How Our Economy Causes Destructive Polarities

One of the most unfortunate aspects of living in our time is that the polarity between our economic actions, and our values as a culture. This disconnect is so pervasive that it has become the unquestioned norm.

I oppose how mining impacts the environment; yet my livelihood depends upon extracting gold and silver from the earth. The politics of big oil are repulsive to me; yet I do not hesitate to fill up my car and go on a road trip. I am disgusted driving through clear cuts in the Pacific Northwest; yet I go to the lumber store and buy two by fours whenever I need them. I enjoy dining on fresh fish; yet I fail to consider the damage factory trawlers are doing to the ocean environment and its species. I believe strongly that companies should treat their employees generously; yet generally I search for the lowest prices, whether I am purchasing something personally or something for my company.

In my personal list, the polarities, extend into the political realm as well. I oppose big government; but I want the benefits of government programs. I oppose ramped consumerism and the havoc large credit card debt wrecks on families; but I benefit from it because I sell a luxury item. I want to keep manufacturing jobs in this country; yet my business could not survive without outsourcing some of its products. I benefit from importing, which drives up our trade imbalance to what may consider dangerous levels…and may ultimately result in the collapse of our economic stability.

Let’s take the example of those $10 pair of cargo pants at War-Mart. That $10 pair of pants is manufactured outside of the US and War-Mart probably makes about forty cents in selling it, a minute margin that no small business could ever work with. War-Mart’s objective, by law, exists to create profits. In fact, the location of the store or a factory may be decided in no small measure by the tax breaks or other advantages that a township may offer to create jobs in its municipality. Also, to sell things cheaply, War-Mart offers low paying jobs and part time jobs with little or no benefits. Thus the $10 pants and the economically viable community work against each other.

On a macro level, people who most need the living wage, the working class poor, ironically, support their own downward economic spiral through purchasing at the big boxes that take their profit from the community and redistribute it to their corporate stock holders. The $17,530 earned by the average Wal Mart worker in 2005 was $1,820 below the poverty line for a family of four.[1] This is a form of macro-colonialism that has been perfected by corporations who often feed on the resources of small towns just like countries feed on their colonies. Wall Street is happy. Fortune Magazine names them one of the most successful companies. This is good business. War-Mart would continue doing it without change if it did not encounter resistance from elements of society that oppose the legal practices that have led to its free market success.

What about the $10 dollar pants? Making them in Sri Lanka may help spread wealth internationally. I have lived and traveled in the developing world enough to know that people want those factory jobs, even though the factory owner in some developing country probably has no interest in building a middle class. He wants his workers making as little as possible, so he can make more, himself. Many of those factories where most of the clothing is produced, have conditions that organized labor fought to change decades ago in this country.

Ironically, those against globalization, the anti-globalization activists who put a hot stick in Nike’s eye, enjoy the benefits of outsourced labor because it is ubiquitous in our marketplace. Their core beliefs and their actions, just by living in the US, cannot be in alignment. Here’s my fantasy of them: they buy their gas at Chevron, despite what that company has done in Nigeria, then ease their conscience by idolizing Hugo Chavez while drinking fair trade coffee which, at $3.50 a cup, probably costs them more than a day’s wages for the people who actually produced it.

Where I live in Santa Fe, there is a strong move to support local business, as if just because you are local and small, you have some kind of moral high ground over those larger companies. I strongly opposed War-Mart’s opening of a second store, a Superstore, in the southern part of our town, even though it would not impact my business. But even local businesses put out of business by War-Mart can be less generous than War-Mart. In fact, War-Mart offers far more benefits to its employees than the retail segment as a whole.[2] Their success in business makes them an easy target.

Someone who works for $5.15 an hour earns only $10,506 a year. Adjusted for inflation, minimum wages have fallen 40% since 1968. Our living wage law, in my opinion, does not do enough. Santa Fe is a very expensive place to live. But it has raised our minimum wage to $8.15 for companies that employ more than twenty people. War-Mart and the other big boxes did not oppose our local living wage ordinance. The opposition came from small businesses and our local Chamber of Commerce who represented them.

There may be some small companies on the edge that cannot afford to pay their employees enough to live well, but I believe that there may be another issue involved. Small businesses do not have to stand up to public scrutiny, at least from a financial point of view. A small business owner employing twenty people who say they can not afford to treat their workers well can be much worse than War-Mart. These business owners want their six figure incomes and they do it on the backs of poor, often new immigrant labor. Yet with their beautiful houses and new cars, you might call these people entrepreneurial success stories.

