A proposed solution to corporate irresponsibility and the
degradation of the human environment by redefining profit
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The corporation as a living system
Capitalism and the corporate culture, despite spinning off a virtual cornucopia of benefits for humanity as a side effect of its obsessive drive for profit, has become more and more destructive to both the quality of human consciousness and the quality of the ecosystem. Capitalism is about making a profit and the corporations which populate capitalism are profit generating organisms. In this, they’re not very different from biological organisms. All living systems have to operate at a profit, that is increase their energy and substance, as well as propagate, in order to survive.
There is another similarity between corporations and living systems. All living systems survive, increase and propagate by consuming the resources of their environment and successfully competing with other living systems for the same resources. And finally, like corporations, all living systems not only consume resources but transform them, thus adding value.
However all living systems, (with the exception of those created by industrial man) from bacteria to rain forests, whatever their rate and mode of consumption, ultimately create and put back more resources than they consume, with the ultimate return being the decomposition of their own bodies after death. For the most part, all organisms are not only ecologically neutral, (contributing as much as they consume) but ecologically positive, (contributing more than they consume). One shining example of this principle is bacteria, which break down all sorts of matter, both organic and inorganic, into nutrients that not only can they use, but directly or indirectly can be used by all life.
All life is ecologically positive
Capitalism is ecologically negative
Recently however, industrial man has reversed this process, consuming far more than he contributes, creating mountains, rivers and clouds of unusable and toxic waste, and threatening the very ecosystem that supports him, so much so that in less than a century, a mere instant in the lifespan of the planet, the natural balance has begun to be destabilized and we are teetering on the brink of unprecedented scarcity in such basics as uncontaminated water and food, fossil fuels and clean air.
There are many proposals on how to fix capitalism and the corporate system but most are looking to either elevate the consciousness of management (with the idea that an increase there would trickle down the ladder of corporate practices), or elevate the consciousness of consumers, (with the idea that informed buying would influence corporate practices from the bottom up.) Despite the merits of initiatives such as these I fear they are doomed to only a moderate success, so long as the way that the corporations profit does not reflect their consumption of resources, both natural and human.
Balancing production versus consumption
The way in which corporations now figure the ratio of profit to loss is basically double entry bookkeeping. One column is for outflow, the cumulative cost of doing business; the other is for inflow, the income derived from selling goods, services and the like. If the sum of column two exceeds the sum of column one, the corporation is profitable and viable; if not it eventually goes bankrupt. No other considerations whatsoever really count. If the bottom line does not show a profit, the corporation is not profitable. End of story. Every other consideration, consumption, pollution, fairness, social consequence, aesthetics, ecological devastation etc., is reduced to profit or loss, i.e. is either an easily affordable luxury on the part of a corporation, or has to favorably influence the bottom line.
This, as far as it goes, is the way it has to be – even the way it should be. Corporations are subject to approximately the same energy economics as living systems. They have to make a profit, or at least not operate at a loss, in order to survive. In addition, no one would either operate or invest in a Corporation that consistently operated at a loss.
Redefining profit (as whole system profit)
The problem though is not that corporations operate for a profit; it is that economics not reality defines this profit. Another way of saying this is that the corporation makes the profit, not humanity and the global ecology. As a matter of fact, corporations regularly profit at the expense of humanity and the global ecology, consuming and/or destroying a large part of the total system in order to realize a relatively minor profit for themselves.
At this time in history, a Corporation can destroy an ecosystem, pollute a river and impoverish an indigenous culture, but if it makes a monetary profit, if it costs less to destroy part of the world than the earnings such destruction engenders, the corporation is deemed profitable — and the investors realize a comfortable return on their investments.
That is not a real profit! That is not a profitable corporation but a subsidized one that operates at a substantial loss. By who is it subsidized? By the countries that house it, by the ecosystem of the globe, by you and I, and by every person that walks or will walk the earth.
It is clear that we have to build accountability and responsibility into the corporate mind. But the question is how to do this? I believe the most realistic answer starts with redefining profitability, in other words making it profitable for the corporation to contribute to the humansphere and unprofitable for it to consume without recycling and restoring.
And the only way to do this is to make corporations accountable for the real costs of their doing business, to make them fully responsible for the consumption and the destruction they cause, and to make them pay for the real costs of correcting it.
In this context a profitable bottom line would still be a surplus of income over expenditure, but the expenditure would include a monetization of the consumption and/or destruction of human and natural resources, and the income would include monetary compensation for the restoration of the human and natural resource pool. Corporations and governments working together could accomplish this by monetizing or otherwise calibrating social and ecological consumption and balancing it out with contributions to the whole system which would either be actual or financial.
