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BUS 1050: Renaissance Project

By Shelby Pigott
I did not expect to be motivated to act personally by a class. I expected to
learn and to be challenged, even engaged and expanded, but I did not expect that I
would be motivated to do something beyond the homework required to get a good
grade. My renaissance in this class is that two issues have such far reaching
consequences to society that it is every persons duty to actively get involved in
solving them or we are doomed. I know that sounds very dramatic, and it is
intended to be a dramatic statement. The worlds situation is dire without action
and the system has every incentive to preserve the status quo. It is the status
quo that will kill.
The first issue that inspired a renaissance for me is corporate social
responsibility. This concept would require that corporations take an active role in
determining and lessening their environmental footprint. It would integrate into
their strategic business and financial model the need to determine the cost of their
activities to the environment both locally and globally and to implement ways in
which to minimize, lessen or eliminate that impact. Climate change is a real issue
that faces the world, not just one nation or one company. We need to create a
culture of collaboration on this topic if our planet is to survive.
The second issue that inspired a renaissance for me is the alienation of labor
through the increase in mechanization and, now, isolation due to technology.
People cannot be reduced to doing jobs that are mind numbing and boring where
there is no pride in the end product. The resulting unrest and alienation of large
groups of people is destabilizing for society and creates an earnings gap that is ever
widening instead of moving in the opposite direction.
Charles Darwin, in his article Natural Selection (page 135), makes a
compelling argument that economic systems like biology even and there is a
survival of the fittest. While this premise is comforting, the pace of that kind of
change is too slow given the potential consequences that would flow from either of
these two issues progressing to the logical conclusion: destruction of our planet
through environmental catastrophe or social unrest. Thus, my renaissance is that I
must be part of the solution. If I remain a mere observer, I am part of the problem.
Corporate Social Responsibility
The issue of climate change and the social responsibility of businesses to be
a proactive participant in the solution to this global crisis has become mired with
much baggage, beyond the economic question of who should take the lead on
solving this issue. In the video interview of Dr. Katherine Hayhoe (Discussion 4), she
describes how misinformation about climate change has become both a political
and religious agenda. The conservative Republicans spread distrust and lies
because they do not want further federal government regulation because it conflicts
with the party platform stand on allowing states the latitude to regulate more
locally. Evangelical Christians (who also happen to mainly be conservative
Republicans) have taken the position that climate change is not possible, despite

sound scientific evidence, because people cannot impact what God has created and
anyone who believes otherwise is not a real believer in God. Add to this conflation
of politics and religion the label of socialism, something to be feared in our
democratic country, applied to this concept by people like Milton Friedman (page
274, line 22).
The science is sound. Greenhouse gases are threatening the worlds climate
and endangering the survival of our planet. At the Tanner Forum on Social Ethics
held at SLCC on November 10, 2015, Naomi Klein, award winning author of both The
Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) and This Changes
Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (2014), told us some very sobering facts.
The hottest year ever recorded was 2014. A change in average temperature of two
degrees Celsius is the definition of global climate change. The expectation over the
next five years is an increase in average global temperature of four degrees. Our
world, the earth, is in crisis mode. A solution cannot come too quickly.
Milton Friedman in his article The Social Responsibility of Business Is to
Increase Its Profits (page 271) argues that corporations should not engage in
proactively being part of the solution of societal issues such as climate change. He
argues that to do so means that the company (1) spends the money of its
shareholders by reducing returns they will receive on the stock, (2) spends the
money of customers by raising prices and (3) spends the money of employees by
reducing their wages (page 273, lines 14-19). He argues that these are in essence a
tax and that only the government and the political process should impose a tax and
decide how the proceeds of the tax are to be used (page 275). His conclusion is
that there is one and only one social responsibility of businessto use its resources
and engage in activities designed to increase its profits (page 278, lines6-7).
I would draw some comfort from Mr. Friedmans conclusion if I had any faith
that the government of the United States, and indeed, the governments of all of the
countries in the world since this is a global issue that cannot be solved by one
nation acting responsibly. In his article Moi Goes to Washington (page 301), Joe
Kane points out the futility of convincing governments to act even when the
consequences of the environmental damage are evident and catastrophic. Moi, an
Ecuadorian Huaorani, came to Washington to prompt action on the oil company
destruction of the rainforest in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The damage caused was
both local, the spills had injured the local people and even caused the
disappearance of one local tribe, the Cofan (page 303), and global since the loss of
the Amazon rainforest contributes to global warming on earth. The petroleum
industry has co-opted the government entities with responsibility in both the United
States and Ecuador (page 303). The very unsatisfactory result of relying on the
government to do its job of regulating behavior that negatively impacts climate
change was apparent: neither government did anything, contrary to promises
made, and, in addition, Moi was put in personal jeopardy because of his efforts to
prompt appropriate action (page 314). The result for the world, the environmental
damage escalated: the pipeline ruptured and polluted the river and a well fire
burned out of control polluting the air (page 315).