So, is the “War-Mart effect” - which lowers the prices in an entire region, effectively good for a local economy or bad? How do we factor in their recent tend toward “green,” as discussed in a recent Fortune Magazine article. They are the largest purchaser of organic cotton and are going heavily into other organic products, as well as revamping their trucks to make them more efficient.. They are also on of the strongest corporate advocates of creating a national health care system.

Perhaps asking that question is part of the problem. It creates polarities, opposing forces that dig into the trenches of their positions like World War I combatants. They struggle, bloodying themselves over the years for a few inches or feet of ground. What is going on is actually the perfect expression of our societal schizoid break, the convergence of everything good and everything bad in about us and how we interact with our market.

I want to know, what is this situation calling for in our own evolution as human beings, that will get us beyond this polarization? I want to get beyond blame and surface, facile explanations. What we are seeing around us is merely the external expression of our own culture of consumerism—the polarization expressed in physical form of the splits that we feel inside ourselves.

Everyone wants to live in a community with strong values, good school systems, and support for civic events– a place low in crime and high in humanity. Yet the economic choices business and individuals make by spending their hard earned money often undermine these values. Too often, the qualities enabling someone to lead an organization and make huge amounts of money, have little to do with civic generosity. Rather, they are power players.

The question I struggle with in my company and my life is, how to we bridge this split between economy and personal values? Could it be by creating business that profits by changing the dynamic between economy and community?

Excerpted from The Circle Manifesto™, © 2007 - a work in progress. Sign up here if you would like to get advanced notice of its publication and receive a signed copy of the book.

[1] Mother Jones Magazine, May 2006 page 25.

[2] Atlantic Magazine

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One of the most unfortunate aspects of living in our time is that the polarity between our economic actions, and our values as a culture. This disconnect is so pervasive that it has become the unquestioned norm.

I oppose how mining impacts the environment; yet my livelihood depends upon extracting gold and silver from the earth. The politics of big oil are repulsive to me; yet I do not hesitate to fill up my car and go on a road trip. I am disgusted driving through clear cuts in the Pacific Northwest; yet I go to the lumber store and buy two by fours whenever I need them. I enjoy dining on fresh fish; yet I fail to consider the damage factory trawlers are doing to the ocean environment and its species. I believe strongly that companies should treat their employees generously; yet generally I search for the lowest prices, whether I am purchasing something personally or something for my company.

In my personal list, the polarities, extend into the political realm as well. I oppose big government; but I want the benefits of government programs. I oppose ramped consumerism and the havoc large credit card debt wrecks on families; but I benefit from it because I sell a luxury item. I want to keep manufacturing jobs in this country; yet my business could not survive without outsourcing some of its products. I benefit from importing, which drives up our trade imbalance to what may consider dangerous levels…and may ultimately result in the collapse of our economic stability.

Let’s take the example of those $10 pair of cargo pants at War-Mart. That $10 pair of pants is manufactured outside of the US and War-Mart probably makes about forty cents in selling it, a minute margin that no small business could ever work with. War-Mart’s objective, by law, exists to create profits. In fact, the location of the store or a factory may be decided in no small measure by the tax breaks or other advantages that a township may offer to create jobs in its municipality. Also, to sell things cheaply, War-Mart offers low paying jobs and part time jobs with little or no benefits. Thus the $10 pants and the economically viable community work against each other.

On a macro level, people who most need the living wage, the working class poor, ironically, support their own downward economic spiral through purchasing at the big boxes that take their profit from the community and redistribute it to their corporate stock holders. The $17,530 earned by the average Wal Mart worker in 2005 was $1,820 below the poverty line for a family of four.[1] This is a form of macro-colonialism that has been perfected by corporations who often feed on the resources of small towns just like countries feed on their colonies. Wall Street is happy. Fortune Magazine names them one of the most successful companies. This is good business. War-Mart would continue doing it without change if it did not encounter resistance from elements of society that oppose the legal practices that have led to its free market success.

What about the $10 dollar pants? Making them in Sri Lanka may help spread wealth internationally. I have lived and traveled in the developing world enough to know that people want those factory jobs, even though the factory owner in some developing country probably has no interest in building a middle class. He wants his workers making as little as possible, so he can make more, himself. Many of those factories where most of the clothing is produced, have conditions that organized labor fought to change decades ago in this country.

Ironically, those against globalization, the anti-globalization activists who put a hot stick in Nike’s eye, enjoy the benefits of outsourced labor because it is ubiquitous in our marketplace. Their core beliefs and their actions, just by living in the US, cannot be in alignment. Here’s my fantasy of them: they buy their gas at Chevron, despite what that company has done in Nigeria, then ease their conscience by idolizing Hugo Chavez while drinking fair trade coffee which, at $3.50 a cup, probably costs them more than a day’s wages for the people who actually produced it.

