Poverty vs. Prosperity
A White Paper on the Future of Business
It is the year 2021. We have learned a lot in the last few seasons about what works well in a crisis and what does not. According to Fortune Magazine, September 28, 2020, nearly 100,000 establishments, which shut down temporarily due to the pandemic, are now out of business. Other businesses have been thriving during the same period. In our world today, we have commerce based in scarcity, where some people win and others lose. The balance of rich and poor is ever a problem, but current circumstances signal emergency. We are learning that our conventional systems are not sustainable and are taking us off a cliff. But, what do we do about it?
Conventional business thinking is based in false assumptions
While I am very happy for the advances that have come with our civilization, and I congratulate those who have applied talent and resources to the building of successful businesses, I see cause for concern when I examine the assumptions upon which much of our development is based. There are at least three false assumptions that I see in people who are rushing ahead to do what, in their minds, has always worked.
The first of the false assumptions I characterize as, “People will behave in the future the same way that they have in the past.” I believe that this assumption is incorrect, because so many things have changed. Our educational systems have changed, and so has political emphasis. Our monetary policies of the last few decades are now bearing bitter fruit. Never before have we had so many young people deeply in debt for academic study which will likely not be lucrative enough to service the debt, leaving them indentured and discouraged at a most vulnerable time in their lives.
Rarely before have those same young people been so ill prepared and inexperienced in the ways of life sustenance and basic skills. Basic home economics and industrial arts (Shop) classes are no longer offered in many schools, as they are not seen as job-related. Even keyboarding classes are neglected and leave many of the young people, who live with keyboards, inept and slow in using a primary tool of interfacing modern life. Basic classes in civics, history and social subjects have become highly politicized and leave many with confusion and distress. Not finding a cohesive societal view, it is difficult to make sense of what is going on, or what might actually be important. It has left us “fiddling while Rome burns.”
Economic policies have resulted in a great divide in wealth accumulation. The inequality is at the highest level, ever, since the Census Bureau began tracking it. We have been living on extraction for many decades and depending on the “never-ending” supplies of the earth and fellows, with very little attention to the external damages that have been part of the processes. The poorer people, often, have borne the cost of these externalities in damage to their cultures, livelihoods and ecology. On a finite world, it cannot continue.
So, there is no future possible that looks like the past.
The second of the false assumptions is that the basic foundations on which “business as usual” is built is secure and reliable. If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our foundations and infrastructures are not stable. I find myself in the company of entrepreneurs often, and their boundless enthusiasm does not take into account the foundations upon which they are building. Do they even know from whence their food comes, who crafts their homes, or sews their clothes? Taken for granted are the clean water, air and sanitary services. What about energy; why would we even think about something that just works at the flip of a switch or turn of a key? Have they thought about how it might affect their businesses if those things didn’t show up or were malfunctioning? What about the tools of their trade? Do they realize the degree they are dependent on other countries, some of whom are on the other side of the world and may not, at some future time, be friendly at all.
Albert Einstein once said, “Despite all our achievements, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.” But, our value-systems do not reflect that reality. We have an aging population among farmers and ranchers. It is hard work and not very lucrative. The younger people have gone to the cities for education and higher-paying jobs. Many of them loved growing up on the farm, but need a better system, which honors the importance of the work that they would be doing if they were to stay. There needs to be higher value and more diverse crops, and lower overhead for inputs and other expenses.
The land, itself, is a shrinking commodity as urban sprawl has taken some of the best farmland and inflated the property values. How does a young person justify cultivating acreage that in real estate terms is now worth several million dollars? Now, you may say, “Why not let the big industrial farms take care of it?” Well, the answers are becoming more and more apparent. Mechanized chemical farming has provided short-term gains at the expense of long-term losses. While the native fertility of the land remained, the added chemicals produced a boost in productivity, but those same chemicals and mechanical disruption soon damaged the soils, killing the macro and micro-organisms, and making them less productive and nutrient depleted. Production continues with more chemistry, but the input costs rise along with dependency. Toxicity increases as nutrient value decreases creating a perfect storm for devastating animal and human health.
