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I guess I am a little ticked off tonight. Here I am watching the Olympics and I am bombarded with Exxon ads featuring high-minded employees touting Exxon’s $750,000 contribution to fight malaria with mosquito nets.
Then I go to my computer and I get a feed on a Corporate Social Responsibility website called Responsible China (!) praising Exxon humanitarian work. Okay. I know Exxon actually does contribute to humanitarian causes in all kinds of oil-rich off-the-beaten-path countries. It is good and at the same time it is pathetic. Honestly, Exxon spends millions more on advertising costs telling us how good they are rather than on being good! More importantly, Corporate Responsibility and clear-eyed ethics do not pursue a core business that is wildly destructive to the environment, is a primary engine of climate change, and exploits consumers in an economy-wrecking policy of manipulated oil markets all the while refusing to adequately compensate for or even clean up their infamous Alaska oil spill. Now they expect us to feel warm and fuzzy because they throw pennies to poor people. Exxon made $40.6 billion in profit in 2007. They are the world’s most profitable company.
If ExxonMobil really understood Corporate Social Responsibility, they would be the biggest investor in clean renewable energy. Instead their CEO disputes the scientific basis of climate change and publicly reminds us that they are an “oil company, not an energy company.” So their investments are going into lobbying for more oil leases to drill for American oil they can sell to the highest Asian bidder. And to find better ways to extract oil that, after all, nature created.
How does that sound to you? To me it sounds like a very weak justification to pursue toxic self-interest. It has a name. It’s called “negative innovation,” which are improvements in products that destroy the planet, exploit people and eat our future. Let’s see…is there a connection? Global warming, world wide inflation, growing extreme wealth of middle eastern tyrants and Russia and the oil industry. And I’m supposed to feel good about Exxon’s Corporate Responsibility? Isn’t it ironic that rising temperatures are actually causing a rise of mosquito-born tropical diseases even as Exxon buys mosquito nets? (It’s like tobacco companies selling breath inhalers.)
This is all a tragedy. A failure of ethical vision. What’s crazy is that there is big money to be made by creating clean renewable energy (Just ask T. Boone Pickens, PickensPlan.com). And for Exxon to only dabble in it while they increase shareholder dividends is strategically stupid. If Exxon wanted me to feel better about taking a day’s work worth of income from my daughter every time she fills her tank, it would come from knowing they are using her money to create a healthy, sustainable, non fossil-fuel energy future. But they don’t care. Not really.
So here’s what I tell business leaders. Any time we justify the suffering of others as necessary or inevitable, we become the cause of that suffering.
Our worldwide oil economy will likely cause immense suffering in forms of wars, poverty, pollution, climate caused natural disaster, and other unanticipated tragedies. For those who are presently prospering from oil not to take the lead in solving the catastrophic problems caused by it is…well you know what it is.
So, Exxon don’t try to make it something different through public relations. Indeed, it is what it is.
Day-pay in a tank.
Grand Theft Auto IV is a new videogame. It sold $500 million in its first week of release. It is the most financially successful piece of entertainment ever released in terms of first week sales. More than any Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Lord of the Rings movies. And it’s just starting. Grand Theft Auto IV is an amazing example of evil-genius. It is a visual banquet of hauntingly realistic animation that is as visually arousing as it is morally repulsive. The game asks you to identify with a sympathetic anti-hero who achieves goals by stealing cars, hiring prostitutes, killing pedestrians, getting drunk and driving wild. Of course the makers of this technically brilliant glorification of self-destructive insanity say it’s all harmless fun. After all, what we watch and think about doesn’t really impact what we really do. And, me, sounding like some very un-cool grandpa only makes it more desirable to my cool-seeking grandchildren to play it. Yea, yea. I get it. But I can’t help it. My blood is boiling.
