The Real Bottom Line

We have created a globe-spanning financial system that reaches into the most remote parts of the world. It generates an endless flood of information about how it is functioning, and we are beseiged by advice about how we can profit from it. But what it doesnít do, and indeed, canít do, is step outside of itself and answer questions of how it fits in with broader and deeper human values. It only knows about profit and loss, and applies that simple calculus over and over again, refusing to look at larger questions.

There is nothing to prevent me from putting this money machine in gear and, for example, harvesting giant trees from a tropical rain forest, sending the logs off to a factory that has come up with the lowest bid, and converting them to disposable chopsticks. As long as I sell these chopsticks at a profit, I am a success in terms of our worldwide economic system. There is nothing within the system itself that demands that I evaluate the importance of these trees as part of a forest ecosystem which, in turn, is a part of a global ecosystem. Nor need I concern myself about the workers in the factory whose owner came up with the lowest bid. The pollution the factory creates that harms its workers and the local environment does not enter into my calculations. Nor do I have to ask myself whether the world really needs disposable chopsticks to begin with. All I need do is pursue the economic bottom line and make money.

We have replaced ourselves as genuine human beings with a diminished economic self, and told ourselves it really doesnít matter. But we can hardly hide from what we are doing. Every product that we create needs to be evaluated in a truly human way. Where are the raw materials for its creation coming from? How disruptive will it be to harvest them, and bring them to where we need them? What will happen to the packaging of our product, and how will this product be recycled at the end of its useful life? What impact will its creation have on the workers who bring it into being? And does it even make sense to expend precious human time and energy on what we are planning to make? We may imagine that such questions are all too inconvenient, but in the long run they are essential. The real bottom line is not the money we can make, but the human values that we enhance by our activities.