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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Putting HUMANS back into the corporate for-profit equation and into American culture

There is much ink pouring over the evils of the trump administration, the person of the president, and the growing gap in incomes around the world. Even Oxfam, yesterday, in the klieg light of the Davos conflab of the uber-rich, asked the top 1% to take action to bring about a modicum of equalization of incomes, residual wealth, investments and, most important the disproportionate degree of power and influence residing with the rich.

Given that the United States is still demonstrably the most influential world power, in terms of economics, business and corporate power, it is important to parse the fine print of what that means. Obviously, headlines from Washington and Wall  Street and the White House magnetize eyes, ears and minds in capitals around the globe. And while some American leaders, especially those Democrats currently pillorying themselves on the petard of the American tabloid media in their pursuit of the White House, repeatedly speak about the demise of “American values,” invariably missing from their stated or implied list of values is the reigning corporate value of profit at all costs.

In his “Lucid Manager,” the high priest of American capitalism, Milton Friedman writes, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays in the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.” Given the indisputed and indisputable evidence that this “gospel” is so embedded in the corporate culture inside America, and through the massive colonization of American corporate culture into the farthest corners of the planet, examining the deeply embedded danger flags in this “gospel” lies the very seeds of the demise of that culture, both within the U.S. and around the world.

The unalloyed, undiluted, and laser-like focus of the pursuit of profit, dominates all of the activities in the smallest cubicle, on the largest loading dock, in every sales call, purchase agreement, and certainly in every board-room discussion of corporate policy and vision. Known and accepted by all participants in the corporate culture is the indisputable creed that it is simply a matter of corporate apostasy, and probably excommunication from the corporate “church,” to express even a moderate and modest proposition that people must be factored into the corporate equation differently than the latest vehicle purchase, or the shipment of raw materials just delivered to the loading dock. Going further, it would be considered corporate treason to express what, only a half century ago, was considered by many of the business thought leaders, to be the “human side of the enterprise.”

Douglas McGregor even chose that phrase for the title of his 1960 book. Based on the old shibboleth of Maslow’s hierarchy of motivations, theory X focused on the need for worker supervision, and theory Y emphasized worker satisfaction and intrinsic motivation. Self-actualization, a word and concept long ago lost in the archives of business school libraries, only to be resurrected outside the workplace/corporate gated community* by yoga instructors, and life coaches, and pilates gyms, and perhaps even the nutrition guru’s, has been sloughed off to the backwaters of Human Resources department drowning in pay skips, benefit packages, holiday and personal days, performance reviews retirement packages and bonuses, and to the Employee Assistance Programs.

The very nature of each of these “files” has been reduced to mere numerical digits, the management of which, including the job of making those numbers smaller and less impactful on the budget.  Reducing costs, clearly, does not mean merely finding the needed raw materials for the production line; it also means off-loading the “human costs” of the enterprise to a back office, or better yet, an outsourced contractor, thereby reducing the impact of those costs, as well as their size, to a different corporate balance sheet. And then, dividing those within the corporation between two categories, also implicit in the balance sheet vernacular, into revenues and costs, and assigning a higher value to those in the former category compared to those in the latter category, is another of the insidious injections of corporate “for-profit” mentality. Disposing of the “costs” as an accounting exercise, (of course, with the empathic intervention of the HR department) in the cases of down-sizing, dismissals, redundancies, corporate mergers, and implementation of new corporate visions (also exclusively dependent on the search for the holy grail, increased profits) imitates the boundary of the surgical sheet that forms a lighted square, triangle, or possible circle where the surgical operation will take place, eliminating, for the purposes and time of the procedure, the identity and person of the patient.

