Posts Tagged ‘business’

Pride and…?

Those of you who know me, know that I am a huge Jane Austen fan. (No, this is relevant, I swear!) Recently I finished reading a book about the laws and customs of nineteenth-century England, with the cumbersome title of “What Jane Austen Ate And Charles Dickens Knew”, by Daniel Pool. It’s a fun read if you like that sort of thing, as well as being a really good resource for looking things up in.

Not to mention, it was a good distraction from the news this week, since I would otherwise have pretty much spent every evening glued to the television watching the progress of the Gulf oil slick. (Someone explain to me why newscasters persist in referring to it as a “spill”. It’s not like it spilled out of a tanker. If it were a spill, we’d know how much oil there was, for one thing. Okay, pedantic linguist hat off.)

Anyway, here’s an interesting fact from this book: “[e]xcept for railway shares, no one would have had stocks or bonds from private companies until the second half of the century, for the excellent reason that even the smallest shareholders were 100 percent liable to the extent of all their goods and land for any debt incurred by the business of which they were part owners”.

In other words, if a company did something like, oh, let’s say, caused an entirely avoidable disaster due to not putting in failsafe machinery that they had promised they were going to and wiped out a large chunk of the fisheries industry to the tune of several billion dollars a year, then anybody who owned stock in this hypothetical company, which I expect would include all of its upper management, could have everything they owned seized to pay off their debt. No claiming that the corporation is somehow a separate entity; your creditors could come in and take your fancy cars and your million-dollar house and your big fat bonuses that you “earned” at the same time as working people everywhere were losing their jobs and their homes.

I’m not necessarily advocating this (well, not really). There are very good reasons why stocks don’t work this way anymore. Mostly it seems to have to do with encouraging innovation and helping new companies raise capital; also a lot of people’s savings are in stock investments, and they’d be as hard hit as petroleum executives, or more so, by having to be on the hook for this. But at the same time, I can’t help thinking that it would be really good to bring some personal responsibility back into the system. Because I guarantee you, in five years the management at BP are still going to be in cushy jobs (whether there or elsewhere) and the people whose livelihoods they made collapse aren’t going to see much if anything in the way of assistance from them.

There are people who are working on this. (There are people working on everything!) There are municipalities that have already abolished corporate personhood and others that are working on it.

I’m not without hope on this issue. I don’t expect the oil leak to be the wake-up call that some people are hoping it will, because I’m pretty sure that a lot of major corporations are run by sociopaths (ecopaths?). But I do think it’s something visible enough (unlike climate change) that people will get together on it. Most people are not scientists, and the climate change “debate” is murky and unclear to them. Oil washing ashore in Louisiana is pretty damn clear. Maybe we’ll be able to stop new offshore drilling because of this, maybe it’ll convince more people to buy electric cars, maybe maybe maybe. Maybe this will finally be enough.

Like I been sayin’…

The New Economics Foundation, a British think tank, released an interesting report the other day recommending that the work week be cut to 21 hours.

“So many of us live to work, work to earn, and earn to consume, and our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources. Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. We could even become better employees – less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive. It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future.

Which means I’ve finally got documentation to point to when people try to tell me I’m doing it wrong. Ha!

Seriously, though, it sounds like a great idea. I have not yet read the whole report, which is available free as a great big PDF, but the summary is encouraging. Although I do look forward to seeing how they deal with some of the inevitable problems that would arise. For instance, if doctors and nurses were to only work 21 hours a week, we’d need, like, three times as many. (I don’t know what the numbers are like for Britain, but I assume they’re pretty busy over there too.) The NEF talks about encouraging “active training to combat skills shortages and to help long-term unemployed return to the labour force”, but I’m not sure how we’d manage that here with regards to health services, seeing as the government has already been trying to incentivize like mad to get more people to enroll in medical training.

But that’s the kind of thing these think tanks specialize in figuring out, so I’m sure they’ve got answers for it.

Drunk with power

Do you ever just marvel at the sheer amount of stuff available? I don’t mean just weird stuff, like that Slap Chop thing the guy’s always yelling about on TV, or salt shakers shaped like the Statue of Liberty, or Don Cherry’s Rock’Em Sock’Em Hockey videos. I mean just normal stuff.

So I’m at this exhibition of outstanding McGill researchers (this is the actual present tense rather than the narrative present, btw; I’m writing this on the backs of grocery receipts while I wait for coffee [sweet, sweet coffee] to become available) and while I was setting up Peter Brown‘s display table, I managed to tear an embarrassingly large hole in the crotch of my jeans. Hurrah.

