Updating the Social Contract

Feed a person once, it elicits appreciation.

Feed him twice, it creates anticipation.

Feed him three times, it creates expectation.

Feed him four times, it becomes an entitlement.

Feed him five times, it produces dependency.

Robert D. Lupton Charity Detox

I read this book over the weekend. Although it primarily deals with the failure of our current “charity” models in the United States and around the world, I found application for it elsewhere.

Lupton talk about social entrepreneurs in the book, people who believe that while profitable enterprise is necessary, profit that elevates the community is much more valuable than profit that only benefits a few stakeholders.

I consider myself a social entrepreneur. I remember coming across the concept a few years back reading articles published by thinkers like Michael Porter, Nilofer Merchant and others.

I find Lupton writing especially poignant and current because of the situation in my hometown. We have a serious issue with codependency.

For decades, the economy was largely based on the extraction industries, timber and aggregates. A combination of technology, reduced demand, and environmental restrictions reduced that footprint significantly and in many ways the local economy has never really recovered from it.

During the Clinton Administration, the Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act was passed providing what was intended to be temporary relief, kind of like spousal maintenance in a divorce, a subsidy while the economy transitioned to other industries.

 It was initially planned for six (6) years, but has been extended several times. We didn’t get the message and really haven’t done a good job of transitioning.

All though we have a great location, and a world class university, the biggest employers in our community are governmental agencies and not for profits. Not a good long-term model.

Lupton argues, and I agree, that only a strong for profit based economy fuels stable healthy communities. He argues for what he calls holistic community development. That model measures return on investment not only in financial return to shareholders. You ask questions like:

·         Is the community coming together?

·         Is healthy leadership emerging?

·         Is self-sufficiency increasing?

I don’t blame progressive political leadership for all of where we are, in fact corporate leaders introduced the concept of codependency many years back.

 Over two hundred years ago that some of our founding fathers were struggling with two related concepts as we tried to distinguish ourselves from the feudal system, a system that distinguished between a ruling or ownership class and serving class determined at birth, that we had left behind. One of those concepts we have held onto with a passion, declaring it to be one of the cornerstones of the American experiment- the concept of personal property ownership; the idea that through your own achievement you should have the ability to accumulate and own property without regard to your prior economic or social status. This is the cornerstone of the capitalist system. We hear this principle invoked every day, especially when we feel that the government is inserting itself where it doesn’t belong.

The other principle that we don’t hear nearly as much about is the right of personal competency. The rights to build your skills, express yourself, and sell your products and services as you saw fit. The interesting thing is that there was not only an implied right, but a responsibility.

The Industrial Revolution impacted this model in a couple of ways. We shifted from an agrarian society to industrial which created a new kind of feudalism, a new dynamic which moved from the fields to the factories, but kept its own version of master and serf; and we ran out of territory to open.

Prior to the legislation passed in the late thirties and early forties we created a kind of industrial serfdom- collective bargaining was formally or informally outlawed- we restricted the rights of personal competency.

It also seems in a way that over the next sixty years we gradually embraced a semi-feudal model. Large corporations in many ways replaced the feudal monarchs and nobility- we created a sort of corporate co-dependency, especially under the models of Theory X and Frederick W. Taylor and scientific management; which states simplistically that we should break things down to repetitive tasks that common people could perform over and over without much thought.

People couldn’t be trusted or expected to make good decisions. We needed to dumb things down. This was the advent of white collar- those who think, and blue collar- those who do.

They would do what they were told and in return the nobility or management would take care of them, and we did. We promised lifetime employment, we provided for their healthcare, and for their retirement. I’m not going to say we did it willingly; organized labor played a huge role in providing these things as well as industrial safety, limitations on work hours, and others. It does seem though in a way we lost the equality factor, we began to “take care of them”, and they began to expect it.

Management wasn’t willing to or couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain for the long term.

We saw parents and grandparents who had been promised “lifetime employment” lose their jobs. Capitalism or personal property remained, but often at the expense of the American worker as we outsourced, downsized, and off shored to protect profit margins. People became a “cost” rather than an investment, this was the birth of the concept of human capital, an expression I still despise.

That is why we continue to lose billions annually due to the costs of dis-engagement and the ancillary costs of unhappy, unfulfilled employees.

Upton says in his book that creating a codependent relationship with someone is the most disrespectful action you can take in a relationship. I couldn’t agree more.

He goes on to make two other statements that resonate with me-

·         You can’t serve people out of poverty, you create codependency instead.

·         Education alone will not solve poverty issues.

The problem with education alone is that often it creates social mobility, the best and brightest leave their communities rather than reinvest or return.

Upton describes a different model that he refers to as the Three R’s of Community Development-

·         Re-neighboring, under this model we create mixed income communities. Instead of outsiders providing charity or services you have neighbors/residents who are invested in upgrading the community because they live there!

·         Reconciliation, when we create economic and racial/ethnic diversity you create neighbors who are invested in the infrastructure and success of their community.

·         Redistribution, is based on exchange. The idea that everyone in the community has something to offer and bring to the table. He mentions that interestingly sharing resources is much more common in less affluent neighborhoods.

Some of this might sound like a pipe dream, but I agree with Lupton that there is no such thing as a non-profit on a sustainable basis. You may have entities that re-invest their surpluses in their mission, but organizations that can’t sustain themselves are destined to fail.

He recommends a model of economic missionaries, people who invest their expertise and vision not just write checks. He calls it results based charity.

In our community, we have a homeless issue, but many of our solutions are based on continuing a pattern of codependency and entitlement rather than building capacity. In fact, we have created an environment where new businesses don’t care to relocate here and existing businesses struggle because of a toxic environment.

I am not promoting purely trickle- down economics, but I am promoting more social entrepreneurialism. I would rather see us invest in vocational training and community development efforts that additional entitlement programs.

Everyone is capable of and should be respected enough to contribute to their community. Those who are unwilling need to move on, not be subsidized.

We aren’t going to build a stronger community with not for profits and government agencies as our economic engine.

I am an advocate for personal competency which I don’t think of see as someone taking care of someone else.

I hear a lot from people that the new Generations are much different than previous generations. They aren’t loyal. They want more freedom and definition of their work and involvement.

·         They expect to be treated with respect and want to respect their employer

·         They expect clear expectations

·         They define loyalty as a mutual investment

·         They focus on identity based trust rather than trust invested in certifications or titles

 I hear a trust based relationship between equals. Maybe these “new” generations are taking us back to the beginning. From compliance to commitment, a relationship based on respect, responsibility, information, rewards, and earned loyalty not the fealty of corporate codependency, where “obedience” is rewarded with job security and retirement benefits.

Our Founding Fathers believe that with the principles of personal property and personal competency were the values of the balance between individual rights and societal rights. I don’t have the right to pursue my goals to the obvious and callous detriment of others. Madison in the famous debates between Brutus and Publius talked about a central government to deal with issues of the great and aggregate.

Let’s build better models. Let’s build them with respect for individual capacity and capabilities as a foundation and develop more social entrepreneurs with a focus on building stronger communities.


Back >