Can we imagine a world that is not dictated by money? Money makes the world go ’round, that’s what we’re told repeatedly.
Every story I find myself covering, I find the root cause goes back to money. Follow the money trail, I’ve been taught, and the picture will become clearer.
For a company to become more “social,” we must identify ways that it can help the poor, but also make money. A government can become accountable, transparent and efficient, but to do so it will have to forgo bribes and corruption â€” not possible given the fat wallets that corporate executives and government officials carry.
The traditional philanthropists, who are often so revered, are those who reap loads, and then give loads. They must accrue too much, excess, so much that they feel the need to return it.
Today, the emphasis is on using business for social impact. There are endless conferences, where CEOs, heads of marketing, heads of sustainability discuss how their companies are trying to do some good in the world. Perhaps. But I’m a bit skeptical.
I don’t understand one thing. A company must sell sugar-laden water to make millions, or billions, before feeling the need to address water woes in the developing world? Wouldn’t the more sustainable option be â€” don’t drink sugary water to begin with and save all that water, plastic and waste?
But wait, then the company wouldn’t exist, right? Because the most sustainable option is not have it to begin with. In business speak, what is the “value added” of that company? While some do have that function, offering a useful service or a quality product to society, more and more companies seem to be offering us unhealthy things to eat.
Yet, the same companies are pursuing new “social” agendas, driving “change” and “innovation” in business. Really?
The most innovative idea might be to scrap certain institutions that plague the environment and our bodies. But, money is stopping us.
Why do we have such rigid divisions between the sectors â€” the public, the private and the not-for-profit? If the private is destroying our public space, if the not-for-profit is doing the job of the public, and the public is relying on the private to finance itself â€” then are they really so divided? Wouldn’t it be better to have a world that works in unison, in sync with each other, not in endless competition with each other.
A not-for-profit is told that it’s not contributing to the economy. Why? Because it doesn’t generate money. But, it wouldn’t need to exist if the economy worked properly, if the institutions that were created to service our “needs” truly did so.
And yet, often, it’s the not-for-profits that are truly adding to the economy â€” they’re the ones helping the disabled, the underprivileged, the disenfranchised, making them not just a part of society, but also the economy.
Essentially, the money trail reveals a very interconnected world â€” but sometimes not in the best kind of interconnectedness.
For instance, we have recognized as a society that we have some serious health issues. Simply put, we are a bit chubby. And we see that now. The media have told us repeatedly. And yet, barring the work of the third sector and civil society, what changes are we making to build a healthier society?
The White House has a lovely little garden â€” a nice symbol of a more earthy nation. But the inner workings of the Capitol are a bit more complex than the vegetable patch. That patch is not going to fix the country’s obesity problem. It’s merely a gesture, a model for others to pursue.
But the halls of the Capitol are endless money chains, feeding obesity by fueling segments of our agriculture. That (unhealthy) agriculture is then feeding us â€” and often with overly processed foods. (Food for thought: Why are wheat berries more expensive than plain, white, enriched, bleached flour? They don’t require any processing.)
Massive distribution networks are corroding our food supply with unnecessary additives, preservatives and processes. The most sustainable (and common sense) option would be to source from local purveyors, farms and food artisans.
But that would end corporate agriculture. It would entail choking the money supply, feeding corporate ag. Is that possible? Because our representatives are connected to these money trails? Would they challenge it if it meant choking their own source of finance?
At one point the money trail used to be shorter, with fewer twists and turns. Buy from the mom-and-pop shop, the small businesses that dotted American towns, and the money would go from the customer to the vendor and perhaps, back into the community.
Today’s money trail is more complex. And even the so-called brilliant economists can’t seem to wrap their heads around it. But that money trail, be it virtual or tangible, is at the core of many social issues (not just political and economic).
The question now is, as a friend put it, “The question of money is a question of ethics. Are we ever going to say, ‘That’s enough money for me. I don’t need more. Rather I need to share it with others’?”
Because, even to do some good in the world today, you need money. It’s not a dirty thing. But can it be sullied. And it is being sullied given the stark inequalities that face our society and the global society. Can we end this? No, probably not. Can we improve it? Absolutely.