As this blog is not the place to discuss conventions of sartorial modesty, I won’t, but I will point out that everyone here is dressed much more nicely than I even without holes in my clothing. In any case, I didn’t want to sit for the next five hours with my underwear peeking out every time I moved my legs, so I went looking for a sewing needle. This is, of course, the one day I forget to bring my sewing kit with me. I’d have made a terrible Boy Scout. (Actually, I was kicked out of Girl Guides for fighting. I’m not a very sociable person. Y’all may have noticed.)

So I found a convenience store and bought one of those little $2.99 sewing kits they have by the cash register. Took it into the washroom, fixed my jeans, and now I’m sitting out here just marvelling at this thing.

Measuring tape. Two safety pins. Four straight pins. Four snaps. Eight buttons. Three needles in a little plastic tube. Threader. Tiny scissors. Ten spools of thread (no white, oddly enough). All in a little plastic box with a latch.

How staggering is it that we live in a place where you can buy this kind of thing in any corner store for less than half an hour’s pay at a minimum wage job? I would want one of these in my lifeboat or my space shuttle or my time machine to the Jurassic. They’re so incredibly useful. (Except the scissors. They couldn’t cut butter.) How much would this have been worth to a pioneer housewife two hundred years ago? How strange is it to realize that it didn’t even occur to me that I might not be able to find one? Of course I would. You can get them everywhere.

How strange is it to think that we live in a place so dependent on imports from other countries? This one is made in China – it could be Thailand or India or Bangladesh or Mexico as easily. How far did it travel to get here? How much more would it cost if it were made here, under our labour and environmental laws?

Who put it together? Who mined the steel and grew the cotton and drilled for the oil, and where? Where were all the pieces spun and molded and forged and dyed? What were the factory conditions like for the workers? How many hours of wages does $2.99 represent for them?

How many people live on less than that every day? How many people die for lack of that much money to buy medicine or water filters or rice? What does it mean that instead of spending that money to help them, I spent it on not being embarrassed at a public function I don’t really want to be at? What does it say about society? What does it say about me?

What am I doing here, sitting in this exhibition hall in my mended jeans while poeple in suits drink wine and eat little nibbly bits of fish on fancy crackers? What’s this all for? What are we contributing here? Events like this should be either useful or fun. Is this fun? I can’t see a single person smiling. Would they be happier if they had more stuff? Would I? Does this cheap sewing kit make me happy? It makes me less embarrassed; is that the same thing? Have I bought $2.99 worth of happiness?

Time to have some wine, I think. Can’t think like this all the time; I will go mad.

Freaks of nature

So I found some apples today, when due to some long and stupid circumstances I ended up going through the fridge of another tenant in my building who’d skipped out on his lease about a month ago. Needless to say, said fridge had gotten pretty nasty, but there was a bag of apples in which about half of them were still good enough to make pie with. So I started cutting up the apples, and this was the weird part. No seeds! I’ve never seen apples without seeds in them before. I looked at the package. Mixed apples from Washington. No mention of them being seedless (and you’d think that’s the kind of thing they’d advertise as a selling point, right?). Really odd. Three different varieties of apples in the bag and only one apple that had any seeds in it.

Intellectually I know that seedless apples aren’t really any odder than seedless bananas, which have a long and honourable (?) history. So there’s no reason to assume these are weird genetically-modified part-llama deliberately-sterilized freak apples. But there’s nothing in Canadian food labelling requirements that requires anyone to tell me if they are. Which is unsettling.

And, yeah, I know I said a few weeks ago that I was going to pay more attention to where my food comes from; but I’m not being inconsistent here, cause I feel like avoiding the throwing away of perfectly good food trumps most other considerations. I have no idea what the provenance of these apples is (other than “Paul’s fridge”, obviously) but the pie smells good so far, so, hey. If I get some sort of alien bursting out of my chest tomorrow, y’all will know what to blame.

(Oh, and today’s Dinosaur Comics is, as usual, topical and awesome.)

Whole Earth Economy business tips

Over at Geoff’s Eco-blog there’s a great new post on “Whole Earth Economy Business Tips”:

Tip 1: Spread the word about the need to re-think our economy. Business is the front line of the economy, the arena in which the exchanges take place that drive our ways of living. Business and consumer choices have an enormous impact on our society and our environment. It is crucial that members of the business community understand the ultimate, long-term ecological crisis our economy faces – a crisis much more serious than the economic and financial crisis of the past year. The problem is not just climate change. It’s also biodiversity losses, threats to ocean health, a nutrient cycle that is out of balance because of fertilization, deforestation, overpopulation and more. We must come to terms with the reality that the global human ecological footprint is greater than what is available, and that we therefore are running an ecological deficit, using up the Earth faster than it can regenerate itself. This means we have to envision a new kind of economy that recognizes the ecological limits of our finite planet Earth.

Click to read the whole article.