Monday, April 12, 2010

Taking Our Government Back: Local Solutions

In the previous article, I said I’d surprise y’all with my suggestion as to how to gain the support of the politically disinterested in congressional elections. I’ve also said that liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have more in common with one another than they have with banksters, Big Pharma, or the military-industrial complex.
Let me give one example today. On other days I’ll give you others, so please be patient.
Americans from across the political spectrum are against poverty. It may also be true that Americans from across the political spectrum agree that the federal government’s poverty programs have done no more than institutionalize poverty. A woman on welfare once told my sister, “When you’re on welfare, the state owns you.”
I’ve long regarded welfare housing projects as vote farms. People are maintained in their poverty and rules are written to make it next to impossible to get out off welfare without breaking the law. For welfare case workers, job security comes from getting people on welfare—not getting them out of poverty.

Every two years, politicians harvest votes from them by threatening them with hunger and further deprivation if they vote for the other candidate. The “other candidate” is the one who assures them of the wisdom of the Trickle-down Theory: That, if the government ends the welfare system, prosperity will result for a few, the wealth will trickle down to the poor, and the poor eventually will be able to eat again.
The only trickling down I see is powerful special interest groups urinating on the rest of us. There must be private solutions that work, and I believe there are.
One solution is called “fit” between business needs and goals and social needs and goals. Milton Friedman wasn’t entirely wrong when he wrote that a business’s only social responsibility was to make a profit for its stakeholders. The trouble was, Friedman’s field wasn’t business administration’ it was economics.
Michael Porter wrote that most corporate social philanthropy (CSP) was wasted if not counterproductive because there’s insufficient “fit” (Porter’s word) between business needs and goals and social needs and goals. Business and society need one another. That being the case, corporate social responsibility (CSR, which includes CSP) is successful and sustainable only if it dovetails (fits)with social and environmental needs and goals.
Porter gives the example of Nestle in certain area of Africa. Cattle farmers were poor because their cattle were often unhealthy, the milk was of low quality, and a third of the milk spoil before it could be brought to market. Nestle brought in veterinarians, refrigeration, and improved roads. As a consequence, the farmers gained healthier cows, higher-quality milk, and higher prices for their milk. Nestle gained reliable sources of high-quality milk and a loyal customer base locally.
Back in America, CSR can be a bit more complicated, but the principle is the same: Run an issue-sets analysis for specific businesses, their host societies, and the host environment; and formulate a win-win strategy.
The term issue-sets analysis may be new to you. In simple terms, everybody wants and needs certain things. Those “certain things” are called issue sets. For every need there’s an opportunity for the person or group that satisfies that need. The example of Nestle and the African villages was a simple matter of bringing two groups together. For others, you may have to look at several social networks and bring them together.
The person or group—political, business, or other—that brings them together will gain credibility and social or political capital. They’re also likely to find that, where Washington fails, local people can enjoy some measure of success. The more solutions we find locally, the less temptation to corruption we’ll send to Washington.
Oh, you don’t know how to set up a program like that? Then find somebody who does. There are lots of community groups and other organizations with the knowledge, skill, drive, and manpower. Find them and find out what they want. Be open and honest about what you want. You’ll probably find the people you need to accomplish your goals.
No, this idea won’t solve everyone’s problems. No single idea will. It’s just one of perhaps 305,000,000 ideas for taking back our government and making it work.

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