Today I went to a reading from John Perkins. It really wasn’t much of a reading as a call to action.
John Perkins wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I’d read it many years ago (it first came out in 2004). He’d recently updated it and was embarking upon a book tour.
The thesis of Confessions is that there is a group of men who consciously take steps to encourage developing natures to incur massive amounts of debt to build infrastructure (built by US companies at enormous profit) that actually benefit a relatively insignificant percentage of their people. Ultimately, the debt is so massive that the nations have to default, which forces the nations to privatize previously public institutions and open up their natural resources for plundering (again by US companies).
Woo-hoo! USA! USA! USA!
As can be imagined, there is a significant amount of controversy around this topic. I’m certainly not educated enough in history and/or economics to have a firm position regarding the veracity.
Anyway, I went to his reading. He did not read from the book. Instead he decried the current state of capitalism (calling it death capitalism). He lays a lot of blame on Milton Friedman and his somewhat libertarian view that corporations’ sole responsibility is to maximize profits, regardless of the cost on employees or environment.
I certainly see his point and obviously over the last couple of decades I have seen a decrease in corporate responsibility. I have a slight problem with that statement because I’ve just completed reading Empire of Cotton. With the long US history of confiscating land from Native Americans and then forcing slaves to work on the confiscated lands, this death capitalism has not just been in place for 40 years but has been in place for over two hundred years, which to me makes it a much more intractable problem that can’t be solved just by writing some letters to corporations threatening to boycott them.
As I said, his talk was a call to action. He encouraged all of us to take positive steps to move from death capitalism to life capitalism, in which we focus on the larger issues of personal and social well being and move away from the idea that the economic value of an activity is its only value. It was very much a statement of progressive values.
It was inspirational. When he was done, the small (a couple of dozen people) group of attendees gave him a standing ovation.
Now, hold that thought a moment while I go on a tangent that I promise to tie back up in a bit.
Last year, I’d read Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It was basically the story of the rise of Republican progressivism. At the heart of it was, of course, Teddy Roosevelt. He clearly believed in an active government, and through his force of personality, moved aggressively to put a progressive stamp on federal government. Even with Roosevelt’s energy, he had at best limited success due to some extremely conservative elements in Congress.
At Teddy’s side was Gifford Pinchot. Pinchot was a forestry expert and was a key figure in leading Teddy’s efforts in conservation.
William Howard Taft was Roosevelt’s hand picked successor and he followed Roosevelt as president. As president, he lacked the energy and drive of Roosevelt. Therefore, Pinchot became impatient with Taft and actively spoke out against him. Taft ended up dismissing him from his administration.
Pinchot still had Roosevelt’s ear and he was one of those that convinced him that he needed to run against Taft in the 1912 election under the banner of the Progressive Party, of which Pinchot was one of its leaders.
This of course led to both Taft and Roosevelt both losing to Woodrow Wilson, which was effectively the end of the progressive branch of the Republican Party.
Now, back to the present, after his talk, Perkins was taking questions from the audience. One of the questions was regarding a degree program being offered by the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. In response to the question, Perkins mentioned that this should actually be answered by the founder of the institute, who just happened to be in the audience that night. He stood up and spoke for a couple of minutes.
The founder is Gifford Pinchot III, the grandson of one of the founders of the Progressive Party. The institute that he co-founded offers an MBA focused on integrating environmental sustainability and social responsibility with innovation and profit. It was the first graduate school to offer such an MBA.
So, yeah, Gifford Pinchot III has had a lifelong passion and focus on progressive causes.
What did you expect, that he’d be a corporate lawyer for ExxonMobil?