Of course this will be a difficult task to accomplish but it can be facilitated by interfacing it with the corporation’s normal, accounting practices. What I would propose would be changing from double entry to quadruple entry bookkeeping, adding a column on one side for system depletion or consumption and a column on the other side for system contributions. In that way one could keep track of whether the corporation, viewed as a part of the total system of the humanity and the earth which supports it (i.e. the humansphere), was really operating at a profit or a loss. And if not, calculate to what extent the Corporation is withdrawing from the common property of all the sentient beings on earth.
Corporations then would be taxed for the real costs of cleaning up the environment, replenishing resources and (as if this is possible) reversing human suffering and the degradation of everyday life. Overseeing of this process would be a quasi-governmental function (on a global level). I can imagine a sort of global IRS, or ERS (External Revenue Service) which would further tax corporations which are system negative, reduce taxation or credit and reward corporations which are system positive and neither further tax nor credit corporations which are ecologically neutral.
With this system of two-way taxation, corporations would not be taxed solely on the basis of traditional profitability but also on net loss or gain to the social and ecological system. Profitability then would be redefined from a net monetary gain without regard to the whole system – to a net monetary gain balanced by its impact on the system. A system positive corporation would be proportionally rewarded, and a system negative Corporation would be heavily and proportionally taxed. With this system it would even be possible for a corporation to turn a profit when it was running at a monetary loss, or conversely, for a corporation to operate at a net loss, even though profitable in traditional terms. This alone, without necessitating any other changes whatsoever would lead corporate energies in new and positive directions.
Redirecting human nature
Marxism failed by not taking into account two aspects of human nature, selfishness and the survival drive. Margaret Thatcher was of the opinion that due to the same considerations of human nature, there were no viable alternatives to capitalism. However by redefining profitability you neither have to change human nature nor abandon capitalism! Profitability can be redefined by extending its beneficiaries from the individual or corporate selves (as well as other collective selves like family, religion, and nation) to the whole self system of the humansphere. This redefinition takes advantage of human nature and redirects it to benefit the world rather than plundering it. This is just the concept of enlightened self-interest expressed on the corporate level. **
If we redefined what it is to be profitable, neither human selfishness, nor the survival drive, nor the drive to corporate profitability would have to be changed.
Initially this would lead to a reduction in government revenue from corporate taxation. However this would be more than compensated for by a drastic reduction in expenditures for government services, subsidies, regulatory services, and the size of the social safety net. Many if not all of these governmental functions are now necessitated by corporate irresponsibility, but in the new order, where corporations are taxed or compensated for the way they impact social and environmental systems, the need for many of these government services will be dramatically reduced, and others will be assumed by the corporations themselves. In addition the consumption and destruction of our planet will be gradually reversed as corporations find it more profitable to conserve and restore to consume and destroy.
The ways in which corporations can contribute are many, and the surface is not even scratched yet. Once corporations grasp the fact that minimizing consumption and destruction and maximizing contribution and restoration can impact their profitability, saving more than it costs, the immense ingenuity of entrepreneurial capitalism will be turned to conservationist, ecological, social and humanitarian concerns, and the degradation of the natural environment and human consciousness will be quickly and profitably reversed, without the need for further regulation, corporate altruism or individual enlightenment.
Realistically, we can expect an increase in corporate altruism and both ecological and humanitarian awareness when and only when these qualities become economically advantageous. Once this happens, corporations will value these traits in their employees and the propaganda/education machine of our society will begin to teach them in earnest.
Of course the monetization and/or calibration of negative and positive, societal and ecological consumption is going to be a difficult, contentious and time-consuming process, but it is doable. Not only that, it will quickly spawn new technologies, new industries, new professions and above all – a new consciousness.
It will also be expensive, but only by the old standards of double entry bookkeeping and consumption profit. By the new standards of contribution profit, where contribution is balanced against consumption, it will be immensely profitable — in dollar terms but even more, in environmental and human terms.
Not only that, but making corporations accountable for the damage they do will immensely diminish the cost of governing and running a country, from sustaining its infrastructure to providing human services, and will immensely decrease the necessary tax burden on the populace. To develop only one example, cleaning up the environment, phasing out unhealthy and adulterated foods, cleansing the water supply and improving working conditions will immensely decrease the need for healthcare and thus the costs. However, these and other benefits will only accrue if our corporations can be made strictly accountable and billable for the way they consume our world.
