What Does It Mean To Legislate People Before Profit?

Gandhi and People Before Profit in English and Welsh | Photo credit: Nina A.J.

The call to put humans before profit requests a shift in priorities. The profit model has concentrated wealth. This is not a controversial statement but it is a nice way of saying that in the world today there are billions of people with no material wealth while the private jet rental industry is booming.

Having no wealth often means absolute poverty where one lives in a shanty town or a slum, sometimes without street lights, clean water, or sanitation. This is a daily reality for billions of people worldwide. In other parts of the world a person who has no wealth can be a consumer with a low-paying job and high expenses. Or a person occupying one of the many tent cities that have popped up. It includes the majority of Americans who could not cover a $500 crisis.

The human-first model would require that 100% of people were provided a package of services and resources to meet their basic developmental needs so that they can thrive and, in the long run, provide a benefit to society.  All people would be able to enter into employer/employee relationships with a negotiating position that recognizes the value of the labor of all of the parties, and the inherent dignity of the parties. Business would become more expensive, profit more marginal, and growth less fanatical. The goal of production would become to create a durable, effective product with environmentally responsible manufacturing processes, and to generously compensate all of the labor participants in the Corporation.

Without massive subsidies from the government companies in many of the major industries could not survive, and they still only survive by paying the lowest wages possible. Exxon, Wal-Mart, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and Pfizer all rely on a combination of public assistance and low wages to make a profit. An economy that put people (and planet) before profit would not allow these Corporations to survive. All people would have access to food, clean water, education, mentorship, healthcare, and recreational outlets before they decided to enter an employer-employee relationship. Their negotiating position would be stronger because they would not be desperate to trade their labor for basic necessities, and it would be harder for the Corporations to put potential employees into the exploitative relationships they love so much.

The cooperative business model and lean business practices may present an avenue for cohorts of working class people to battle industrial behemoths. There are trailblazers out there. Success stories such as Mondragon, the now-massive Spanish Cooperative that began by manufacturing simple heaters in the 1950’s. Or the New Era Windows cooperative factory, where the workers won a bid to buy their closing factory. On the environmental side we need to think of businesses who were founded on the principles of Cradle-To-Cradle manufacturing, a process that juxtaposes the Cradle-To-Grave production responsible for single-use items and inefficient recycling. C2C encourages products to be built for longevity and for the reuse of parts so that nothing ends up in the landfill. Examples of C2C compliant companies can be found at this link. It includes companies that make clothing, cleaning solutions, building materials, packaging, toys, office equipment, etc… One stand-out company is Ecovative Design who make biodegradable packaging using fungus.

To legislate this shift would require a new economic model which accounts for finite resources, the impossibility of eternal growth in a finite system, the benefits that nature provides to humanity and the economy, and the long-term costs of ignoring climate change. This economic model could push humanity onto the course of Star Trek’s Federation, imagined by Gene Roddenberry. But to get their we would need public pressure to force legislatures across the world to adopt the new environmental economic model and push for changes that empowered people, labor, and environmentally responsible manufacturing.

“The acquisitition of wealth in no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves, and the rest of humanity”

Cap. Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek VIII: First Contact

Currently, levels of inequality and the speed of climate change are major threats to industrial society, and possibly the continued survival of our species. To respond to them we need a paradigm shift in thought. We need to start producing great technology to nurture humanity, not to concentrate wealth. We need to radically shift the manufacturing world to a C2C model which cleans the environment, removes greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, and gives people control over their lives.  

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