Poverty of Profit

Keep shopping. Everything’s fine.

Until now, this mantra of our fair civilization revered the ringing of the registers as the sure signs of prosperity for all. Perhaps the tiniest peeps against this theory of progress were not obvious enough to be felt, and so “profits equal progress” has now become the immutable wisdom du jour.

Cut to now.

Today, hundreds of thousands of tons of food will be wasted while over twenty seven thousand people will die of starvation. This week, the gallons of water poisoned or wasted from activities like fracking and mass produced meat will be over three times that of all of the water consumed on the planet, while nearly a billion people will continue to not have access to safe drinking ater. This month, we would have spent five times more fossil fuels than what could have extracted from the earth. This year, there will be more homes than homeless people, more cars than owners to drive them, and more products available on the market than people to buy them. Our nation states will spend over a trillion dollars on defense while over half the planet’s population will make less than two dollars a day…barely.

Still think profits equal progress?

Profits cannot exist without poverty, and poverty cannot exist without war.

All of the problems we are facing with resource distribution today has a systemic flaw at the core: Profit. Profits create poverty. Somebody has to suffer for someone else’s gain.

However, modern economic successes are defined by gains from profits, margins, usury or arbitrage. These activities are now heralded as aspirational, instead of the inefficiencies to access and empowerment they really are. Everyone who is wealthy today, is so because they’ve identified and leveraged an information or access gap in the system and exploited it. Every margin everywhere is a gap in the flow, every debt yet to be repaid a friction between need and greed.

The counter argument of course, is that without profits there is no incentive to create value. Really? How do we then explain continuous scientific and artistic breakthroughs from people in perpetual debt, the long term sustainably statistics of co-operative and co-creative commons based, resource optimizing enterprises, or the significance of open source distributed technologies behind most of the innovations we currently enjoy as a society? What role did “profit” really play in the true power of the Internet?

Yet, profits continue to be synonymous with power, as if power was a zero sum game. It is not. Power, like information increases in value as we share it, not get diminished by it, but the profit game has no room for that kind of empowerment distribution. These gaps in the system continue to express themselves as power over others by means of mental or physical domination. Domination expressed with propaganda, and sold to us as healthy and positively persuasive branding campaigns.

This is the norm, not the exception.

Lack of direct access to any available resource create dependencies. The more difficult or limited the resource appears to be, the deeper the dependency on those who can access and provide them to everyone else. The primary dependencies like food, water, energy and the capital required to produce them are thus encouraged, promoted as scarce, centralized with barriers to entry. Even though the increasing evidence for making them directly accessible as distributed technology innovations continue to create exponential efficiencies to both reduce costs and increase benefits.


So that a few can benefit at the cost everyone else and the ecological capital that is supposed to be accessible as inalienable to all? Isn’t that basically theft? To take something from someone and waste that which is not useful to the thief? Not to mention that this activity of profiting at the expense of another, is now attached to an aspirational social position meme. We are all embedded in it. So much so that most of us continue to think that a little bit of stealing is OK. When we say “I got a deal”…that’s essentially what we are subscribing to.

This seems like promoting profitability as progress, is nothing other than celebrating theft at a global consciousness level.

It takes the memetic kernel of self preservation that is iterating at our cores to survive, and then using an immature expression to manifest it. Resource scarcity is relative to context. Theft is an immature response to that contextual scarcity. Co-creating for mutual benefit is a mature one. Co-creation does not mean everyone is equal. It means everyone has equal access to the common resources and opportunities to create value.

A global economy based on profit cannot ever create equal opportunity. The competitive paths to profitability that is now the cornerstone of commerce may provide the illusion of a power position to a few, but is the extinction path they are leading the rest of us to worth the expense?

So what about social position through competitive natural selection?

While competition is essential to steward the access to any resource with natural limits, it implies an even playing field. The tragedy of the commons examples clearly show that when no one has had to compete for a position to take a stake in something, that resource often gets misused, abused and wasted. This has major implications about its distribution downstream. Theft, now legitimized and expressed in terms of profitable returns is counter to that equal access.

