I wanted to draw a picture of how unsustainable our culture of valuing the product rather than the process and producer(s) is. Why it is important to look back and see and value the real actors in value creation?
It is easy to focus on the aesthetic beauty and usefulness of your iPhone for example and not even give a damn how it came into being. What was the process, what are its material contents, who did what in what conditions? I guess you’re already getting bored, — I mean Isn’t this info better abstracted like it is today? How can I even act on it if I need to? What does knowing all this info change about your iPhone experience?
That last question explains it all; we are so concerned about our own interests that we forget others have the same interests and that we are better off cooperating around our shared interests than competing to satisfy our own interests.
Well, these are the questions I sought to magnify using the short story. It is in our nature or nurture to want more to ourselves now even at the expense of our future selves. The system exacerbates this, fooling us to reward the powerful more than the ones who actually do the hard work and in the process putting our shared future at stake — sometimes unknowingly.
Knowing how and who — even the most basic of these, helps us empathize with the real actors (whether animate or inanimate), value their input and if we can, fight to protect their interests — because if we don’t give a damn, incentives get distorted eventually and soon we won’t have these products or they will be useless altogether.
The current coronacrisis is an example, how many products in your possession have been rendered useless? If we cooperated well would it spread so fast, or if people didn’t eat wild-animals would we have lost 2 million people, and wouldn’t the trillions spent on vaccines and SOPs be used for poverty alleviation and funding climate action?
We saw this “undervalue or zero-value” injustice in slavery, we see it in unpaid housework, runaway CEO pay, the predatory financial system, and indeed the entire capitalist system — It doesn’t value the input of ‘Planet’ and ‘Society’ in value and wealth creation.
There is no way the markets can ever value scarce resources of planet/society — they will therefore assign a near-zero price — someone.
Learning to value the ‘who’ and ‘how’ is the first step in tweaking the system to reward real producers appropriately.
After some thought, I came up with this short story (it could use some creative storytelling :) to depict how capitalism’s obsession with wealth concentration is creating a crisis, and that the sustainable future of capitalism is respecting sharing more with planet and society.
Our wealth-concentration obsession is entrenched in the flawed narrative that value and wealth is exclusively created by businesses. Whereas wealth is the product of businesses innovating to extract (in only a few years) planet’s resources (created over millions of years) with ‘global society’s knowledge and cooperation (created over 5,000 years) under governments’ fertile environment.
The scenarios depicted may seem outrageous but you could have said the same about coronavirus five years ago.
NB: am not necessarily anti-capitalist but if capitalism didn’t skew its ownership principles to ‘self-interest’ Planet earth and Society would be the Billionaires, not the most extracted and enslaved externalities, and it certainly wouldn’t be in the crisis it’s facing today. They would be the billionaires because they are the ones who have been creating the trillions of value over billions of years, not today’s individual billionaires who extract the value in minutes — comparatively speaking. Look at the gap between Private and Public wealth.
TODAY: planet and society exploited only for self-interest.
Paul’s dog, Alex is a fierce fast runner, and Paul puts these skills to good use. Alex does the hard work chasing down big game to feed Paul’s family. With sumptuous game meals every day, they feast like kings in their hunting community- they never go hungry.
Alex is rewarded with a full left leg of the catch, enough for him to replenish for another catch tomorrow.
However, Alex’s share keeps shrinking as Paul’s family grows. Paul also develops new interests to enrich himself, gain status, so he sells off most of Alex’s share for money. Soon Alex is left to scavenge bones for leftovers that human teeth can’t reach. He chases for mice and other smaller prey but expends more energy than he gains.
With little energy left, Alex is now outrun by the slowest of the big game.
Moral: Like corporations have a duty to innovate products, Planet earth has a duty to sustain us all and Society has a duty to cooperate, create knowledge and civilisation, and markets. If we overfeed corporations, we deny Planet and Society the incentive and right to execute their duties.
CRISIS: climate change, pandemics, conflict, etc, planet and society can’t cope, but no lessons learnt.
Paul’s family starts feeling the impact, they are beginning to starve to death.
After her sister’s death a few weeks ago, Alice, Paul’s daughter knows she won’t survive. She dares the unthinkable, “when I die give my body to Alex!” After a day of disagreement and hesitation, Alex feeds on Alice’s body and regains the energy to chase the bigger game.
Victor, Paul’s son learns an important lesson that as a matter of survival, the family rather reduce their share than let Alex expend energy hunting small prey. Knowing dad won’t compromise, he sneakily passes a whole thigh to Alex.
Paul is furious that his share and the part he sells in the market have reduced. After a hot exchange, Victor decides to part ways.
Moral: we’ve learnt our lessons, now we need to change the narrative of why, who, and how actually value is created. It isn’t to concentrate wealth, power, privilege, and control to a few but to sustain us into peaceful co-existence. We need narratives that balance our self-interests with our shared-interests.
TOMORROW: planet and society will reward those who value their input to wealth creation.
As Victor leaves with his luggage, Alex punts around and follows him. Paul stops him. But the next day when Paul sets him to catch a deer, he runs out of sight and escapes to Victor’s — never to be seen again. Soon Victor’s siblings join him leaving Paul with a few loyalists and smaller puppies that can’t really hunt.
Moral: the narratives will change naturally and engage the masses faster if we build the tools that reverse current systems, and models of value creation and exchange to align with the new inclusive, regenerative narratives. Also, we only have a short time window before everything comes tumbling down.
Let me know in the comments how you would improve the story or even an entirely new one that emboldens the italicized morals.
Also what other examples can you think of where we value and reward the product more than producer(s)?