Objectivity, in the pursuit of profit, linked even married to the technology that provides enhanced monitoring of the minute-by-minute costs, and thereby the specific project costs of every operation inside the corporation is a malignant seed of corporate self-sabotage. It elevates clinical rationalism, detachment, the focus on those sanitized cost-benefit analyses with which the corporation is identified. The human “costs” impose a heavier weight in the decision-makers’ minds and choices than the “rewards” of the occasional promotions, rewards and bonuses, unless and until the issue applies to the top of the corporate hierarchy. CEO bonuses, for the last few decades, even when the corporation has deviated from “good business practices,” have exploded in too many headlines.  For the surgeon, after the patient recovers from that clinical surgical procedure, s/he will re-appear in the surgeon’s office for a post-operative appointment, as a fully restored human being. And this re-emergence is not a part of the corporate executive’s life after the termination of  workers, whether they number in single digits or in the thousands.

Another measure of the insertion of the “for-profit” culture of the corporation into the culture pertains to the ways by which politicians perceive and speak about the education of their culture’s children. Numbered in costs of teacher salaries, and class sizes and holiday days, along with the percentage of graduates at all levels, students and teachers individually and collectively are reduced to the same kind of pawns to which corporate workers have been reduced: costs, drains, problems, and annoying irritants, in fact and in the attitudes of many of the people in the public domain. This is especially true among the poor and the underserving, while the wealthy can afford the private and charter systems, the latter system currently benefiting from the shovelling of public funds away from the public system, thereby enhancing the opportunities of the wealthy, while reducing the offerings available to the poor.

Politicians, at all levels including municipal, provincial/state and national levels, are also reduced to managers of different numerical digits: numbers of arrests, convictions, murders, imprisonments, homeless, unemployed, all of them “costs” on the public purse. Enforcing this mind-set is the framing of time, in the shortest possible term, boundaried almost exclusively on the length of memory of the voters (as another digit of social psychology) and the length of time until the next election. After all, longevity, that other holy grail available to the corporate “lords” through their appointments, has to be “pursued” daily by the political class, through fundraising, and the maintenance of a squeeky-clean public reputation including the refusal to “upset” the men and women who write those sacred cheques.

The pursuit of profit and the measures devised to generate the appearance of the “best record” in each and every department, insinuate themselves into every conversation in the corporation, and also in the media that reports on the public’s business, is balanced by the “loss” (that other side of the balance sheet, endemic to the corporation) when jobs are off-shored, when factories die, when homelessness rises, when taxes rise, when fire departments eliminate over-night coverage in their community.

The public’s business, including the political activities of any town, city, province, state or nation cannot and must never be reduced in the public mind, and especially in the mind of the poll-takers, and the political “masterminds” to the manipulation of mere numbers, especially numbers exclusively measuring winning and losing, for the players, the elected or the wealthy puppeteers.

Our children, and our teachers, are much more than mere “costs” to our education systems. Our workers are much more than mere “means” and “costs” for the purpose of the corporation’s cultural attitudes, decisions, choices, and strategic planning. And to surrender the lives of 800,000 federal workers in the United States, along with the thousands of contract workers under contract to the federal government to the mere personal whim of an obviously insensate, autocrat, without so much as massive street protests, is a culmination of the evidence of insouciance at the core of the American political, social, economic, and even the academic culture.

Similarly, the separation/segregation of young children from their families, after weeks of their pilgrimage with their parents, all of them fleeing the ravages of death threats, drug lords, (in business to feed the drug addiction of the American culture) and political chaos that prevails also demonstrates and illustrates the demise of the significance of the human being at the highest levels of the American cultural pyramid.

I have no legal background, and am not qualified to offer a legal opinion. Nevertheless,

·        with the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans furloughed, or required to work without pay, being threatened, through choices that eliminate needed prescriptions, necessary treatments, essential nutrition, and certainly the dignity of legitimate work (another stimulant of the need for “pain-killing” medications),
·        and the lives of hundreds of thousands of travellers in American skies, due to the overwork (without pay) of air traffic controllers,
·        and the increased threat to public safety at U.S. borders with Homeland Security workers either furloughed or working without pay,
·        and the permanent devastation of families at U.S. borders, not to mention the deaths of at least two children

And all of this willfully accomplished as a result of the iron-willed, arrogance, and autocracy of a single albeit “elected” individual, why does America have to wait for the Mueller report to take up the prospect of removing this president.

When do “crimes against humanity” actually occur? And who owns that decision?

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