Monday, June 6, 2011

The Paradox of the Modern Business Model

So often today we hear the crowd-pleasing mantra, “let’s starve the government,” being promoted by politicians and conservative economists, as if that would be a grand idea for us to implement. To force the government to cut spending to the bone, to put it on a financial austerity program that mimics what we would do in our own homes if we lost our jobs or other means of financial support, would at last put governmental power firmly in check, or so goes the theory. The question nobody seems to ask, however, is: in check to whom or what? Whose power will then prove greater than that of our starved, diminished government if we succeed in this proposed austerity mission?

Certainly not the power of our state and local governments, who themselves have been too long starved for income, and who depend more and more upon the federal government for assistance in funding crucial aspects of their annual budgets. Who then truly benefits from a weakened and undermined federal government system? I would suggest that the beneficiaries, those who are promoting the idea of starving our government and who are selling that proposition to the public like so much snake oil, are the wealthy plutocrats, bankers and top tier mangers of businesses in this nation (along with the political puppets they fund and control.) Their mission is clear: to subvert the federal government’s agenda in favor of their own narrow agenda and worldview. But why? What does business have to gain by undermining the governmental structure that for centuries has coddled and protected it? Why has such enmity arisen now, such that the leaders of commerce would willingly and consciously attempt to defang the very beast they once created, the one that has jealously guarded and protected their interests since commerce first arose in human society? After all, the earliest forms of social governance came into being to protect personal property rights and to safeguard the possessions that wealthy people had begun to accumulate, shortly after the notions of individual ownership and personal success had been embraced by human society. In fact, government seems to have difficulty knowing what to do with itself without business interests – and the fruits thereof – to protect. Business has never truly existed without a strong governing arm to stabilize the larger society and ensure that businesses remain free to produce, profit and benefit from the fruits of their labor without public interference or without the greater society’s need stripping them of the results of their business efforts.

As is true when we seek to understand the driver behind any human behavior, we must examine business’s motives if we wish to understand why it’s now opposed to strong governance. Let us never forget that any business’s primary motive is to earn a monetary profit. All other motives we might wish to attribute to a business must align behind that singular prime directive. No profit; no more business. It’s that simple. It seems likely then, that the reason our business community today seems so eager to starve government funding must spring from the fact that, over recent centuries, whole functions of government have sprung up and been publicly funded that compete with business in the marketplace of ideas, and now threaten the supremacy of the monetary for-profit paradigm that is the corporate worldview.

Modern governments over time have broken a centuries’ old pact they once had with businesses (and the oligarchs who run them.) With the establishment of democracies and constitutionally based governing systems, the longstanding, primary role of government as the protector of its society (which in prior centuries meant the plutocrats and the monetary for-profit paradigm) shifted radically. Governments instead became the direct and primary protector of the citizenry, rather than simply the protector of the social operating system and the individuals who controlled the system and exploited the citizenry to keep it running.

Think about that. Over the past hundred years we’ve funded governmental scientific research that has discovered cures and vaccines (not just symptom alleviators) for many of the diseases that ail humanity and that disproportionately harm the poor. We’ve funded studies that tell us if the things we’re doing are harmful to human life. We’ve funded testing facilities and safety agencies to monitor business practices and protect the public’s health. We’ve funded consumer protection agencies to defend us against the most predatory activities of private enterprise. We’ve funded environmental protection agencies whose goal it is to balance the public’s long-term desire for clean water, air and unspoiled lands with business’s desire to exploit and pollute those resources for short-term financial gain. We’ve funded free public education, which has created a more informed public and a smarter labor force - one that now has the intellectual capacity to challenge business’s motives and practices, and that sometimes tries to steer our business model in new and disruptive directions. We’ve funded public broadcasting, which attempts to provide free and factual information to all citizens - which challenges the private sector’s ability to control the national agenda by controlling the information that flows to the public. We’ve also funded (via military spending and space exploration) the invention and development of advanced technologies that have been translated into inventions and communications systems. Those in turn have benefited humanity outside the control of the corporate plutocrats.

Nothing is more likely to enrage the plutocracy than having its for-profit model ignored or disturbed by upstarts who are working outside the model. The first approach the plutocrats take if an upstart creates a disruptive new technology is to try and destroy their model or undermine their credibility. If that doesn’t work the plutocrats eventually embrace the upstart, seducing the Steve Jobs and Arianna Huffingtons into becoming part of the business model by buying them out or by offering them an exclusive membership in the club of the corporate brotherhood. That guarantees the goals of the upstarts will shift into better alignment with those of the for-profit business model.

The plutocrats who run the international business machinery are ever eager to control the release into our society of any new ideas that may affect their ability to earn a profit. Only by rigidly controlling the flow and timing of new ideas can they ensure their profitability remains on firm footing based on their private agenda. That's why businesses lobby so hard to regulate or limit the expansion of inventions like the Internet – which, not surprisingly, flowed out of the government pool of ideas and took root before business could control the spread of it. Since the advent of the internet, which has empowered individuals to eliminate middle men, do their own research and make better and more informed decisions, businesses have had to invest inordinate sums of money to try and regain the power they lost to the individual via the net. Business wants to restrain and control all such potentially heretical ideas that may flow out of government, and that might benefit the citizenry in ways that could damage short-term financial interests.

Government, on the other hand, has no such financial constraints on what it does or creates, other than those its citizenry imposes. When we study the Declaration of Independence and at the Constitution of the United States as they are and not as we’ve been told they are, what we find is that, as initially conceived, our government's motives are to protect and defend the citizenry, to regulate commerce, to monitor and protect our natural resources and to protect and preserve the public commons for the sake of future generations. The government will (if not tampered with or bribed into silence by controlling business interests) release into the world whatever new ideas it brings forth, along with those studies and inventions it develops, based upon how informative and beneficial those things seem to be to its citizenry, and how protective they will be of the public commons. Furthermore, it will prosecute businesses that willingly violate public health and safety laws. Government also aggressively challenges companies when their practices grow too predatory and harmful to the citizenry they are supposed to be serving, not exploiting for their own financial benefit. Often that more principled governmental approach – based on its charter to defend the rights and wellbeing of its citizens ahead of the financial needs of its corporations and plutocrats - puts pressure on corporations to change the way they do business, or to change the composition or nature of the goods they produce. Corporations hate that, because those changes cost them money and reduce their profitability.

The corporate plutocracy wants its financial for-profit model to reign supreme, and its agenda to be viewed as more crucial to the health and wellbeing of the citizenry than the governmental agenda. It therefore cloaks the government in a constant cloud of suspicion in an attempt to undermine it. For decades now, business has been conducting a covert political campaign to sway public opinion against the benefits of strong government by pointing angrily to what it terms the government’s weaknesses and moral flaws. By making a strong federal government seem dangerous and inept, international corporations have set themselves up as the “good guys” and their federal regulators as the “bad guys” in a war for public opinion and support.

As in any good war, the best defense is quite often a powerful offense. By labeling the government as dangerous and evil, and by screaming as loudly as possible about the government’s ineptitude and lack of moral fiber while using privately funded airwaves to wage their relentless attack, business has conveniently deflected the public’s attention away from its own ineptitude and moral failings. By funding the campaigns of business-friendly politicians, and by supporting their attempts to infiltrate the offices of government and attack it from within, business has enabled its own agents and lobbyists to create new laws that both shield it from prosecution and grant it greater control over public elections. The Supreme Court’s recent “Citizens United” decision (which was reached by a majority of justices who, in turn, have been appointed by politicians whose campaigns were funded mainly by business interests) tortured our constitution by interpreting it to mean that “free speech” is the same thing as spending money to fund political campaigns. That decision exponentially increased the plutocracy’s power to back more and more puppets to promote its agenda and undermine the stated purpose of our government.

What’s the net result of this ongoing war between a government that directly serves its citizenry, and a plutocracy that serves its own financial interests and controls the behavior of the citizenry - along with the use of national resources? For decades now, we’ve been bombarded with persuasive rhetoric and seemingly logical arguments that have been drawn against our genuine personal interests, and many people have been won over by the corporate worldview.

So what, exactly, is this worldview into which we’re being seduced? It’s the belief that money, and the short-term acquisition of enough of it, is more important in the short run than long-term human health, happiness and the wellbeing of our own living planet, because ultimately the acquisition of enough money will allow us to buy for ourselves those things we truly desire. Under that worldview everything we do, every decision we make, must be viewed through the financial, for-profit lens. If we can’t make money at something – or at the very least have it be revenue neutral - we simply won’t do it, no matter how crucial it may be for humanity’s long-term survival. The singular exception business seems willing to promote, the one aspect of government it seems willing to fund to a nearly unlimited extent, is the capacity to wage war against other nations to protect our business interests. And why not? War is an amazingly profitable enterprise for the business paradigm. In what other industry do we make breathtakingly expensive products – products funded and resourced by the public and not by private enterprise itself – that we blow up or destroy almost immediately, requiring us to then build them all over again and generate continuous corporate profits? Certainly the government can be allowed to run a monstrous deficit for the sake of feeding that highly profitable financial enterprise, so long as the public can be convinced a given war is righteous enough for it to pick up the tab in defense of those business interests.

The sobering truth is, for too long we’ve been sold a bill of goods that says we can use money to buy happiness, health and a sense of wellbeing. We’ve convinced ourselves it must be true, because the press constantly holds a few wealthy role models up to as all as evidence that we too, if we continue to work hard, not complain and do exactly what the plutocracy says, will eventually be in position to “have it all.” What we’re never told is that, under the existing scenario, it’s impossible for more than a few people to genuinely have it all. A power/dominator structure that supports and is controlled by a plutocracy – by its very nature – requires many more worker bees than it does overseers. The systematic dismantling of the middle class we’ve been observing for the past forty years has been the plutocracy’s attempt to prevent too many worker bees from becoming mid-level overseers wielding too much power, because a too-strong middle management power base threatens the pyramidical nature of the power/dominator structure that underpins the for-profit business model. That’s particularly true because most mid-level workers tend to rise from the families of lower level worker bees, thus feel some affinity for the struggle and suffering of the lower classes, whereas plutocrats tend to spring from the middle class or are born of other plutocrats, which insulates them from feeling empathy for the struggle of the lower classes.

When we look at what’s happening in our society today - without shying away from what the evidence reveals - we can see what it is about the government’s activities that have so offended the business establishment. We begin to grasp why business today wishes to dominate government, to change the very nature of its function. Because the motives of government are life-oriented and long-term, while the motives of business are profit-oriented and short-term, these two competing viewpoints have been on a collision course for the past two hundred-plus years. In earlier centuries they operated in dynamic balance because neither system had the best interests of the citizenry at heart. But of late the balance has tipped precariously in favor of the power/dominator business model, at the expense of the rights and needs of the citizenry. It’s money that makes all the difference in a society where money equals power. And since business interests control most of the money in this nation, including how and where it is printed and to whom it flows, whereas the government remains deeply indebted and has not been permitted to accumulate excess cash, it is business that is funding – and winning – the war of public opinion.

If out business model wins this war and becomes the sole driver for human advancement, it means people will remain ever harnessed to the need to pay for what they use on a daily basis and to sell their labor from the time they're old enough to work until the day they can no longer physically do their work, so they can continually earn enough cash to pay businesses for the goods and services they need to survive. That model, unchecked, subverts a large part of what we are trying to accomplish as a species, which is to free ourselves from the need to physically work and to mentally struggle without any end in sight, and to eliminate our the endless need to pay those who control the world’s resources for access to what we need to be our best selves.

The irony is, humans continually seek freedom but have chosen (unwittingly, perhaps) to bind ourselves to a model that perpetually denies us our freedom. Why? Are we so afraid of what we'll do with freedom if we actually achieve it? Are we more enamored of the seeking of freedom than we are of the notion of actually being free from these self-imposed constraints? Are we more interested in controlling the behaviors of everyone else than in claiming genuine freedom for ourselves? The fact is, we can't have life both ways in this situation - we can't be personally free so long as we continue to support a system that manipulates and coerces us all into behaving in highly controlled, self-limiting ways.

The monetary for-profit business model, which intuitively many of us are coming to realize cannot serve humanity’s ends in the long run, does not seem to appreciate the fact that - first and foremost, human beings are LIFE forms with feelings and talents and skills and abilities, and imagination and immense creative capacities - not just physical assets or liabilities on some conceptual global corporate balance sheet. If anything, the business model manipulates that fact to its advantage by instilling fear in us that we won’t be able to survive unless we tow the corporate line, perform our duties in the way business prescribes, and accept our roles as good worker bees within the power/dominator structure. The business model justifies a reward and punishment, fear-based and externally driven "means" – which is to say it enslaves and coerces people, using their need to earn wages and to buy the goods and services they need to survive – because it claims to have humanity’s end goal in mind. Given that our end goals are personal happiness, planetary abundance and enough freedom and autonomy to live our own lives to our fullest capacities, how is it even possible for us to achieve them under the current business model, when businesses motives – and its very structure – is antithetical to long-term abundance, planetary wellbeing and personal autonomy?

I pose these questions not to attack business or to defend government. Nor do I believe this represents a purposeful war being waged, so much as it represents a reflexive reactivity that has been programmed into humanity for many thousands of years. While some people may be deliberately making and supporting choices that benefit themselves at the expense of the larger society, I do believe most are, as yet, unaware of the impacts of our choices – nor do we even clearly see our options – due to all the static being generated from the noise produced by the two opposing sides. I therefore pose these questions to invite us all to consider what our real goals are, and to examine the nature of the structures under which we’ve all been operating for centuries. Perhaps it’s time for us to sit down and look at our goals, and compare them to structures we’ve created over time, to determine whether or not these structures are taking us in the direction we wish to go. For what it’s worth, my personal opinion is not nearly so important as the decision that will be made by the human collective. I will surely die within the next fifty years, hopefully before we’ve so desecrated our planet that it’s unable to carry and nurture human life any more. Many of you who are reading this may also be dead very soon. What is important then, are the conscious choices we collectively make as a species today. Will we make those choices with the long view in mind, or merely to provide ourselves with some sense of short-term stability? How What we choose to be and what we choose to do right NOW will influence the state of the world we leave to future generations. How hard we work today to make the necessary changes – along with the amount of short-term pain we’re willing to endure – will determine how hard future generations will need to work, to either carry on our best practices or undo any structures we’ve created that are destructive to life and that imprison the human spirit.

Let me close with a couple of quotes from General Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican president who was elected shortly before this outright war between business and government heated up:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. “

And this one:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies – in the final sense – a THEFT from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

I ponder these quotes quite often as I observe the present direction of human society. They help me inform my choices when it comes to the worldview I am personally choosing to hold.


  1. "to safeguard the possessions that wealthy people had begun to accumulate, shortly after the notions of individual ownership".

    So when wealthy people set out to accumulate and own individuals, to be bought and sold as chattel, they instituted governance, which they disguised as religion, and backed this up with a state monopoly on violence, carried out by a specialized sub-set of the slave class, to keep the rest in line.

  2. My suspicion is that there is no real paradox, that having reached a sufficient level of material advancement and technological proficiencies, the ruling class, more Saturnine than Plutonian, is about to shuffle off the mortal coils of an entire recently obsoleted class of the hive, and embrace the singularity. The imminent rise of a new species of human has global tongues atwitter as millions of buggy-whip makers contemplate their roles in a new robotic, virtual world.