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March/April 2009


As I wrote the book review for The Green Collar Economy, my mind naturally focused on the People part of the triple bottom line and it made me think of something a friend of mine often says, "People cause most of the problems in the world." Of course it's true but isn't usually acknowledged or stated so directly. The continuing economic crisis in America is a good example of how we ignore that simple fact. The failing banks and sinking auto industry are problems. We talk about the problems in broad brush strokes and as complex abstractions. And even though the problems are complex, there are real People who've made decisions that caused the failures of these industries. Yet, I don't hear their names or see their faces on the evening news. Part of the social inequity in our culture gives wealthy People an over abundance of economic power along with the power to avoid accountability.

As I understand it, most of the people who have caused these problems still have their jobs, large salaries and in some cases bonuses and company trips. While many workers are losing their jobs, experiencing pension losses and health insurance cuts. The problems were caused at the top but the negative effects are felt most strongly at the bottom. It's the first time I can truly say I see how trickle down economics works.

I've found myself questioning all the bailouts but sympathetic to all the People in political positions who actually have to make a decision and take some kind of action. (Or be held accountable for not acting.) I'm angered by People running companies that have resisted government regulations and claimed their right to a "free market" but now insist that their failures are our responsibility to resolve: because after all, we are all connected in this, if they fail, we fail. Even though that wasn't seen as reason enough for regulations it is now being used as reason enough for bailouts. The hypocrisy of People is a problem.

The People part of the triple bottom line usually focuses on social equity issues in regards to equal opportunity and living wages. And, although it's important to address the needs of the People at the bottom of our socio-economic structure, we shouldn't continue to address their needs without also addressing the accountability of People at the top for their role in causing problems. It's common for us as a culture to blame poor People for being takers and not contributing enough to society. Yet we are giving People at corporations more money than the poor will ever see in social programs. And People in executive positions are taking more and acting more entitled than poor People ever have.

My November editorial was about economics and our crisis. I talked about how the crisis is an opportunity for real reform and true sustainability. Still, I was concerned then and remain concerned that we will address the crisis but not the root causes. We will adjust enough to keep our economy floating but not enough to work toward and achieve true triple bottom line sustainability. One of the root causes of this crisis is that we don't acknowledge that People have caused these problems and People who cause problems ought to be held accountable. A shift in accountability is a necessary part of a comprehensive solution.

We need a cultural paradigm shift that includes a realistic acknowledgement of the People causing problems. And then we need socio-accountability equity: meaning everyone regardless of socio-economic position is acknowledged for their responsibility in causing problems and all People are held appropriately accountable. We could consider it a foundation principle. It would be added to the three principles that Van Jones offers us in his book The Green Collar Economy: Equal protection for all, Equal opportunity for all and Reverance for all creation. I'd add: Equal accountability.

Then, at the same time that we acknowledge the People who caused the problems we can support People pursuing solutions. And we can each take on the role of problem solver in whatever ways are best suited to our abilities and opportunities. We need more stock holder involvement, we can boycott companies, we can increase white collar criminal jail time and we can all increase our involvement in civic oversight. "We the People" are ultimately responsible for solving problems and holding each other accountable. Because, just as People cause most of the problems in the world, People can solve most of the problems in the world.

Joyfully, Sue Norman
Sue Norman
Managing Editor