I speak to business leaders frequently about Corporate Social Responsibility. I sum things up with the proposition that we are responsible for the future we are co-creating. That all of us are responsible for fostering a “healthy planet with healthy people.” All of us. It’s an important message. Today we are constantly tempted to make a buck through “negative innovation.” This occurs when we willfully promote ideas that undermine people’s ability or motives to meet their own genuine needs. It is a high-tech form of toxic pollution. When we separate our economic life from our human responsibility to each other, we descend into predators. When we develop products that destroy our planet, exploit people, and degrade the dignity of our own children, we erode our own spiritual worth. Is it ethical to spend millions of dollars and use the magnificent talents of artists and computer programmers to seduce teenagers to immerse themselves in a world of human misery made to look desirable? Is that the best thing we can do with capital and talent? I’ve talked to people who create or promote predatory entertainment and they all say the same thing. “I am not responsible.” They always claim that entertainment reflects cultural norms rather than changes them. “It’s what people want.” But is this just superficial justification of selling the glorification of suffering?
Media’s biggest cultural impact comes from what it decides to broadcast, post, print, or sell. And very often that’s driven by what sells to the lowest common denominator. At the lowest level of human consciousness we simply seek stimulation. We are attracted to novelty like a bug to a porch light. That’s why the media makers are always pushing the envelope. You see, vulgarity is shocking only if it crosses the line of established limits. And shock is what’s needed to stimulate a young audience. Brain research confirms what all seasoned parents have known. Teenagers are constantly searching for high emotional stimulation for low effort. There is probably no one more susceptible to a jolt from the outrageous, then a 14 year-old. For instance, over the past 25 years MTV has become the monster of the global Grid. It is beamed to over 100 countries and is the icon of American pop culture. It’s owned by a huge media conglomerate. It’s our message to the world of what makes us happy. Silly, isn’t it. Relatively harmless, right?
Maybe not. MTV recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. One media analyst observed that MTV’s primary legacy has been to popularize a culture that celebrates violence, glorifies materialism and exploits women. In fact, MTV may have done more to degrade women than any other single force in recent history. That’s not all. MTV is a steady diet of self-absorption, angst about trivia and a celebration of the paraphernalia of image. It drives conformity and isolation simultaneously. MTV has been very busy creating the new normal for our culture, claiming it’s only what their audience wants. It doesn’t mention that its audience is our stimulus seeking, highly vulnerable children.
While there are still some psychologists who claim watching anti-social, criminal or degrading behavior doesn’t change people’s attitudes or choices, the preponderance of evidence is that it does. New research confirms our thinking actually alters our brain chemistry and our habitual emotional responses. Just like junk food, junk thinking eventually poisons us.
Never in history have humans created a society where vivid emotionally engaging depictions of violence and sexual exploitation surrounded us daily. And frankly no one knows for sure what the result will be. But common sense tells us it does not promote the values of civilization or the behavior of a species serious about their responsibilities to their own children. Isn’t it rather simply an evil way to make money?
Free speech is great and an essential right of every person. It also comes with a responsibility. Shouldn’t we be motivated to use our position, our talent and our technology to create messages that inspire rather than exploit? I guess it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. At the end of our lives will we be able to look in the mirror and say, “I did the most to create the greatest good I could?” Maybe it’s a question we should ask ourselves every day.
If you want to send Take 2, the makers of Grand Theft Auto IV, some feedback, email email@example.com.
Founder, American Dream Project
Expert on Corporate Social Responsibility
I just finished reading one of the most inspirational books of my life. It’s called The Power of Serving Others: You Can Start Where You Are by Gary Morsch, M.D and Dean Nilson.
The book is Gary Morsch’s first person account of starting Heart to Heart, a global medical relief and rescue organization that are the first responders to hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and war refugee victims anywhere in the world. They also conduct educational clinics in remote, impoverished parts of the planet. The organization is extraordinarily effective. In the past 15 years it has delivered nearly $500 million in medical supplies and has provided thousands of medical volunteers in over 100 countries and across America. Dr. Morsch has also served as a volunteer for Mother Teresa in Calcutta and a combat doctor in Kosovo and the current Iraq war!
Dr. Morsch is simply a people-serving maniac. What he has accomplished is the result of simply responding to dire human need with wise ferocity and fearless commitment.
His message is, “If you want to make the world better, start now. Today. Right were you are. Just do something.” Most of us are waiting for a better time to volunteer or respond to needs. Most of us, including me, suffer from limp compassion. We feel others’ pain but we’re not ready to inconvenience ourselves. But the loss is ours. Helping, serving, loving others makes us clinically happier. It elevates our moods, fills us with gratitude, and sparks creativity. And most importantly can increase the quality of our personal love.