While it may be the survival of the fittest, it’s not the fittest who steal in nature, it’s the unproductive, the parasites, whose only relevance is as food for interdependent critters downstream.

Mature cultures promote collaboration, while immature cultures can’t see past their immediate gratification and steal without regard to what happens to the victims. Why is there a 1st, 2nd and 3rd world on a single planet? Why is some life worth more than others? This sounds like the immature selfishness of parasites. Mature civilizations should realize that the victims are interconnected to you, and stealing is just stealing from yourself. This is part of a deep memetic theme that has been iterating for thousands of years, and now it’s reaching systemic limits.

We now celebrate theft on a global scale. Period.

Why else would we spend trillions on defense and not even a fraction of it to eliminate poverty? Why do corporate executives earn more than all of their employees combined? Space colonization, or the new “sophisticated” political transition from justifying grotesque defense spending is now the epitome of that waste and discard expression. Governments like the US spend billions to design lunar habitats and space elevators, while right now there are over 4 billion people living in slums worldwide.

The brilliant people who invent and develop these technologies and designs are underpaid, manipulated and led to believe that their corporate masters will help them extend their lives with augmented bionics and bio hacked genetic superiority, so that they can go first. You know, ahead of the uneducated masses on whose backs the capital for their R&D came from…

The appearance of scarcity must exist to create unique positions or quality, but it does not need to exist in the material provisioning realm. In other words, the ability for everyone to access the physical resources available within their respective contexts towards their best use, need not be scarce. Anyone can Google to see that we make more food than we need, we have more water than that which is wasted. All to maintain this “profit” model of scarce energy based resources, while we have more and more technologies to generate contextually resilient energy systems that no longer requires centralized production and distribution.

None of this stuff is going to change by more technology or activism.

The collective is a reflection of ourselves individually. As long as we express our self-preservation source code for living by sophisticated but immature expressions of theft such as profits, usury, arbitrage, etc, then in the aggregate we will continue to have winner-takes-all owners.
The “owners” today are simply better positioned nodes in the network who can game the system in their favor to make each of us dependent on a new set of expressions to describe why it’s ok to steal.

Guess what? It’s still theft.

There is no better world for most or inhabitable world for all if we don’t GROW up and realize that sustainability here (or on Mars) is dependent on interconnected systems. Create and share to facilitate the flow or implode and die. This is not opinion, it is the empirical reality we are currently subscribed to.

How can we shift from profit to benefit?

Can we reverse this? Reinvent it? What is the process to transform the marker of profit to benefit while maintaining our innate desire to seek social position relative to capacity and contribution. No life form is equal to another in nature. None of us humans are equal in ability or impact either. However, whether or not profit is the marker to distinguish that difference is not only questionable, it is proving to be systemically detrimental for our survival as a species.

So how do we solve for the profit equals poverty dilemma, when the prevailing modality for human industrial progress has been about profits equalling progress? These are deeper topics with complex challenges. My work with the epic human networks that give our GROW model and projects unique value is focused on answering these complex challenges with simple and elegant solutions. The details are forthcoming through platforms, apps, articles and stories to follow. For now, I’d like to share some of the insights from what is already happening on the ground to shift the global conversation at the local, actionable level from stealing to sharing:

1. Expanding Economy : Let’s grow the economy, not shrink it. This is the reason I named our platform and incubator model GROW. Our current scientific traditions look at inter-relationships in reductionist isolation from the whole, even though we understand that everything is interconnected. Profit as a motivator within a production context is not only useful, it has historically proven to be quite effective. However, mapping human values to profit based value markers like monetary wealth, expressed in terms like GDP is not only foolish, it’s damaging to to the connection between the individual and their environment, and consequently the individual’s empowerment and self worth.