Recognizing that companies have no incentive to be part of the solution and


that polluting industry buys the government agencies that should be regulating
the damaging behaviors, Ms. Klein described the efforts being made in Canada, the
Leaf Manifesto, to bring together communities of people with the common cause of
positively impacting climate change. She focused on fossil fuels and their efforts to
prompt the move to renewable energy sources. She described how people, working
together, had prompted an informed discussion about creating a new global
economy that is not based on fossil fuels. She provided some very sound business
reasons why companies and governments should support this movement, most
notably the reduction of turbulence in economic returns if fossil fuels are eliminated.
Of course, the appeal to me is that an immediate by product would be a viable plan
to address climate change. She convinced me, and almost everyone else in the
audience judging from the enthusiastic response to her lecture, that I need to be
part of the solution and the one that she proposed has a chance of working.
Alienation of Labor
The alienation of labor, as with corporate social responsibility, bears the
burden of baggage that confuses the issue. It has been associated with
communism, another form of government that is feared by Americans, because
Karl Marx based his economic theories on the struggle between capital and labor. In
his article Alienated Labor (page 203), Mr. Marx focused blamed the private
ownership of property for the cause of the class struggle but he identified the fact
that [t]he worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more
his production increases in power and volume. The worker becomes an ever
cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates (page204, lines30-34).
Another form of baggage this issue bears is the identification of labors
struggles with the warfare between unions and the companies at which unionized
laborers work. The divide, seen from the side of the employee was dramatically told
in the video of the Massacre at Republic Steel (discussion 5). On May 30, 1937,
steel workers staged a peaceful demonstration in front of Republic Steel. The
company had mobilized a police presence to meet the picketers and the police,
virtually unprovoked, began to shot and beat protestors, resulting in injuries, deaths
and arrests. This reaction by management to a peaceful protest is underscored by
the readings that demonstrated how utterly clueless such people were at
understanding how to successfully engage in a meaningful dialogue with their
employees. The article The Personal Relation in Industry by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
(page 279) is a perfect example of the out-of-touch platitudes management uses as
a mechanism to pacify discontent labor.
The article Mike LeFevre, Steel Worker, by Studs Terkel, (page 183,) is a real
life illustration of the issue on a personal level. Terkels character gives you a very
realistic feel for the frustration of a worker who works very hard at his job without
even the satisfaction of seeing the finished product of his labor. His frustration level
is high enough that he resorts to violence in order to get his frustration out (page
185). He is not excited about his job (page 184) and spends his time fantasizing
about his kid going to college and having a different life (page 187). His goal in

life, and his sole focus since his job is so boring and unrewarding, is that his some
become an effete snob (page 189).
The article Man and Machine, by Mahatma Gandhi, (page 214), is a real life
example of the issue expressing itself on a global level. Gandhi looks at how
machines have enabled stronger and wealthier nations to take advantage of less
wealthy nations. Corporations regularly outsource their awful repetitive or
dangerous work to third world nations where they have to pay a mere fraction of the
US minimum wage to the workers. They justify the exploitation by pointing out that
the workers are being paid more than the average wages in the country. The
conditions are poor and the wage is not a living wage, even if it is more than they
would have made without the job. Gandhi worried about both the wage exploitation
and the loss of actual skilled labor jobs to machines (page 216). In a populous
country like India, in his view, that was a recipe for disaster (page 217). Gandhi
recommended that the labourer must be assured, not only of a living wage, but a
daily task that is not a mere drudgery (page 217).
Conclusion
The pace of Darwins promised survival of the fittest is too slow given the
societal ramifications of climate change and the alienation of labor. Corporations
are financially incentivized to maintain the status quo with regard to their
responsibility to find solutions or be part of the solutions on either issue.
Governments are often co-opted by business or controlled by special interest groups
who have their own agenda with regard to the issues, such as the conservative
Republicans and Evangelical Christians. If climate change is not successfully
addressed on a global front, the earth is at risk. If the alienation of labor is not
successfully addressed on a global front, the geopolitical incidents that make the
headlines every day will continue to escalate, threatening the global economy and
peoples safety everywhere. If solutions are to be found and implemented, I now
fundamentally believe that I must actively be part of the process. That realization is
my renaissance.