Two days ago I was speaking with a close friend who lives in Boston. He and his wife have a big empty house because their children are away at college. So his wife has started taking in guests. They are mostly foreign students who are trying to renew their visas but are confused by our bureaucracy. They are poor, far from home, lonely and scared. I asked my friend how it was and he said candidly, “Difficult, we’re learning a lot about living with strangers in our home. Strangers from different cultures with different hygiene habits and awkward communication. But,” he said, “we are learning to love extravagantly.”
It got me thinking. Loving is a lot like building muscle strength. It’s easy to love the lovable. Little resistance, little growth. But our capacity to love grows when we’re loving “in spite of.” In spite of the fact it’s inconvenient, in spite of the fact the person isn’t appreciative, in spite of the fact the person isn’t deserving. That requires pressing against real emotional weight. That builds love muscles.
Here’s how I see it. Heart to Heart isn’t just a rescue mission for disaster victims. Heart to Heart is a way of thinking. It’s the rescue mission of our daily lives. Most of us are too busy, too stressed, and too scared to do what our hearts have been telling us we should do for a long time. All of us have family members who are selfish, thoughtless and often cruel. All of us work with some people who are mean, back-biting jerks. All of us have been betrayed by friends, or even spouses. All of us are carrying the scars and wounds of deep disappointment. And all of us can heal by loving more extravagantly.
With those whom you trust, love with all your might. Be fully present, fully authentic, fully vulnerable. Enjoy planned, positive experiences together. Go for walks, rides, picnics, concerts, sports events, take classes; talk of your hopes, fears and desires. Fill your souls with each other. This may be a friend, children, a parent, or if you are fortunate, a spouse.
With those whom you love but do not trust, be cordial. Be respectful. Affirm what is good. Help them in practical ways when they don’t deserve it. But don’t be intimate with all your thoughts and feelings. That’s like offering drugs to an addict. Bullies and manipulators use vulnerability to hurt others and destroy themselves. Love powerfully but wisely.
Pray/meditate for your enemies. Yes, there may be people who seem to hate you. People who are jealous, resentful or just plain mean. Either pray, or if you don’t pray, meditate with positive intentions for them to be blessed to let go of their hatred and to have all the good things that you desire for your life to also be theirs. Pray/meditate for them to forgive you even if you’re doing nothing wrong. Also, forgive yourself of all your past mistakes. Your life has brought you to this point of wisdom. Be grateful for your wisdom and the silver lining of your painful experiences.
Finally, returning to the inspiration of Dr. Morsch, we would all be better if we would turn the whispering of our heartfelt compassion into action. We do not need to have fear about being wise about our compassion or even be effective at first. It’s in the doing that we become wise and effective. Imagine what our world would be like if we just acted on our noble voice. Volunteer. Relieve the pain in others you most feel in yourself.
It’s time to Spring Forward.
Will Marre, Founder
The American Dream Project
As the primary election season gives way to the general election I am concerned that the battle for the White House is still a war of new sound bites hiding tired ideas. Something more is needed.
How We Lost Our Vision
If you think wisdom, integrity, and new ideas are missing in our government leaders, you are not alone. That’s because both major political parties have lost their understanding of the four values America is centered on: freedom and responsibility, opportunity and equality.
America’s promise has always been that you can determine the quality of your own life. Where you start in life does not determine where you finish. We strive to be a society that promotes the key conditions to help us optimize our quality of life no matter what our circumstances. Doing that isn’t easy. It requires constantly balancing four distinct priorities: freedom and responsibility, opportunity and equality. If any one of these values are lost or even de-emphasized, our system is thrown out of balance. People lose confidence and our national mood sours. Today, lots of us are in a sour mood. The ideology of the left screams for personal freedom and equality. The right insists that personal responsibility and unfetter opportunity are America’s only true values. But these arguments lead us nowhere. Both sides are correct but incomplete. The result is a distorted, twisted gridlock of half-baked compromise in action. America’s true center is not the mid-point between big paternalistic government and greed-based free-for-all. Our founders understood it as a higher center. The optimization of these four ideals, not their compromise.
