Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Unlikely End-Run

So much of what is wrong with society today can be traced back to about the time I was just graduating from college in 1972.

Back then there were just 175 registered lobbying firms according to an incredible article published this month by Stanford professor Dr. Francis Fukuyama, one of the neo-conservative founders of the magazine, The American Interest.

Roadside billboard barons back then were busy gutting the Highway Beautician Act but they stood out as exceptions and now I know why.  Today, having pacified virtually any enforcement of that act, a group such as this has become the rule at every level of government.

It is no coincidence that Americans now rank Congress next to last among professions regarding honesty and ethical standards.  Even lower is the ranking for lobbyists.

Reading that the number of lobbying firms increased 14-fold alone during just the first decade of my now concluded four-decade career in sense-of-place economic development before reaching a whopping 13,700 by the time I retired years ago, brought to mind an eloquent rant I listened to on the return leg of a cross-country road trip last fall.

One of the advantages of being a long-time political independent is being free to glean insight from all along the ideological spectrum.  The End Game for Democracy by progressive-leaning journalist and commentator Bill Moyer goes hand in hand with Dr. Fukuyama’s article on the other end of the spectrum.

The conservative columnist, David Brooks recommends that strengthening the executive branch is the solution.  A moderate Republican friend of mine and former local official would probably agree.  He speculates that regulations have become cumbersome and rigid primarily because so many executives fail to enforce them.CDP

Fukuyama’s article appeared a few days after New York Times coverage of a new report by investor-inspired CDP showing that nearly 30 of America’s largest corporations including five major oil companies are not waiting for Congress to break free of special interests blocking it from taking action to control global warming.

Realizing that a market based cap and trade system such as that working so well to reduce Acid Rain will ultimately be the most cost effective way to reduce emissions, these corporations have already begun to incorporate a price on carbon in long range plans.

This hopeful news followed a report a week earlier in The Atlantic magazine about a community of more than 830 businesses across 28 countries and 60 industries worldwide enrolled in B Corps, a way to use market-based, scalable solutions “to compete not just to be the best in the world but the best for the world.”

The authors of the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, who categorize themselves as libertarian paternalists, would likely agree.  These efforts are nudges to do the right thing.

Many states (20 have passed laws including Delaware and 18 more are working on it) are even establishing a new category of business incorporation called Benefit Corporations.  Unfortunately, North Carolina, where I live, lagging behind its neighbors to the north and south, is still one of 15 states failing to make progress, if not moving backwards.

The designation recognizes in a corporation’s legal DNA a signal to investors and consumers that this types of business considers what’s good for the earth and its inhabitants as good for good for business, a new style capitalism.

Together with certification programs such as Durham, NC-based Green Plus and a ground swell toward social entrepreneurism, I have hope that democratic institutions will one day be reclaimed from the stranglehold of “winner-take-all” special interests.

If reading all of this makes you feel as optimistic as it does me, click here for a report disclosing corporate and investor exposure to deforestation in terms of “operational, reputational and regulatory risks and opportunities and the value creation and erosion.”

Deforestation today contributes as much to greenhouse gas emissions as all of the cars, trucks, motorcycles, ships, airplanes and trains put together.  Look soon for “deforestation-free” designations in the marketplace.

And one day soon, this report will also help corporations understand their contribution to deforestation and value erosion from marketing departments that still condone roadside billboards.

Just sayin!

No comments: