Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wealth versus Livelihood

I always clip and fuss over those stories about the outrageous bonuses Wall Street gives its traders and executives. Likewise top executive salaries at insurance companies, banks and oil companies.

Some of these so-called “leaders” pay themselves 1000 times what they pay their average worker.

Some leadership.

My reaction to these stories is visceral. I usually mutter “thieves” or “scoundrels” under my breath.

I’m not big on shaming folks, but the thought has passed my mind. Then again, there’s no reason to believe that shaming would work.

Life is shamelessly all about them. They’ve convinced themselves that they are worth every cent because ... that’s what the system is paying them.

The System.

Is there a system? What are its values? How can it produce such inequity? Am I part of the system? Are you? Why do we tolerate it?

So, what is this system? What are the alternatives?

I’ve just finished reading “Agenda for a New Economy” which provides some answers. The book by economist David Korten takes on our “money” system, rooted in “Wall Street Capitalism,” and contrasts it with a “living” economy, focused on “Main Street Markets.”

Korten writes that the “dominant driver” of the former is “making money” for the few. The goal of the latter is “creating livelihoods” for all.

It comes down to values. The values that rule our economy today are inhumane to their core, he argues. And as we have seen, deeply flawed and destructive. They are also responsible for mayhem and war abroad.

Here’s a chart in which Korten places aspects of the two systems side-by-side.

I happen to be involved in an effort to win Hillsdale, my community, the status of being a “Main Street District.” Some aspects of the “Main Street Program” (which is an economic revitalization effort sponsored by Portland’s city government) resonate with Korten's values.

Our work here will be worth it if it brings about the change to the “living economy” described by Korten. His book couldn’t be more timely for me. It has given a deeper meaning and impetus to my work for change here in Hillsdale.

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