When leaders govern from the high center, they do it from a balance point that gives all of us the best chance for life, liberty and happiness. That’s why, most of the time, leaders who advocate policies that respect all four values simultaneously make the most sense to the most of us.
Jefferson’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” was designed to expand in meaning as our vision expands. The question today is, are we really committed to these ideals? As a nation are we really interested in removing the causes of avoidable suffering? Things like substandard education, unaffordable housing and health care, urban and school violence to name a few.
Shouldn’t we all be working to ensure that the real American Dream flourishes not only in the productive, creative expression of our own freedom, but also in our mutual responsibility to create a physically and psychologically healthy society for our children? All of our children?
So now our media-trained politicians tell us they are all for change. But is it really change? A Right-based platform of low taxes and uninvolved government and big military is hardly a plan that accounts for what’s happening in our lives and the world. And Left-based high-tax, we’ll-solve-all-your-problems program sounds like the 1960’s Great Society recycled. Perhaps there’s another way. A way that starts with the fundamentals of our founders. When we view the future through the lens of optimizing freedom and responsibility, equality and opportunity for all, a New American Agenda emerges.
The New American Agenda is simple: we must demand better from our government. Government has the central role in providing a safe society needed for Life and a fair society that is the meaning of Liberty. Together these play the major role in creating conditions for the pursuit of Happiness. According to research from the World Values survey, countries in which citizens report the most personal well-being have most of the following characteristics. As you read them, think about how we’re doing. What direction is America headed in?
1. Citizen voice.
2. Fair and equal enforcement of laws.
3. Lack of violence.
4. Leadership accountability.
5. Dependable government services.
6. Absence of corruption.
7. Effective regulations.
8. Universal Access to Capital, Health care, and Education.
9. Fair and Simple Taxation
10. Strong, Wise, and Good Foreign Policy
Well, that’s the list. If you’d like my perspective on what each one of these 10 factors might mean in terms of policy changes for 21st century America, download the 4th American Revolution excerpt. It’s free. You can read it on your computer or print it. I wrote it to help us consider what advice we might give the candidates who are running for president. If enough of us speak up, in time we may have the country we want our children to grow up in.
I sincerely appreciate your many emails and other expressions of encouragement for the messages of the American Dream Project. As you share and forward our blog, our community steadily expands. And that’s what makes it worth it. So, first of all, thank you.
Something exciting has recently happened. Mark Effinger, the founder of Rich Content, which is an internet media company, has discovered our extensive library of American Dream event DVD’s, speeches, and interview video footage. He has asked to “broadcast” them as short (1 to 3 minute) segments all over the world wide web. He has also asked me for daily video commentaries on a wide range of topics that affect all of us ranging from politics, the economy, careers, relationships to book reviews. All related to issues that impact our quality of life right now. Doing these daily video blogs is a big commitment. And, I agreed. So, I converted part of my basement to a very simple “studio” and am starting these test videos. I am more used to talking to live, see-your-face audiences so it’s a new and challenging experience to just “let it rip” in front of a single camera in a musty basement.
The name of the daily super short video commentary is “ThoughtRocket – Ideas that Boom.” And it can be found on a new dedicated website – www.thoughtrocket.com. What you’ll see are short clips of professional video from speeches and on other days you will see my comments on important topics. It’s absolutely free and you can automatically receive new video posts by clicking the RSS link on the home page of the site. Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time if it gags you to see my face everyday.
The American Dream Project blog will continue just as it has been, usually once a week. So, if you want to stick with that, you don’t need to do anything. We’ll keep sending you our American Dream Project blog, calling for a new American agenda based on the “pursuit of genuine happiness.”
The voice of the American Dream Project, and now daily videos on ThoughtRocket.com will continue to creatively confront the issues of our time and how our responses can save our future and enrich our personal lives. Please be assured that neither the current American Dream Project Blog, or the ThoughtRocket videos will become obsessed with politics to the exclusion of coaching and comments on enlightening our lifestyle and strengthening our relationships. Although many of you like to engage in the great political debate of today, others of you appreciate a discussion on our personal lives and how to improve them no matter who is in office or what they are doing. We will seek to keep a healthy balance between these two and connect the dots wherever we can.
