“Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.”
Abraham Lincoln, 1861. 16th US President. (1)
Business Can’t Vote…
…But, what if they could? What would they say? What would they want? There used to be a time when only people who owned property could vote. But that is not what is at issue here. What is at issue is that what we as men and woman of enterprise cannot allow: the current political culture to continue. A whole generation of voters have grown up and have started to vote divorced from how the real world operates. In the end if you are expecting the politician’s to fix our present problems in the absence of business and its results driven culture it is just not going to happen. We need to change and it is business and industry that must take the lead.
Today in Alberta it seems we are caught between the reality of our circumstance and the aspirations of a society where nothing seems to matter beyond the immediate and the material. It is an inter-generational gap of culture removed from fact and experience which has consequently been replaced by the political diatribe of fashion or fear. Uncertainty seems to rule the day much beyond our understanding. The anchors of our past philosophies seem to have become rusted away by global to local events, technological disruptions, and the intergenerational gap between how things really work and how younger group of voters think it should work.
Ovid, a Roman poet from 43 BC wrote, “…abundance has made me poor”. Truly, the business community in Alberta has grown substantially over the past decades, yet while garnering material success it has left the field of political dialogue to the cheers (and jeers) to the other team — so much so that we as business people have been now caught seemingly unaware that a whole generation of people no longer understand the fundamentals of what it takes to sustain our modern day society. What we know for certain is that the trajectory of our society cannot continue on the path as it is and to leave the political field empty; bereft of any substantive philosophy that challenges the precepts that have become so prevalent in our political and cultural institutions is to be surely selling out the next generation of citizens. Perhaps to which this city, province, and nation may never recover.
There was time which seems so distant now was when businesses were the building blocks of communities. Through the fog of my youthful recollection I remember a time of a local Chamber of Commerce and Service Clubs; populated with business and business minded leaders, who tackled our community’s most pressing needs themselves. Barely moving forward today there was a time where there was little bureaucracy between the will and the way to fix our community’s problems. Sports facilities and programs of all kinds were created. Business was and still remains today more than a profit exercise; corporate social responsibility as we refer to it, was back then nothing more than neighbors getting together and doing the right thing. These golden times are dimly remembered yet what was understood back then was that there was a clear and coherent bond between business and the community they existed within – the social contract built and held fast.
Today however the divergence between the business sector and its inherent capacities to aid in the construction of our physical and moral urbanity could not be more apparent. Businesses are seen by Government to be nothing more than a tax roll number by our modern legislators; nothing more than a source of irritation as it is rifles against ever increasing tax and regulatory burdens. At its worst there is an increasing number of youth who see business as the enemy of social good. When did these people become divorced from the moral context of what a business does and its role in healthy and vibrant communities? When did the desire for the creation of self-reliant and compassionate individuals and organizations become so detached from our political dialogue?
Truth be told the corporate community has become politically illiterate. All the while materially garnering its success through the years it has abdicated the political sphere to the detriment of everyone; particularly those most deserving; those who depend on us directly—our employees. Through misdirected philanthropic urges, the politics of our time and for the past generation corporate Alberta, large and small, have left the political guard-post of public discourse open only to be walked past unchallenged by others. As Richard Yates once pined, “…things will fall apart when the best in our society lose their conviction”. Have Alberta’s entrepreneurs lost their will? Have our business owners and leaders lost their conviction while labor and others organize and politically engage our youth? Are we the absentee landlords letting the political squatters of our time dictate our social outcomes?
Labour ‘is political. And rightfully so, yet business people of goodwill, not doing the same in regard to everyday political activity is not acceptable. There are a many reasons to do so. From educating our children to participating and advocating for our way of life, be it the individual to larger organizational constructs, that it is not just about business but what business does that is critical determinant of our cultural outcomes. Business is not someone or something to cover the rate payer’s appetites; it is the foundation of the social contract that allows us much, if not all, of the material wellbeing of our society. Capital and the people who create it are not engaged. We all believe in the power of competition to create better outcomes and a healthier society. So why is there no true policy competition in our political market place of ideas — those who create and maintain our way of life and those who seemingly do not understand that those same people who create the wealth are being marginalized? If there ever was a time for business to stand up, support initiatives, and to be active, it is now. Without the business community’s voice, society has become a monologue between the silent ratepayers and existing expressions of interests that are undermining our current way of life. Entrepreneurialism and its cultural importance in our social outcomes need to be heard.
The ideas are out there. All that is required is for the good men and women of our business community are to be heard and to support those activities to challenge our present malaise. To put a twist on a quote from Hebert Hoover I will leave you with this thought.
“Cultural depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement. Cultural wounds must be healed by the action of the cells of the economic body — the producers and consumers themselves.”
Waiting is not an option.