One way…

This is a revisitation of when we were talking about capitalist globalisation, and the danger it poses to indigenous groups of people. I say danger because it has the potential of causing us to get fixated on one way of being, one mode of operation in our daily lives. I say this because as we were talking about the solidarity economy, my mind would begin to envision what it would be like to have a  world like that. Not just a small community here and there, but a world – idealist dreaming, I know. In all honesty, what we were describing as went through the solidarity economy sounded so strange to me because it was so completely opposite to what I have been brought up and taught to believe. The idea that, rather than an economy where each seeks their own personal interest and hence by default helps others, there is an ideology and a system of being in which people seek the good of others and the environment. A system in which “me” is not the centre. The idea of socially responsible consumption, production and governance sounded so farfetched to me because I had not taken the time to see it play out. The idea that as humans we would want to see others better off from our efforts and that we would want to preserve the environment we live in should not sound so farfetched to me, but it did. Which brings me back to the danger of being told time and time again that there is one right way to do things. Just like the globalisation of capitalism can often endanger the values of indigenous societies, its continued promulgation in our lives, from kindergarten through college can lead us to believe it is the only way, which, as shown by the solidarity economy, it isn’t.

Searching for alternatives

In class we’ve been discussing the increasing viability of co-ops as service providing alternatives to the corporation. It’s inspired me to look harder for alternatives when making purchases even though buying from the corporation is often more accessible and cheaper. But actually, with the internet it’s become a lot easier to connect with co-ops and even individuals who provide goods and services you might need.

In particular, my aunt often visits family in Ireland and uses the site http://www.homeaway.com when searching for accommodations to directly connect with individuals renting houses or providing bed and breakfasts in Ireland. It’s proven to be a great alternative to the ‘mass produced’ hotel rooms since you get an actual kitchen to cook in, for instance. I actually think the international hotel chains are a good example of the impersonal nature of the corporation’s supplying to people in mass. I know I’ve never had a very personal or even enjoyable stay at a hotel, high end or not. Additionally, workers in hotels are often underpaid. It’s also the nature of a large hotel to be full of people but still relatively anonymous and full of formalisms from staff. It’s a very alienating and awkward environment for everyone in this way. Yet the easy name recognition of international hotel chains makes them more desirable for people traveling to a foreign country. The familiarity of the name brand feels safe, and it’s hard to combat that. So I really appreciate alternatives to this model. It may be convenient and feel safe, but it’s not desirable for anyone on a humanistic and socially responsible level on such a large scale. This is why I’m using Home Away to get in touch with local people in Buenos Aires both to avoid the hotels and experience something different. It’s also proving to be a lot cheaper than the hotels which is an added bonus.

Optimism at the Hope of a Cooperative Economy

This final section of the course has been a very interesting one to me—while I enjoy thinking about what needs to change in the system we exist within and unwillingly contribute to, it is exciting to hear about socially responsible actions that do, in fact, make a difference.  I can list plenty of improvements I would love to see realized on the global scale, but if they are too abstract to actually be implemented, these ideas remain ideas.  Good news, though: steps are being taken towards a solidarity economy, from changes in individual choices to larger social entrepreneurship ventures. I myself am inspired to more heavily consider the decisions I make as they affect others, whether it be purchasing Free Trade coffee instead of grounds from a larger manufacturer or not supporting firms that are blissfully ignorant of their carbon footprint.  In being introduced to all of these ways consumers, citizens, and employees can make a difference, I am made aware of the opportunities available to me to continue this progress towards cooperation and environmental respect.

Our in-class discussion about choosing careers based on what we value as individuals and endeavoring to do something that we enjoy shed light on the dilemma I am currently facing in balancing my desire for financial stability and my desire for a “priceless” profession.  I can have both; I can have a career I can stand behind because, whichever field I enter, I can be sure that I actively support the firm’s social accountability from the inside—just as  I can refuse to take a job that compromises my personal  philosophies on economic stakeholders versus just the shareholders.  In thinking of this, I cannot help but hold some lingering inhibitions about those who enjoy doing things at a consequence to the environment.  If I don’t agree to lie about a company’s “green” status, someone else certainly will.  I’m not saying that we’re doomed by any means, but we need to restructure and reshape the way we feel towards making money by faulty means—if we can strip these high-paying jobs of their value because they aren’t morally responsible, there is the potential that fewer people would be so inclined to pursue them.

