Part 2 in a series. Read the first part here
Profit is one measure of worth, but it is not the only measure.
It could have been different. That’s how I ended my last piece about how our whole culture has realigned itself to Wall Street and its values over the last 30 years. But profit is not the only measure of worth. What would the last thirty years have been like if we had not been oriented toward profit, short-term returns, privatization, and creating new ways to make money by handling money?
You can’t answer that question simply by eliminating Wall Street’s poor moral values. Bad revolutions throw off the values of their oppressors and then fall into chaos because the revolutionaries never agreed on what the new values should be.
The founders understood this. They didn’t try to base a stable government on opposition to unfair taxes. They had a philosophical foundation (Declaration of Independence) and a legal foundation (the Constitution, without which the free states would have splintered).
So if I’m going to talk about how history could have been different under a different set of values, I better have some alternate values in mind.
And I do.
I start with a philosophical foundation just as our founders did. Here are just two points:
People Over Profits, Community Over Company. This says that a nation’s success is not just GDP; success is when everyone who is able has the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from that GDP. Company practices that hurt citizens, such as polluting, profiteering, and outsourcing to cheap-labor countries, are simply not allowed. Note that this doesn’t mean that people come first or that people have the right to destroy everything else for their own benefit. It means that business and industry should exist in service of people, not the other way around.
Embrace Short, Medium, and Long-Term Goals. This is something life coaches teach as part of the foundation of personal fulfillment. By having personal short, medium, and long-term goals, you get the good feeling of accomplishment on a regular basis and you always have the good feeling of working toward something. When a community has short, medium, and long-term goals, it creates a tighter community and a greater sense of belonging and accomplishment in community goals. Members can proudly point and say both “look what we have done” and “look what we are building together.”
Already you can imagine how just these two principles would make the world much different, but let’s consider how different priorities over the last 30 years might have yielded different outcomes in just one area, job and compensation distribution. This is a high-level overview, but it is possible, sustainable, and consistent with human nature.
-Fewer people would work on Wall Street, and there would be no Wall Street cultural domination. In practical terms, there would be more people in teaching, urban planning, manufacturing, to name a few, plus assorted financial jobs that bring more benefit to the public than managing a hedge fund (which is to say nearly any financial job).
-High prestige only goes so far. Embracing people and community also means paying more to those, like teachers, who are doing more to directly benefit the public. It might be by straight wage (since teachers are already government employees) or it might be a wage supplement or tax credit on behalf of the public to certain people to make these jobs attractive in true measure of their worth to the public.
-The economy would be constructed and incented in a way to favor jobs that add value. In practical terms, the many new computer, internet, and electronics companies that started here would have stayed here, but the dotcom bubble would have happened anyway because that was based on where people thought value would be. (Gambling in the market is a problem outside the scope of the two points we’re discussing, but I’ll cover that later.)
-Long-term planning means managing the job skills of the national workforce. The ROTC offers education incentives to join the military. Why not offer incentives to enter fields where anticipated future need is more than current enrollment? With such foresight, we might have had enough nurses and geriatric specialists for today’s aging boomers. Job skills would be distributed better overall.
-Some jobs may generate a lot of money but not contribute commensurately to the public good. Much of this money would go back into the community. For example, entertainment money would support arts and entertainment programs that enrich communities but don’t generate money. Sports money would enrich public transportation, schools, after-school programs, etc. Both would support injured/disabled members, including retraining for other jobs. Both sports and entertainment/arts would be viewed as solid career choices, but neither would be viewed as the lottery ticket they are now.
-A few jobs do more harm than good. They persist because they generate money. Those jobs would disappear. I won’t try to enumerate these since some will be social judgment calls (for example, the tobacco industry). More jobs become harmful because too many people are doing them, the equivalent of a job bubble. Some jobs would be transformed, along with their respective industries.
But for every job that goes away, more would be created and supported by the repurposed economy. This article focused on how things would be rearranged based on different objectives. The next article will look at things that do not exist today but might if we had taken a different road 30 years ago.