Benefits to Human Consciousness
Last but and certainly not least will be the elevation of the human consciousness itself. Holocaust survivor Eli Weisel said of the Nazis “they killed the God in themselves”. To a lesser extent but just as surely, corporations under their present charter tend to kill the God in all of us. They kill the God in their employees, they kill the God in the corporate officers, and they kill the God in the consumer, or at least try to. Why, because no matter how well-intentioned they are, and for the most part they are not very well-intentioned, profit and nothing but profit is the bottom line. Of course they will give lip service to all sorts of high ideals like integrity, green business practices and service to mankind, and sometimes even accomplish a modicum of that, but when profitability threatens viability, crueler – I mean cooler heads emerge, ideals are sacrificed and survival at any cost quickly becomes the name of the game.
This is not evil. To quote the “godfather” it is simply “business”. Business in the present economic structure, with the present definition of profitability, is like that. No one is to blame and everyone is to blame. It is the system, and the system kills the God in everyone that the system touches.
We can try to change human nature but the truth is we are not going to succeed very well. In fact for the most part the very people who are trying to change it, are faced with the choice of either bucking the system and being made powerless or joining it and being corrupted. The only hope is to change the system itself. But since Karl Marx there is not been a really compelling vision of a new, economic order. Communism failed not because its ideals were evil, but because it ignored the evil aspects of human nature, learning from that mistake, the Omnius Manifesto proposes to harness and redirect the “evil” forces of selfishness and survival consciousness rather than denying them.
Paradoxically however, if anything can change human nature it is harnessing and redirecting these very forces of selfishness and survival consciousness. It’s not that we’re going to change human nature, because human nature is what it is. But human nature is two sided. Just as we can alienate or kill the God in us, we can also bring it out. And for the most part being expected, nay required to be positive and loving, to do good deeds, to contribute to society, and to be part of a social order which encourages and rewards that, not only makes people happy, it brings out their Godness.
Wars, violence, criminal behavior, social unrest, marital discord, teenage ennui, litigiousness, all are symptoms, symptoms of a defective system, a system born of the illusion of separation, of competitive individualism. The present economic system, where the only mandate for corporations is to make profit for their stockholders, was conceived from that consciousness. However the son has become the father and now corporate consciousness is eroding even the competitive individualism that spawned it. It is making almost everyone into corporate zombies, mindless of the devastation they wreak and ravenous for any vestige of living flesh not yet consumed.
It is time to evolve that system.
Enlightened self-interest is the realization that ultimately one’s individual self interest is dependent on the survival and stability of the All, the furthest extension of the system that holds the individual and which the individual is dependent. People of little or no imagination and education have trouble imagining that they are dependent on any system that goes beyond their individual survival efforts. At best they understand that their survival is dependent on the survival of an economic unit like their family, their religion, their country or their Corporation. At this moment in time however the consciousness is becoming widespread that our individual and species survival is dependent upon the survival of the present ecological balance of the Earth. This is the minimum consciousness that qualifies as enlightened self-interest. Actually our survival is directly dependent on the survival of the present ecological balance of the whole cosmic system that encompasses us. Not necessarily the survival of any one element, be it a species or a star, but the survival of the cosmic metabolism, the cosmic ecology, the cosmic Tao.
Fortunately at the present the powers of humankind to nurture or consume and destroy, are still concentrated mainly on Earth, with extremely limited forays into the space of our solar system. But that is enough! We can destroy our planetary home or we can wake up in time and garden it. It is at once an opportunity, a training and a test. We can seize the opportunity, master the training and pass the test, or we can fail and destroy ourselves. This opportunity is being presented to us on every imaginable level from individual to social to ecological. The economic level is not an inconsiderable part of this emerging, multidimensional consciousness. Whole system economics, as a fractal of enlightened self-interest, is an essential step that needs to be taken without delay.
In Whole Systems Economics, individuals and corporations would largely give up the expectation of realizing huge profits from their endeavors. One could argue then, and with justification, that this would de-motivate people to the extent that many of the industries whose fruits we now enjoy, would either not have come into being in the first place, or, would be a shadow of their present self. That is, without the incentives and pressures of the free production-place and marketplace we would experience a “Russian” economy with the shelves are bare of choices, and the quality of what is produced is shoddy at best.