Can it really be that simple?

Maybe I’m just not looking at all possible consequences, but I just don’t understand why the government cannot just heavily subsidize all these green and socially responsible initiatives. This is something we’ve been taught since Econ 101, if something is good for the public the government should subsidize, if something is bad, the government should tax. So I’m just curious as to why green initiatives aren’t heavily subsidized? We are currently subsidizing corn, and this worked really well for those farmers. Now I’m not saying that it’s great that we now have corn in basically everything we consume , but the subsidy did its role, the sale of corn is now much higher than it used to be, we found ways to utilize corn so that we can support these farmers. So what I’m asking is why can’t the government somehow support local farmers and more organic foods? This would not only support local farmers, but would also drive the prices down for these organic products and make it more available to the public, including the poor. Because when it’s all said and done, poor people would like to be a part of the green movement, but since local produce usually costs much more than the produce that isn’t local, they probably don’t buy it because they cannot afford it. So by subsidizing the sale of local and fresh produce it’d benefit both the producers and consumers. But again I keep asking myself, can it really be that simple? Because if it really is, why haven’t we done anything about it?

Thankful

I’m really glad Professor Matthaei decided to end the course with the Solidarity Economy.  I was starting to feel so frustrated with how capitalism has come to be.  Learning about how the United States exploits other countries all over the world is disgusting and quite frankly disappointing.  I found myself frustrated at the idea that so many people just don’t know what is going on behind the production processes of so many products.  Learning about the Solidarity Economy has however made me feel a lot better.  Learning about the Solidarity Economy has however made me feel a lot better.  It has opened my eyes to all the different things people are doing to better the situation we are in.  Although I probably never be as radical as the fregans, there are things people can do everyday to help our economy become more sustainable and fair.  Buying fair-trade items and reusing old things rather than buying a new one are only a few things people can do everyday in order to help.  I was also very happy to read “Beautiful Business.”  This reading definitely allowed me to see that good successful businesses can exist in the Solidarity Economy.  All in all it’s nice to know that people do care about what is going on and are taking initiative to help.

 

-Mariaesther M.

 

Socially Responsible Investment

As we talked about today in class, it is in the big companies best interest to serve the stockholders, not the stakeholders. Since the stockholders have all this power, why is it that it is always so that what is in the best interest for the stock holders is not the same as the stake holders. If we could have a movement that reorganizes the priorities with the stockholders so that they too are socially responsible. And this reminds me of the new market of socially responsible investment that we are going to learn more about later. This seems like a very interesting aspect of economics that I can’t wait to learn more about. That not only are we accepting that the mainstream view that the consumers have the power is flawed, but in addition we are going to use it to our advantage and invest in these companies until we have enough stock to have enough influence to alter their agenda to fit our socially responsible actions.

Who is to blame?

While going over the readings regarding the danger of huge corporations, my mind was drawn to the examples that I grew up hearing regarding huge corporations that took advantage of the natural resources of certain African countries and left these countries somewhat destitute. For the longest time, none of the mining companies in the mineral rich country of Liberia were owned by local entrepreneurs. One of its largest exports, rubber, was only tapped by the huge multinational firm Firestone; who managed to sign a 100 year contract with the Liberian government that enabled them to continue producing rubber at dirt cheap prices. Shell also has a bloody and ugly history in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. But in all these cases I am left asking, where was the regulating hand of the government? While one can say that these companies have indeed taken advantage of the above mentioned countries, to name a few, one cannot downplay the role that governments have played in allowing these actions. I recognise that governments do need better information regarding the operation and long term planning of large corporations to make more informed decisions regarding their regulation, and this is to be provided by these multi-national corporations. But one cannot deny that governmental regulation has indeed been neglected in the past, rendering governments now almost powerless in dealing with large corporations.

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