Last year billionaire Nick Hanauer gave out a public warning to fellow plutocrats, saying what he saw in the future of growing wealth inequities were “pitchforks coming”.
Hanaure being a businessman himself seemed more concerned with warnings than solutions. This is understandable, seeing as he knows first hand the cognitive dissonance behind valuing profit and growth while honoring a new set of global ethics. However, the idea that we must wait for pitchforks to come, rather than demonstrate how to avoid that collision altogether, is yet to be expressed.
Hanaure is the first to admit he’s made a few enemies with his ideas. And why not? He enjoys the benefits of the “good old boys” club, while also suddenly turning his back on them: denouncing his peers and localized community. For shame! But it’s a worthy cause, and we peasants are eating it up cautiously. It’s truly fun to see someone be rational when they have little obligation to do so.
Being environmentally conscious, I share a parallel idea of Hanaure’s views. Not only are the very wealthy risking their own standing in a community of growing hungry and shelterless people, but even if a violent revolution could be silenced by force, there is still the problem of ecologic destruction. The same policies that creating massive revolts as we have seen recently in Egypt and Greece -and really globally for various causes in increasing numbers- are the same policies that are destroying our habitats, and could eventually kill us all regardless of class privilege.
Basically, no one will profit in a barren earth. No one. Time is not only running out for the immediate physical safety of those dodging Hannures metaphoric pitchforks, but time is running out for whole ecosystems that sustain our populations, our social structures, our economies. We cannot progress as a profit-driven society that is blind to its own waste and carrying capacity.
Treating humans like humans, with egalitarianism and respect, is just good practice, not to mention good business. Without an environment, we have nothing as a species, and no fat cat profiteer is going to have any power or influence to stop the massive movements of nature we cannot even comprehend.
Earth doesn’t need us, we need it. And the illusion of unchecked power will get checked, whether it’s Hanaures sinister picture of the peasants riot we’ve seen throughout human history, or if its the much larger, less containable collapse of the biosphere.
Basically, no matter how you dice it, power structures are going to change, either by force by instinct. People can organically decide to do the good work on their own while Plutocrats continue to use the world like its a macrocosm of “The Giving Tree” until such captains go down with their ships. But there’s a third answer, Hanaure of all people need to be considering.
The major thing the 1% has going for it –and it’s not Trumps bad toupee– is that it has power and influence of money, resources, and people still working for them. There is a lot of power there, power that can be directed to real global needs and services that people would want to work and pay for (assuming we move forward with a money system at all). As entrepreneurs, business owners and innovators, there is actually a much more interesting, difficult challenge than simply “winning” at the money game. There is the challenge of winning back the trust of your communities, and the challenge of innovating for a world that survives. The super-rich still have A LOT of influence and arguably tons of responsibility, as most humans haven’t completely forsaken our money system -yet- (although they soon will and should have a long time ago if it remains a distraction from biospheric peril).
What is money anyway? Money is not a food, not technically a functional resource when stranded on an island or when the network system goes down; Money is not oxygen; Money is not love. Money is related to all these things, and it’s just energy. An energy we’ve grown very enmeshed with, to the point that we forget what it’s always been for: to communicate goods and services, to keep the world rolling, to help people translate their ideas and work into tools to survive and even thrive. It is not anything to earn for the sake of it. Once we begin living life like this, our money is meaningless. It is actually the 1% first, who uses money as a game for entertainment and clout, rather than a legitimate tool, that has been teaching the masses to question money’s validity.
There’s a lot of research out there stating that once basic needs are covered, after a certain cutoff amount of income people stop getting happier. This makes a lot of sense if we think about what makes us happy: comfortable living, good relationships, time being creative or time in nature, feeling valued and heard. To a point, it’s money that buys us “good-first-impression” outfits and healthy meals for our loved ones– enough for us to pursue those things we need to enhance in our lives.
Beyond the “happiness” cutoff, we don’t need any more money. We need purpose in life, deeper relationships, a contemplative, spiritual or creative practice –a life of meaning.
Ironically, needing more and more money is equivalent to a reckless user risking of everything: If you profit because you are compulsively driven to profit for the sake of it, you are contributing to the dismantling of social and ecologic systems you too needed to survive. You are trading in what is worthy and valuable for a hallow addiction.
So how do you survive as a big cat business in the new world? You listen to the people and the environment that carry that business to its success, and you take care of them. You provide living wages, and encourage worker-owned co-ops; you give up your wealth, and only take what you need. If you’ve already profited to the moon and back, you open charities and start foundations; You take into account your greatest investment, the investment that is so huge, so powerful and so lucrative we can’t even put a solid number on it: your biosphere and living communities. You take care of that.
The world is still running on capitalistic systems. We still buy things, we still go shopping, we also protest, and lobby, we vote, and sometimes choose to work in jobs that are better aligned with our moral codes, and there are other tools and directive actions to organize. This is the hard work of this century, but it’s not negotiable, as the alternative is sudden and massive death. And there is more to be done, arguably these small changes are not enough in the short period of time we have. People are waking up to this, and all of us should be, no matter what our background is. The rich are mortal also, and could perish in an ecologically damaged world just as much as the rest of us.
So my dear plutocrats, Hanauer might have a point in warning you about systems “not built to last”, but I have another side of it. I personally don’t enjoy pitchforks, or environmental meltdown. Want to stay in power? Just do the right thing. Give back to the communities and world that supported you, let go of financial abstractions and material addictions, recognize that we are all too connected to be untouched by the suffering we create no matter how indirectly. Use these vast resources to remedy imbalances and win back the hearts of those who supported and built up your following, give what you have exacted back, pay ecosystems and social reparations. Uplift and protect our invaluable environmental resources.
Violent revolution leaves broken glass less likely to be recycled. Violent revolution leaves children who feel victimized. Violent revolution leads disempowered activists to fill the same old roles in hostile leadership takeovers. Violent revolution IS how we’ve almost always done things as a species, and IS a likely forecast, but one that can be challenged.
The way we’ve always done things, especially now, is not necessarily the way we should keep doing them. So my dear people, keep doing the good work, and dear plutocrats, if you’d like to stay comfy and influential in our fragile and finite world, you too have much work to do in evolving a sustainable economy, before people over throw these systems to do it without you.
Business, in the old fashioned Apple Pie sense, used to be about innovation, about “making it”, about being a visionary and a leader in an exciting new landscape of opportunity. This libertarian perspective may sound romantic but has revealed extremes in late capitalism folks didn’t intend– such as the climate collapse threatening our entire biosphere. If we address the addictive and oppressive history of our monetary systems and reform them, rather than hoard resources, there might still be a chance.