I encourage you to reply back with your thoughts, hopes and dreams. It is by coming together that we can amplify our individual voices so the future will be built on our united wisdom.
Oh yes, if you decide to view the daily ThoughtRocket videos, I’d love your feedback. I especially need help with my basement commentaries. I had no idea that talking to a camera would be so challenging. No matter what I do, I just can’t seem to get that tiny digital camera to laugh!
Thanks again for your support and comments,
There is nothing you can buy that is worth the price of peace of mind. If you want a dream life, live in a place you can afford, working at a career you love, now. Not twenty years from now.
Last August I wrote about the upcoming “financial winter.” Well, it’s evidently arrived. Suddenly everyone is talking about inflation, job losses, foreclosures, and a drop in consumer spending. This is a big deal. The ratio of household debt to income is now 130%. Fifteen years ago it was 80%. Gulp. In my view, all of this was avoidable, but when we have policies that promote endless borrowing and buying instead of producing and saving, we’re bound to be hit by a blizzard of woe. A consumer economy simply creates a culture of dependence, a producer economy a culture of self-sufficiency. So why not create your own economic world in 2008? One that is largely self-sufficient and independent of the hand-wringing whining of policy makers.
Here’s how I think about it. Get on a healthy financial diet. Financial adviser Ann Morosy (http://www.moneta.com.au) says your fixed costs (mortgage or rent, credit card, car, and personal loan payments, insurance, taxes, etc.) ought to be no more than 40% of your income. Variable expenses (food, clothing, cell-phone, gas, repairs, etc.) ought to be no more than 30%. Fun expenses (vacations, entertainment, presents, jewelry, etc.) ought not to exceed 20%. And savings, 10%. Sounds great, right? But in our consumer economy an increasing number of people pay nearly 50% of their income to housing related costs alone! Throw in gas and medical insurance, and it seems hopeless. That’s exactly what many forces in our economy would like you to do. Surrender to the inevitable. It’s called debt slavery. Wait for 100-year mortgages. It will be part of the “solution” to our mortgage crisis. The idea is like modern sharecropping. All your work will go to pay minimum payments on debt that never disappears. Live different.
The first part of the solution is a healthy financial diet. Get serious about reducing variable and fun expenses to pay down fixed expenses. Be aggressive, steady, and consistent. But even then your financial mountain may seem too huge to save your way to sanity. If that’s true, invest in yourself. That’s right; your best investment is usually in the economic opportunity you have the most control over. That’s you. That’s where the second part of the solution comes in.
Invest in your own earning power. In today’s global workplace you really have no choice but to become an expert at something. It should be something that you’re naturally good at and that holds your interest. It could be nearly anything from being a bookkeeper, tailor, sales person, project manager, and dog groomer. It doesn’t matter much what you choose if you are absolutely great at it. Even in depressions there is a wealthy class that will pay for the great, the unique, and the dependable. When I say expert, I am not saying merely good; I mean you devote yourself to excellence. To be great requires intelligent effort. The formula is learn-do-teach. Be an eager student of your interests and a constant developer of your gifts. Never settle for a final plateau. Next, be excellent on the doing. And finally, teach others what you know. Write, blog, lecture, publish—just tell the world. It doesn’t matter what it is; there is always room at the top of any profession. Hey, the world still needs cowboys. Ty Murray makes millions being a rodeo star. The world also needs train engineers, nannies, diesel mechanics, and copywriters. And the people who are great and dependable at nearly all of these jobs often make close or better than $100,000 a year. (Yes, even world-class nannies. And if you’re already making $100 K but are still broke, don’t despair. My experience is that nearly anyone can triple their income if they are willing to become a truly amazing expert and be dependable.)
The point is it’s easy to get derailed by stress when gas is $5 bucks a gallon and politicians are calling for bailouts for this and that. But don’t be distracted. No one is going to bail us out. At best they can help change economic and trade policy to foster a production economy instead of a consumer one. And that’s what we need to do with our personal economy. Become a producer of your maximum value. And don’t waste money on stuff whose true cost is your own piece of mind.
To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.
