all the time. I buy used goods as much as possible (clothing, CDs, DVDs, books). I support small businesses as much as I can.

Nothing will be done until more Americans get tired of being screwed by corporate CEOs, until more jobs are outsourced to India, until more people are unemployed with few jobs to be had. What we are seeing in this country is similar to the breakdown in the USSR in the late 1980s early 1990s. Communism fell because it did not work and the brainwashed ideologues wouldn't realize that it was not working and kept up pretenses rather than adapt to a new reality. Capitalism will go out the same way...with ideologues blind to the rotting core of this economic scheme.

People don't change until the pain becomes to unbearable to endure any longer. This has not occurred yet in our country.

James: In the mean time, then...
I'll polish up my bike & curl up with a good used book...

Me: Well...until more Americans decide that not rewarding greedy corporations that outsource jobs and offer low wages to American workers is worth not shopping at places like Walmart, then there's little we can do. My honesty and ethical values have not helped me get ahead in companies. I've personally refused to do the kind of things that I've seen others willing to do to get ahead. Granted, it means a life where I'll likely never earn a high wage or be in a power to change things, but I simply cannot do some of the things I see other people doing to get ahead. I really do want to be my own boss someday, so that's something I'm researching on my personal time. Complete freedom from the corporate structure is my goal. Others don't share my goals, but that's their problem. Some people have to screw others over on the way to the top then have a devastating fall when the same happens to them before they learn the values that matter. I choose not to participate at that level.

James: @ Nicholas:
"I really do want to be my own boss someday..."
Via capitalism, or other means?...

Me: Well...since I'm not a capitalist, it would be along the lines of my values or what i call "ethiconomics." Not sure it would sell product, though. I'm thinking more along the lines of a Foundation or think tank, devoted to promoting the ideals of meritocracy and ethiconomics.

There's nothing with a "free market"...just the concept of unlimited growth forever and corporate payouts where the CEO and his buddies get paid more than they are worth while paying everyone else crappy wages that they can barely live on.

James: "Kumbaya" only sounds good if everyone sings the same lyrics, and sings them on key... Not everyone can, or is willing to, sing in harmony...

Me: Things don't change when people conform to the rules of a shitty game. People need to have guts and break out of the fear and stop conforming to what their capitalist masters want. If the people of Egypt could rise up and force a 30 year tyrant to run for his life, we've seen this time and time again. Things happen because people allow things to go on longer than they should. Stop conforming to someone else's rules. Revolt!

James: If things continue to spiral wildly out of control...
With absolutely no hope of change for the better..
You just might get your wish...

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