New accounting tools now emerging from the networks to measure the contextual impact value of expressions like truth, beauty, harmony, fairness, love and other innately human experience qualities can now actually be made fungible in practice. In other words, we should be able to agree and exchange based on the accounting of physical and digital expressions such as “likes” or “shares”. This allows for the expansion of the economy to include more experiences we cannot ever share with the limits of “money” and helps put profit in context.

Even money itself does not have to be limited to federally issued national currencies bound the laws of currency flux dictated by foreign theft policies, it can usher in boundless innovation in contextual currency design most relevant for the situation. It becomes one of many measures relative to agenda, and expands or contracts relative to impact within the larger context of human value exchange.

2. Transforming Transactions : The practice of profit creates contractual relationships of exchange that are designed to leverage the information or experience gap between both parties. This inevitably leads to disappointment when that gap or margin is made visible to both sides. The vendor/vendee, employer/employee, client/contractor relationships are daily examples of this in action. Both parties want to get more at the other’s expense, and this is the behavior that is encouraged as good business in today’s failing system.

However, as we look at partnerships, collaboratives and co-creative value creation constructs both on and offline, getting more advantage at the others‘ expense becomes less of an issue because all parties involved become stakeholders relative to their respective contributions. Today, people form partnerships to profit at the expense of their customers knowledge or access gap, but what if those partnerships extended to every participant in the ecosystem including the customer?

Well, a new breed of co-creative impact enterprises are now sprouting up on the horizon to do exactly that. From pre-sales eliminating capital costs and loyalty marketing budgets for locally owned community businesses like Credibles, to donor and network support for crowdfunding and crowdsourced open innovation platforms like Kickstarter and Quirky, the lines between company and consumer are blurring. Every context that reframes its transaction paradigm into a co-creative partnership regardless of how strong or weak the relationship is, is helping to transform a culture of taking into a culture of sharing.

3. Gamifying Giving : The realization of the shift from independent to the interdependent changes the game from rewarding the winner that takes all to the giver that delivers value with their gifts. The sharing context determines the reward. For example, no one paid me to write this article, and no one is paying me to share it freely. So why am I doing it, and what value am I receiving or providing in the process?

Anyone who is on a social network can readily tell you that here it is indeed better to give than get. If I only troll the interwebs to collect content and connections and don’t share anything other than my own self-serving agenda, then I am effectively left out of the essential streams of conversation. I must first share before I can connect, and the strength of my connections are directly dependent on the quality of what I’m sharing. Real world relationships actually work the same way. The more I give, and the more grateful I am for the opportunity, the richer my life is.

The taking and hoarding only offers temporary satisfaction and then I spend more energy protecting and being paranoid that people will find out how much I gained at their expense. As we design better ways to share and better ways to reward givers, either by the architecture of the social interaction design or by the positive ideas about the benefits of sharing that we think with, sharing becomes the real marker for success, not stealing. In fact, what we are now seeing with gift economies like The Burning Man Community or democratized allocation networks like crowdfunding projects yet to produce value become the norm not the exception. When we flip the script to reward sharing as the epitome of social position, it becomes the default rather than the variable.

This is the new world emerging NOW.

As real-time collective intelligence moves future risks or unknowns into the present as variables, information opacity will have to give way to radical transparency. Business will cease to be anything but “usual” as margins and profitability shrink to non-existence in light of clear views from both sides of the exchange. This is already happening now, and it is being called disruption. My question is, disrupting what? Inefficiency? Secrecy? Barriers to access? Exposing the the greed driving the exclusivity of the interaction?

Some who have benefitted from the selfish separatist worldview of profit equals progress, which required an ongoing abundant supply of the poor to feed the material needs of the rich may be sorely disappointed, but evolution does not care about your hurt feelings. The friction is the fiction. It always has been, but we just couldn’t see it in our regionally scarce view of reality. As the world connects everyone and everything to make life easier for everyone, we all start to get the real picture of interdependence as reality instead of a nice feel good idea.

That’s promising.

I hope enough of us can see and share it in time to extend that promise to the good people of this beautiful planet of ours. Thank you in advance for participating in this conversation.

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