No such compromise

Posted: 18/02/2012 in Finance, Insight
Tags: , ,

In his introduction to the Art of Power Thay said this “Businesses that intelligently combine profit-making with integrity and concern for the world have happier employees and more satisfied customers”[p4]. I like this. It reminds me of my friend, Joe, who had retired to a castle in the sky opening the Castle Resort in Pokhara built around a central theme of a castle turret up a hill. Now this resort is a business, provides him with a profit and creates happiness.

But it is not this business of his that I want to discuss – after all the world cannot run based on tourist destinations. Now Joe is a retired London businessman, and I met him when I was travelling through Nepal. We would talk over dinner when he would do some lefty-baiting. He would call himself a capitalist and yet he claimed, and in general I believed him, his workforce were happy. I cannot remember the details of what he did, I remember his turnover was more than a million pounds. But I do remember this. Even at that time I said he was not a capitalist, he is not a member of the 1%. He was running a small business that was trading, and trading is the way people need to live – trading skills, trading food and other products. I consider what Joe did is what Thay is describing above.

However what Thay then went on to say I do want to take issue with. “Every year Fortune magazine lists the one hundred best companies to work for. These companies are successful in every way. And every year these companies share a commitment to health care, childcare, fair vacation time, respect for the environment, and profit-sharing”[p4]. This document describes the characteristics Fortune evaluate, and it does not describe levels of exploitation or harmony with ONE planet, for example. It does not measure whether the profits these companies are making benefit humanity etc., but this Fortune list is a way of attracting employees who seek some form of happiness in their working conditions.

Joe and his company would never have made this list, his turnover was too small. There are a number of computer companies that were on this list but Apple was not. This surprised me, and in some ways negates the purpose of this blog but I am going to write anyway. Watch this clip from Democracy Now (Feb 10) about Apple and the Chinese company, Foxconn, they outsource to:-

Even the interviewees felt that Apple Execs genuinely believed that Apple had good labour practices, and were happy with what Apple did. The interviewees did however say that profits came first. But Apple is making huge profits by exploiting the workers at Foxconn. This became a Democracy Now news item because people were demonstrating outside Apple stores, and to counter the bad publicity, and I suspect to maintain the complicit attitude of their execs, Apple have employed the Fair Labor Association to investigate. Here is what wired.com think of them. One of my mature students told me how good Steve Jobs was – I have already discussed him here. Apple and Steve Jobs are part of the 1%, as are many of the companies in the top 100 companies to work for, and for me commending their practices can compromise right-minded people.

Now this is a very arrogant statement to make when Thay is so wise and I appear to be going against him. So let me look at what Thay said in the above quote. He is promoting business practices that make the employees happy, he is encouraging business to adopt practices that will make people happy. He was countering this with the reduced profitability for companies that do not adopt good practices for their execs. Whilst I concur with this I believe it completely avoids the issue. The quote gives the impression that such companies are OK to work for because of this happiness, and this I have to dispute (note I use the words “gives the impression”).

Here is my position. 1% addiction is out of control, and unless we redress the balance immediately we are heading for destruction. This statement could have more legitimately have been made 50 years ago but for me now there is a big difference – the addiction of the 1% is out of control where previously it was in some way limited (this is discussed as part of this and this). Working for these transnationals is supporting the 1% and is contributing to the impending disaster. Whilst condoning good working practices is a positive step, the damage those same top 100 companies are doing far outweighs this positivity. In community building Thay discussed his reasons for setting up Plum Village – I discussed this here. Thay’s Plum Villages exist to show the right way to live yet within his perspective he gives praise to transnationals that exploit because keeping their workers happy increases productivity. I agree that the productivity is increased but I cannot make such a statement without placing it in the context of the damage those same transnationals do. As 99% we compromise so much so that we can have a “decent standard of living”, but the 1% are so addictively out of control that that compromise is now not acceptable. Aware people need to take an alternative, such as Thay’s Plum Villages.

To follow the Path as a Buddhist there is an unwritten maxim that one lives in harmony with Nature. This then leads again to an unwritten understanding that Buddhists live in harmony with all. Again this sounds reasonable until an analysis of that harmony leads to an understanding that one is living in harmony with the paradigm of the 1% and that the 1% are leading to the destruction of ONE planet, destruction of the very Nature that we are supposed to be living in harmony with. Recognition of this reality means that to live in harmony with Nature is not to live in harmony with the 1%. Fundamental to the 1% paradigm is that they do not require complete servitude just a level of compromise where people turn a blind eye to some of their ravaging. This is why insight leads to seeing that compromise is now what we need to struggle against. Harmony with Nature now means the end of compromise.

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