Interesting thoughts from marketer Seth Godin’s Blog, which addresses sustainability in a wider business context, identifying it as the best approach all-round:
What makes a policy or a politician pro business? Some would tell you it includes:
- Lower or eliminate the minimum wage
- Eviscerate OSHA and other safety and pollution inspections
- Make it difficult for workers to easily switch jobs from one company or another
- Educate the public just enough for them to be compliant cogs in the factory system
- Fight transparency to employees, the public and investors
- Cut corporate taxes
I think these are certainly pro-factory policies. All of them make it easier for the factory to be more efficient, to have more power over workers and to generate short-term profits.
But “business” is no longer the same as “factory”. (Aside: Factories don’t have to make stuff… they’re any business that focuses on doing what it did yesterday, but cheaper and faster.) It turns out that factory thinking is part of a race to the bottom, to be the cheapest, the easiest place to pollute, the workforce that will take what it can get.
It’s not surprising that there’s tension here. If you are working hard to cut prices and improve productivity, you might view labor as a cost, not an asset, and you might want as little hindrance as possible in the impact you have on the community. On the other hand, a business based on connection and innovation and flexibility may very well have a different take on it.
I grew up not too far from the Love Canal. It’s a world famous toxic waste dump. While it helped the short tem profits of Hooker, the chemical company that dumped there, it’s not clear that looking the other way was a pro-business strategy. At some point, a healthy and fairly paid community is essential if you want to sell them something.
The oil sands project in Alberta Canada is a factory-friendly effort. So was the lead excavation in Picher, OK. Creating systems that leverage the factory can often lead to financial success (in the short run). The problem is that the future doesn’t belong to efficient factories, because as we train people to look for the cheap, we race to the bottom–and someone else, somewhere else, will win that race.
Perhaps we could see pro-business strategies looking more like this:
- Investing in training the workforce to solve interesting problems, so they can work at just about any job.
- Maintaining infrastructure, safety and civil rights so we can create a community where talented people and the entrepreneurs who hire them (two groups that can live wherever they choose) would choose to live there.
- Reward and celebrate the scientific process that leads to scalable breakthroughs, productivity and a stable path to the future.
- Spend community (our) money on services and infrastructure that help successful organizations and families thrive.
Once you’ve seen how difficult it is to start a thriving business in a place without clean water, fast internet connections and a stable government of rational laws, it’s a lot harder to take what we’ve built for granted.
Capital is selfish and it often seeks the highest possible short-term results. But capital isn’t driving our economy any longer, innovation by unique people is. And people aren’t so predictable.
Linchpins are scarce. They can live where they choose, hire whom they want and build organizations filled with other linchpins. The race to the top will belong to communities that figure out how to avoid being the dumping ground for the organizational, social and physical pollution that factories create.