Where I live in Santa Fe, there is a strong move to support local business, as if just because you are local and small, you have some kind of moral high ground over those larger companies. I strongly opposed War-Mart’s opening of a second store, a Superstore, in the southern part of our town, even though it would not impact my business. But even local businesses put out of business by War-Mart can be less generous than War-Mart. In fact, War-Mart offers far more benefits to its employees than the retail segment as a whole.[2] Their success in business makes them an easy target.

Someone who works for $5.15 an hour earns only $10,506 a year. Adjusted for inflation, minimum wages have fallen 40% since 1968. Our living wage law, in my opinion, does not do enough. Santa Fe is a very expensive place to live. But it has raised our minimum wage to $8.15 for companies that employ more than twenty people. War-Mart and the other big boxes did not oppose our local living wage ordinance. The opposition came from small businesses and our local Chamber of Commerce who represented them.

There may be some small companies on the edge that cannot afford to pay their employees enough to live well, but I believe that there may be another issue involved. Small businesses do not have to stand up to public scrutiny, at least from a financial point of view. A small business owner employing twenty people who say they can not afford to treat their workers well can be much worse than War-Mart. These business owners want their six figure incomes and they do it on the backs of poor, often new immigrant labor. Yet with their beautiful houses and new cars, you might call these people entrepreneurial success stories.

So, is the “War-Mart effect” - which lowers the prices in an entire region, effectively good for a local economy or bad? How do we factor in their recent tend toward “green,” as discussed in a recent Fortune Magazine article. They are the largest purchaser of organic cotton and are going heavily into other organic products, as well as revamping their trucks to make them more efficient.. They are also on of the strongest corporate advocates of creating a national health care system.

Perhaps asking that question is part of the problem. It creates polarities, opposing forces that dig into the trenches of their positions like World War I combatants. They struggle, bloodying themselves over the years for a few inches or feet of ground. What is going on is actually the perfect expression of our societal schizoid break, the convergence of everything good and everything bad in about us and how we interact with our market.

I want to know, what is this situation calling for in our own evolution as human beings, that will get us beyond this polarization? I want to get beyond blame and surface, facile explanations. What we are seeing around us is merely the external expression of our own culture of consumerism—the polarization expressed in physical form of the splits that we feel inside ourselves.

Everyone wants to live in a community with strong values, good school systems, and support for civic events– a place low in crime and high in humanity. Yet the economic choices business and individuals make by spending their hard earned money often undermine these values. Too often, the qualities enabling someone to lead an organization and make huge amounts of money, have little to do with civic generosity. Rather, they are power players.

The question I struggle with in my company and my life is, how to we bridge this split between economy and personal values? Could it be by creating business that profits by changing the dynamic between economy and community?

Excerpted from The Circle Manifesto™, © 2007 - a work in progress. Sign up here if you would like to get advanced notice of its publication and receive a signed copy of the book.

[1] Mother Jones Magazine, May 2006 page 25.

[2] Atlantic Magazine

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One of the most unfortunate aspects of living in our time is that the polarity between our economic actions, and our values as a culture. This disconnect is so pervasive that it has become the unquestioned norm.

I oppose how mining impacts the environment; yet my livelihood depends upon extracting gold and silver from the earth. The politics of big oil are repulsive to me; yet I do not hesitate to fill up my car and go on a road trip. I am disgusted driving through clear cuts in the Pacific Northwest; yet I go to the lumber store and buy two by fours whenever I need them. I enjoy dining on fresh fish; yet I fail to consider the damage factory trawlers are doing to the ocean environment and its species. I believe strongly that companies should treat their employees generously; yet generally I search for the lowest prices, whether I am purchasing something personally or something for my company.

In my personal list, the polarities, extend into the political realm as well. I oppose big government; but I want the benefits of government programs. I oppose ramped consumerism and the havoc large credit card debt wrecks on families; but I benefit from it because I sell a luxury item. I want to keep manufacturing jobs in this country; yet my business could not survive without outsourcing some of its products. I benefit from importing, which drives up our trade imbalance to what may consider dangerous levels…and may ultimately result in the collapse of our economic stability.

Let’s take the example of those $10 pair of cargo pants at War-Mart. That $10 pair of pants is manufactured outside of the US and War-Mart probably makes about forty cents in selling it, a minute margin that no small business could ever work with. War-Mart’s objective, by law, exists to create profits. In fact, the location of the store or a factory may be decided in no small measure by the tax breaks or other advantages that a township may offer to create jobs in its municipality. Also, to sell things cheaply, War-Mart offers low paying jobs and part time jobs with little or no benefits. Thus the $10 pants and the economically viable community work against each other.