Last Friday I attended a luncheon hosted by Social Venture Partners, a San Diego based “Strategic Philanthropy.” It was very exciting. That’s because there is a positive invisible movement sweeping the world. It’s called Socially-Strategic Enterprise. Those are fancy words for harnessing the positive innovations and focused efficiency of free market business to do good. To solve the world’s problems. It’s big and it’s everywhere. Chrysalis Staffing, a temporary labor agency in L.A., hires homeless people to provide workers for their customers throughout the city. Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco operates many businesses including restaurants, a moving company, and a car repair shop paying and training pre-parole felon convicts as their workforce. They have changed the lives of 14,000 former criminal employees over the past 30 years. These are just two examples of a world-wide explosion of charities using business discipline to become self-sustaining. It’s not brand new. Remember the reason the Girl Scouts went into the cookie business was to train self-reliance, presentation skills, accountability, and build self-esteem. But today this model of creating a reliable income stream by developing a “mission centered” business is growing faster than the Arctic snow melt. The reasons are profound. We’ve got large scale, civilization ending problems rocking our entire world.
Modern life has become the 31 flavors of catastrophe. We’ve got terrorism, poverty, epidemics, corruption, environmental destruction, resource depletion, illiteracy, and continuous large-scale natural disasters (earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes…), so we’ve got to do something. Governments are principally self-sustaining bureaucracies that move slowly and often ineffectively at solving emerging problems. They have a hard time keeping bridges from collapsing. With few exceptions, businesses that operate on the old industrial model of capitalism are too focused on turning “things” into shareholders’ wealth to be effective at solving acute social problems.
So our times have called forth a new brand of citizen enterprise. They come in many forms. Non-profit and not-just-for-profit businesses are using social-entrepreneurship to take on just about every problem imaginable. One World Health is a San Francisco based non-profit pharmaceutical company working with universities to scale up low cost cures for the diseases of the poor. It’s run by executives with all the discipline of Johnson and Johnson. And the world’s youth are flocking to these enterprises. Socially-strategic non-profits are the fastest growing job market in the world growing at two and a half times the rate of private sector companies.
The biggest problem, however, is that most young citizens don’t know how to become social-entrepreneurs, so my friends and I at the American Dream Project are developing a fully accredited on-line academic course on the subject. We will be offering this course to high school and college students throughout the world. It’s going to be a multi-media banquet of documentary film clips, animation and student generated video. Each student will also join a local group to do a community-based project. Imagine millions of students doing innovative projects to improve their own communities each year. Well, that’s what we imagine! Right now we are working with GlobalGiving.org to raise the funds to get it launched. If you’re interested in seeing what we’re up to with Global Giving, click here.
Bottom Line, don’t think the only stuff going on in the world is what’s on the cable news. There are millions of people who wake up everyone morning to go to a job to make their difference. You don’t have to take a vow of poverty. Only a vow of meaning.
World Peace Requires Virtuous Commerce
There is a new game going on called Totalitarian Capitalism. Huge economies such as China and Russia are proving that consumer capitalism can drive economic growth without political freedom. They’re also proving that technology can easily be used to control information rather than broadcast it. This should be more than a little concerning. Remember, we thought we won the Cold War because the weak Russian economy, but Russia has become the oil and energy supplier to Europe. Now Russia is getting richer by the day, and they’re dusting off the buttons on their nukes. China is one of the most repressive police states in the world, yet it’s an economic miracle. A miracle with a 100,000,000-man army, inter continental ballistic missiles, and an appetite for Taiwan.
In a world where critical economic resources such as oil, water, and minerals are increasingly scarce, the imagined benefits of competition are simply too tempting to pursue the opportunities of collaboration.
Peace will come when leaders recognize the benefits of peace outweigh the potential benefits of war. Those benefits must cover the whole spectrum of human motivations, spiritual as well as material. This requires visionary world leaders and an international business community who see the ultimate threat not as bad financial quarter, but rather human extinction or world wide dark age of unprecedented suffering.