The best way to protect against this happening would be to guarantee profitability so that along with reduced profit they would be reduced risk. With guaranteed profitability the launching of a new enterprise, particularly one that is friendly to the humansphere, would take on more of the character of a conservative investment than a wild risk, and would attract a totally different and one would hope more responsible kind of entrepreneur.
With guaranteed profitability, the governing body (eventually a global government) would enter into a contractual agreement with the entrepreneurial parties. The state would guarantee reasonable profitability, guidance and support where applicable, and even perhaps some funding. The entrepreneurial parties would invest their financial, intellectual and sweat equity and both parties would agree on the acceptable outcomes which would qualify to a fulfillment of the contract as well as the degree of guaranteed profit.
Once again I realize that this will place an enormous evaluative and regulatory burden on government. However it is no different than what happens once the need for regulatory body is acknowledged, the legislation proposed and passed and the regulatory body set up. At the present time however, the regulation of each industry is politically hampered by government having to go through a separate legislative process, which starts with the necessity of establishing the need for such regulation, and is hampered by the anti-regulation efforts of the industry lobbyists. Once the new system is in place, the case for regulation will not have to be argued and regulation will not have to be subject to the political process in every new field, a process that results in a too little – too late – too compromised solution. Instead regulation and the setting up of a watchdog agency will be automatic – perhaps even funded in part by the industry itself. In essence it is little different than what happens now when say an electric company proposes damming up a river and has to do an environmental impact study. The only significant difference will be that every new industry will be subject to examination and regulation.
Nothing I am proposing in the regulatory scheme is altogether new and radical. However at the present time these regulatory considerations are obstacles to be gotten around in the effort to maximize profit. What I’m proposing is that a reasonable profit be guaranteed to industries that agrees to self regulate. That is in return for guaranteeing a profit to humanity, humanity guarantees a profit to the industry.
The humansphere: the whole system of which one’s physical body is a part and by which one’s physical body is sustained and nurtured.
Selfishness: the illusion of oneself as a separate thing rather than a connected being, and the extension of this identity to all of one’s possessions and the extended selves. It arises from identification with one’s body. The antidote or awakening is to clear or disidentify with this false identity and realize one’s connection with the whole system.
Extended selves: All extensions of the illusion of oneself as a separate thing, customarily referred to in the possessive i.e. “my”, as in my body, my personality, my house, my family, my team, my country and it goes without saying… my corporation.
Survival consciousness: the root of all life and the engine of evolution is the urgent motivation to survive, thrive and procreate. It cannot and should not be weakened or extinguished! However it must be redirected from one’s physical body and its extensions, to the humansphere. Otherwise the humansphere will be irremediably damaged.
God: the realization all of one’s real identity as universal consciousness. Also the disidentification with one’s body (as a separate thing) and subsequent identification with real identity. Also the extension of this realization to the perception of all sentient beings.
The case for limited globalism
Of course, none of this can happen without a global government, and one that has powers of taxation and regulation. No one is more aware than I am of the countless difficulties and disadvantages associated with this. However we have to all face the fact that we are one species sharing one planet. What one country does to its population, or takes out of the Earth, or adds to the water or the sky affects all of us. On the face of it any proposal that rests on global government would seem to be unrealistic in the extreme. However, given the fact that the problems we are facing are global in scope, is what is really unrealistic is anything short of a global solution – and any global solution presupposes some level of global governing body.
The solution I would propose is a multilevel governmental scheme or global federation, where global issues and only global issues are the jurisdiction of the global government, national affairs and only national affairs are the jurisdiction of national governments and local affairs and only local affairs of the jurisdiction of local governments. Sort of like federal, state and city governments in the United States. Global government does not necessitate the total giving up of national and local autonomy, but where basic human and ecological issues are concerned we are one species sharing one Earth and no one nation, state, city, corporation or individual has the right to consume or destroy any aspect of that.
The end of nonprofits
This would also be the end of nonprofit corporations because every Corporation would be treated identically. Every Corporation that can demonstrate that it put back more than it took would be treated as a nonprofit, or better yet subject to a reverse taxation income flow. Conversely any corporation that operated at a deficit to the social or physical environment, whether it was for profit or nonprofit, would be taxed accordingly. This would mean that some corporations whose profitability is marginal and whose environmental cost is substantial would be taxed out of viability. While others who operated without profit or even at a loss, but were system positive, would be compensated into viability.
(Furthermore, I deem it axiomatic, that any corporation which is significantly, system negative should be so severely taxed that it is impossible for them to show a profit and remain and economically viable, no matter how great their unbalanced, consumption derived income would be.)
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