On a macro level, people who most need the living wage, the working class poor, ironically, support their own downward economic spiral through purchasing at the big boxes that take their profit from the community and redistribute it to their corporate stock holders. The $17,530 earned by the average Wal Mart worker in 2005 was $1,820 below the poverty line for a family of four.[1] This is a form of macro-colonialism that has been perfected by corporations who often feed on the resources of small towns just like countries feed on their colonies. Wall Street is happy. Fortune Magazine names them one of the most successful companies. This is good business. War-Mart would continue doing it without change if it did not encounter resistance from elements of society that oppose the legal practices that have led to its free market success.

What about the $10 dollar pants? Making them in Sri Lanka may help spread wealth internationally. I have lived and traveled in the developing world enough to know that people want those factory jobs, even though the factory owner in some developing country probably has no interest in building a middle class. He wants his workers making as little as possible, so he can make more, himself. Many of those factories where most of the clothing is produced, have conditions that organized labor fought to change decades ago in this country.

Ironically, those against globalization, the anti-globalization activists who put a hot stick in Nike’s eye, enjoy the benefits of outsourced labor because it is ubiquitous in our marketplace. Their core beliefs and their actions, just by living in the US, cannot be in alignment. Here’s my fantasy of them: they buy their gas at Chevron, despite what that company has done in Nigeria, then ease their conscience by idolizing Hugo Chavez while drinking fair trade coffee which, at $3.50 a cup, probably costs them more than a day’s wages for the people who actually produced it.

Where I live in Santa Fe, there is a strong move to support local business, as if just because you are local and small, you have some kind of moral high ground over those larger companies. I strongly opposed War-Mart’s opening of a second store, a Superstore, in the southern part of our town, even though it would not impact my business. But even local businesses put out of business by War-Mart can be less generous than War-Mart. In fact, War-Mart offers far more benefits to its employees than the retail segment as a whole.[2] Their success in business makes them an easy target.

Someone who works for $5.15 an hour earns only $10,506 a year. Adjusted for inflation, minimum wages have fallen 40% since 1968. Our living wage law, in my opinion, does not do enough. Santa Fe is a very expensive place to live. But it has raised our minimum wage to $8.15 for companies that employ more than twenty people. War-Mart and the other big boxes did not oppose our local living wage ordinance. The opposition came from small businesses and our local Chamber of Commerce who represented them.

There may be some small companies on the edge that cannot afford to pay their employees enough to live well, but I believe that there may be another issue involved. Small businesses do not have to stand up to public scrutiny, at least from a financial point of view. A small business owner employing twenty people who say they can not afford to treat their workers well can be much worse than War-Mart. These business owners want their six figure incomes and they do it on the backs of poor, often new immigrant labor. Yet with their beautiful houses and new cars, you might call these people entrepreneurial success stories.

So, is the “War-Mart effect” - which lowers the prices in an entire region, effectively good for a local economy or bad? How do we factor in their recent tend toward “green,” as discussed in a recent Fortune Magazine article. They are the largest purchaser of organic cotton and are going heavily into other organic products, as well as revamping their trucks to make them more efficient.. They are also on of the strongest corporate advocates of creating a national health care system.

Perhaps asking that question is part of the problem. It creates polarities, opposing forces that dig into the trenches of their positions like World War I combatants. They struggle, bloodying themselves over the years for a few inches or feet of ground. What is going on is actually the perfect expression of our societal schizoid break, the convergence of everything good and everything bad in about us and how we interact with our market.

I want to know, what is this situation calling for in our own evolution as human beings, that will get us beyond this polarization? I want to get beyond blame and surface, facile explanations. What we are seeing around us is merely the external expression of our own culture of consumerism—the polarization expressed in physical form of the splits that we feel inside ourselves.

Everyone wants to live in a community with strong values, good school systems, and support for civic events– a place low in crime and high in humanity. Yet the economic choices business and individuals make by spending their hard earned money often undermine these values. Too often, the qualities enabling someone to lead an organization and make huge amounts of money, have little to do with civic generosity. Rather, they are power players.

The question I struggle with in my company and my life is, how to we bridge this split between economy and personal values? Could it be by creating business that profits by changing the dynamic between economy and community?

Excerpted from The Circle Manifesto™, © 2007 - a work in progress. Sign up here if you would like to get advanced notice of its publication and receive a signed copy of the book.

[1] Mother Jones Magazine, May 2006 page 25.

[2] Atlantic Magazine

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