I know this sounds like idealist mush, but, as the McKinsey survey reflects, it’s not. We are on the verge of a whole new level of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to create everything we need from atoms and molecules instead of iron, ore, precious metals, and oil. We are on the verge of solving the problem of sustainable clean energy. We are on the verge of solving the riddles of disease. We are on the verge of creating sustainable abundance based on the economics of ideas rather than the economics of things. But being on the verge doesn’t mean now. But in real time these advances will take 50 years to come into widespread use. In the mean time we must find the will not to destroy each other and reduce the world to barbarism before we can save it.
So what is required? We must demand that our political and business leaders have a worthy vision of a new future and have practical plans to get us there. So far all I see are little ideas, politically inspired mush, and too little bold investments in world saving technologies.
But we, you and I, can do a lot. We must take stock of whom we work for. Is your employer or are you adding unique value to the world? Would anything of tangible value be lost if your employer went out of business or you quit doing your job? Human energy, brains, and talent are terrible things to waste. We’ve all been given an advantaged life. Why not use it to create the most value you can?
Don’t be reckless. Be wise. Spend enough time in daily self-reflection to get a sense of inner direction. Then take the common sense, one step at a time approach to changing your impact and elevating your influence. You will attract allies. You will see opportunities. As the door unlocks, open it wide. Speak up. Act. In your next business meeting, ask the big questions others aren’t. We can’t do everything, but what can we do? Our children are depending on our courage.
Founder, American Dream Project
When I posted “Fake Wealth” late last week, I unleashed a torrent of wisdom from many of you who had thoughtful things to say about our hyper-consumption economy. You talk about the need for all of us to become financially literate and to think for ourselves. Most of all, many of you reflect the wisdom and judgment of an increasing wave of citizens who want America to become more than we currently are. I am impressed, and genuinely encouraged by your consistent, thoughtful comments and responses.
So, I am forwarding your comments along with the blog to the most popular Democratic and Republican Presidential Candidates to see if any care enough to respond. Has anyone out there got a real plan? Something more than easy platitudes, something clear, credible and compelling? We need a new American agenda. We shouldn’t be weakened by our laws and policies. We should be strengthened. Our history is clear. We are at our best when we both promote individual initiative while we also enthrone our united commitment to our common good. It’s not that hard to understand. It just takes courage and common sense to unleash our inherent virtue.
Let me know what you think. What are some ways we can amplify our voices?
Yesterday President Bush declared that our economy was “sound” and all this concern about home foreclosures is overblown. He said, “I’m a glass-half-full person” (USA Today). Well, what if you’re a what’s-really-going-on-here kind of person?
What’s your house worth? How much home equity do you have? Will your mortgage readjust in the next two years? Welcome to the wealthiest country in history. But is it the wisest? Recent news is full of a declining housing market with the biggest price declines in the shortest time in history (“Economy.com Forecasts Historic Home Price Decline”). What we’ve just experienced is called asset inflation. It’s when the price of things goes up but their underlying value doesn’t. It’s all due to easy credit. It drove up the stock market before the 1929 crash. It drove the Internet bubble of 1998-2000 (which eventually cost 17 trillion dollars in stock losses), and now it’s hitting nearly all homeowners who live paycheck to paycheck. Whether the ripple effect of 3 million mortgages adjusting to higher payments in the next two years is going to choke our economy is yet to be seen. But if it does, it will hurt those who have the least resources. And the worst is it could have been avoided. It didn’t happen by chance.
About 30 years ago our leaders decided that turning America into a consumer economy was a good thing. So today instead of borrowing to invest in factories, technology and ideas, we spend 70% of our 12 trillion dollar economy on buying stuff. We can’t afford to repair our bridges, our levees, or fix education, but anyone can get a credit card. You see, there is lots of money to be made loaning us the money. But since we quit investing in productive assets and now mostly spend it on consumption, look what we’ve produced. Today, two-thirds of Americans believe their children will be economically worse off than they are. This might be why:
So what’s our plan? Can this continue? Is this the best society we can produce?
Maybe we need new leadership with a vision for a new future. A future in which we get our identity and our joy from who we are and what we create rather than from how we appear and what we consume. We need a new economic agenda for our future and individually we need to make sure our personal economic agenda is serving our real dreams rather than the dreams of someone trying to sell us something. The lessons are simple. We need new leaders with a new agenda. And most of all…we need to invest in ourselves, not in our stuff.
Let us know what you think. We want to hear your voice.