One wonders what Gordon Gekko would have thought about the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. A minor distraction perhaps, as it is indeed true that despite many a boom and bust, the great wheels of capitalism have continued turning with ever increasing urgency. And as self interest is at very heart of capitalism, should the world end in 2012, it can be surmised that greed has been mankind’s overarching sin of the last century. Our most serious spiritual issue today is reckless and untamed greed. It is greed that has caused our 2Gs and Adarshes, and their Enrons and Worldcoms. It is greed that is responsible for outlandish CEO salaries and disenfranchised daily wage earners. It is greed that is responsible for endless stress and tensions in our urban jungles. It is greed that is pushing us into becoming a race of clamorous “haves and have mores”. Don’t believe those who say that lust is the deadliest of the seven sins.
Much of the socio-political and economic discontent we see around us today is a result of the demands of today’s corporate machinery for higher growth rates, higher consumption and higher profits at all costs. Corporate culture of the last century has created an environment that persistently compels business captains to earn more and more for themselves and their companies. Like teenagers unwittingly passing a future alcoholic his first beer, lenders and shareholders have enabled this pervasive corporate greed beyond redemption. There was a time that was indeed simpler and life did not revolve around double digit growth rates and credit spreads. But today, we pay with our livelihoods if corporates fail. The 2001 dot com bust, the Asian Financial Crisis and the subprime bust-up are all examples of our companies and banks gone so glass-eyed with greed that they could not see the cliff behind the garden. And millions lost their livelihood as a result even as the suits survived and sometimes even prospered, thanks to the big bailout. So we respond by occupying Wall Street, rioting and generally pressuring our governments into letting the big guys fail. This is capitalism after all isn’t it? But this is not what capitalism set out to achieve. It was supposed to be a meritocracy within limits.
Our quest for more and even more has made it like a free for all shoot out. And we the little guys are equally to blame. The seven billion of us are burning through the planet's resources at a dangerous rate. Consider this - the consumption of goods and services in 2010 was at $30.5 trillion, up almost 30% over the previous year. And this consumerist culture is no longer mostly a western (read American) habit but is clearly spreading across the globe. Material excess has been anointed the new symbol of success in developing countries from Brazil to India to China. China is already the biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. And plenty more folks want to be rich, and quickly. In this quest all balance is being dispensed with. Until we recognize that our environmental problems, from climate change to deforestation to species loss, are driven by unsustainable habits, we will not be able to solve the ecological crises that threaten our civilization. Almost 33 million acres of tropical forests are destroyed each year and most of this is as a result of corporate needs. Our rivers are increasingly unable to sustain any form of life in them and swathes of fertile farmland are acquired from unwilling farmers, thereby rendering them fallow in time. And we haven’t yet talked of the Deepwater Horizons and the Bhopals of the world, where, thanks to corporate carelessness, both environmental and human damage were of gargantuan proportions.
We are clearly leaving behind a world much more dangerous than the one we inherited. Obviously, in our single minded approach to have and consume more, we’ve abandoned virtues of balance, frugality and compassion. We are leaving behind massive debt, loss of freedom and liberty and more worryingly, a next generation that that has an insatiable appetite for consumption. If the world does indeed come to an end in 2012, prepare for hell. The Gekkos of the world have had too long a run with “dollars pumped with steroids”, as he so succinctly put it in his return to the big screen last year. If you haven’t caught on, the human race is the biggest bubble right now. And the pinprick is coming.
P.S: This article first appeared in the December 2011 issue of 'KINDLE'