Water supplies are being polluted, the oceans deadened, the air and rain contains pesticide drifts, and poisons are even found present in mother’s milk and baby foods. As land becomes poorer, the deserts increase. Local hydrological cycles are disrupted and ground water is depleted. None of this bodes well for the future of mankind and business.
Why is this happening? I submit that the reason is this: we believe a lie, a very fundamental lie: that we can’t trust nature and therefore we must fight nature. In a discussion that I had with an agriculture professor several years ago, I heard him say, “Nature is not our friend.” I answered back, “If we, then, go to war with nature, who do you think will win?” There was a stunned silence. Nature survived and regenerated for eons of time without human interventions. I believe that nature is intelligent, and we can benefit greatly through observing, learning, and creating through bio-mimicry. Both Big Agriculture and Big Pharmaceuticals have bought into this lie, and because of it, they look for solutions in a very limited and myopic way. Many of these “solutions” go on to create even more problems. As the problems accumulate…. Well, you get the picture.
In our very top-heavy business world, we need to seriously consider how we rebuild our foundations on the basis of what really works long-term and according to natural regenerative principles. We can go from reductionist thinking to regenerative thinking. By looking at the bigger and holistic picture of complex living systems, we can see the balancing mechanisms, the cycles of nature, and we can help to optimize those parts of the cycles which favor our existence.
The third of the false assumptions can be summed up as, “It’s not personal, it’s just business!” In a competitive environment, we can rationalize all sorts of moral and ethical turpitude. Our own livelihood may depend on it. In a global economy, it is easy to either shield ourselves from knowing, or become blind to the consequences of our actions or complicity. The consequences may be far distant from the person making the decisions, and it is, simply, out of sight, out of mind. Do you read labels? If you see “palm oil” on the label, do you still buy the product? You don’t know about palm oil? Please, please find out. There are many reasons for developing awareness. The blindness, whether intentional or not, affects us more than we know. Much of the social, emotional and spiritual maladies that are suffered, are directly related to the dissociation inherent in our artificial confines and social structures. The disconnection between people, and from nature, brings on conditions where depression and anxiety are more likely. It is very difficult to make sense of life when one is isolated from the very things which bring meaning and purpose to life. Human beings most likely have a natural habitat, but we have separated ourselves from it, and only rarely find ourselves there.
So, perhaps the very first step that we need to keep in mind as we conduct business, is to take all of it personally… Awareness and personal responsibility will help us to overcome most of our false assumptions.
The government will help, won’t it?
In an ideal world, the government would be helpful. Our governments are accountable to many factions of society that are full of conflicting interests. Many of the people, with whom I have worked in government, have been very good citizens wanting to do the work of the people that they represent. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but occasionally I have been disappointed. At the largest levels of government, international and national, we need to acknowledge that there are movements afoot which are not acting in the best interests of the people. Blame is placed on one group of people or another, and the blame is shifted as often as the daily news cycles. There are special interests which benefit by fomenting conflict. People often complain about the power of the multi-national corporations, and suggest that the balance to them is governmental regulation. The problem that I see with that explanation is that these large governments are influenced too much by money and lobbyists. And, those “wicked” corporations are the lobbyists. As we look at the policies that come from “Big Government,” we often see perverse incentives. The politicians speak of benefits, but the outcomes are discouraging if not outright terrible.
There exists at the national level, a great crisis of trust. And, even if the people that you voted for were elected, it is likely that there are many things about them that you may not like at all. At Rainbird, we believe the best government is local government. When the people who are making the decisions are also the ones who will receive the consequences of those decisions, then the choices become better and more informed by reality as they proceed. Local governance is flexible and responsive. Local representatives and governors are more likely to be aware of circumstances and social values or needs than people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
If not that, then what??? The Future is here…
Begin at home.
Personal influence expands in concentric circles. If we can get our “houses in order,” we are ready to influence the neighborhood, the town, the county and the state. People who demand or hope for systemic changes at the highest levels may find themselves useful to those who already command at that level, and not to their own future welfare. There is so much intrigue and corruption at that level. “It’s a big party and most likely you won’t be invited.” If it is change that is really wanted, it must come from localization and adaptation. Fundamentally, we need to learn from nature and stop fighting nature. We do that locally, as we plant gardens and influence policies for clean water and clean air. We support local agriculture and local, small businesses, particularly ones who deliver foundational services. Is there a small hardware company?… Buy from them. Is there a shoe-repair, tailor, or dressmaker shop? How about a bakery, homemade ice cream shop or farm stand? Make it a point to get to know these people, and make friends of them. Do your shopping there. Money spent locally builds regional resilience. It also breaks the addiction to high energy, low quality, high transportation, low return commerce. You can learn new skills. Learn how to build and repair things for your home, and share the experiences with the young people in your neighborhood. Balance your time spent in front of screens with physical and mental challenges, which will improve your estimation of your value to yourself and family.
The more that you involve yourself in personal and local improvement, the more that you will realize that the system is pretty messed up. We have been parts of disjointed systems of short-term “solutioning,” and we have broken all the normal feedback loops of the greater natural systems. If we take the time to really see how nature works, we become aware that there are full cycles in operation and there isn’t any garbage. The outputs of one part of the system are in inputs of other parts. These are regenerative feedback loops as all energy is captured and put to intelligent use. We can build habits of thought that will facilitate our harmonious participation with these regenerative systems. As we do, we realize that we really need to redesign the whole thing from the ground up. A new foundation is necessary for regenerative future development. And, this is where the business sector can make a very big difference.
What if businesses considered the whole of the economic consequences of their endeavors? What if they were community builders instead of community parasites? Does your business expect the community to feed your employees? Educate their children? Provide transportation, roads and other services? Businesses often see themselves as the providers of livelihoods, and as an asset to the communities in which they dwell, and they want concessions, in taxes and otherwise. But, what if business stopped extraction, and considered the well-being of their municipalities. Now, to give credit where it is due, there are companies who are very good corporate citizens, but too many of them are not.
Now about funding… How do we eliminate the perverse incentives? Wealthy people have mostly gotten where they are by doing what was needed or wanted at the time. Great wealth has come about through railroads, electricity, beverages, steel, and other manufacturing in the past. Currently, we have huge profits coming from the information age in which we live. But, all of that only works if people can eat. It is seriously time to put money into infrastructures that have some chance of surviving into the future. Money needs to go to foundational necessities of life, to regenerative projects and to localized economic resilience. We ignore those things at our peril. If you are fortunate enough to be able to invest, how will you direct your money? Are there more important things to you than the rate of return? What do you value? Do you ever think about how the consequences of your investments impact the future - to the seventh generation? Challenging, eh? How will you even know what is beneficial at those time scales?
Having a Decision Making Framework is important if we are to be able to work together to meet the challenges of our time. We recommend the following considerations for making important decisions of many kinds, that won’t leave you blind-sided by social and environmental considerations. There is so much “Green-washing” done by large businesses that it can be very confusing for an investor to choose between opportunities. A tool that is being used by many of the sincere regenerative enterprises is the Holistic Management Framework, provided by Holistic Management International. (Shown below) When deciding upon investment, this tool can help you separate the “wheat from the tares.” Having a longer frame of reference for your investment strategy is helpful also. What good does it do you to have short term success, only to discover that in the longer term, that success is meaningless within the social and environmental disruptions that seem to be coming? Why not invest in a better overall outcome? If enough people can be engaged in the effort there can be genuine long-lived success for most of us. Please put your money where it can do the most good!
A Call to Action: Please educate yourself. There are so many resources that it can be difficult to know where to begin. Ask questions and expect good holistic answers. If we can stick with what actually works, begin trusting nature, and learn what we can from looking at the whole systems at play, we can begin to realign incentives to do the things that will bring about the greatest good.
Let’s Do It!!!
Disclosure: This white paper is written by the founders of Rainbird Village, a regenerative demonstration village which showcases the best and brightest of regenerative methodologies and technologies. See slides that go with this paper. We are always pleased to assist with information and suggestions. Our website: www.Rainbird.earth.