Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is Money Good? Is Money Bad?

The new BNZ ads around money being good or bad has me grinding my teeth every time I see it. It's a horrid oversimplification of the issue.

The problem isn't so much that money is bad (it's an inanimate object - it would be trying to attribute a sense of evilness on a rock) but rather, the system used to reward people doesn't take into account ethical issues. For example, the "Yes Men" went after Dow Chemical (who brought Union Carbide - the company inadequately held responsible for the Bhopal disaster). They went onto BBC news posing as Dow Chemical representatives and accepted full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster. For the full story, download the Yes Men's 2nd movie here (a totally legal "p2p" version).

The effect? Dow Chemical's stock prices plummeted. They climbed again when it was revealed to be a hoax.

In 2008 China had the Milk Scandal. In this case, sure, people stopped buying the products but only after a couple of infant deaths. And these deaths only occurred because of greed. When money is the prime object (because "you've got to eat"), where do ethics fit in?

We've also enabled this psychopathic behaviour in the form of banks and corporations. What do I mean?

Psychopathic behaviour can be thought of as completely logical. Ethics is not involved at all. So given this story (got this in a chain email a long time ago - I can't find the original email):
A woman attends the funeral of her mother and sees a man who she instantly falls in love with. After the funeral she tries to track down the man. She asks all of her family members if they know who he was. None of them seem to know who he is.
A month later, she kills her sister. Why?
Most people try to fill in some information. Most people will say something like "Her sister was dating the guy?". However, there's enough information to come to, what to most people is, a chilling conclusion. She killed her sister in order to meet the man again (presumably at her sister's funeral).

What are the banks interested in when lending you money? They're not interested in the fact that you are quite probably buying a home for your family. They're more interested in your ability to pay it back. But that's not it either. A friend of mine went to get a mortgage and didn't get it because the amount being asked for was too low. So it's not only the ability to pay it back but also their ability to get you stuck - it's more profitable.

And corporations are essentially businesses that are granted the same rights as people. But where are the ethics? The conscience? They are essentially psychopathic entities.

The most galling bit about it all though: Immoral behaviour is hidden by the term "ethical". Working in the best interests of the share holders is ethical. That means maximising profits.

Think about our consumer goods. The attached documentary is about the chocolate industry and the slavery used.

I'm not sure of the legalities of including this video clip with this blog post but it is available on youtube and I think including it here is in line with the documentaries goals.

Given my views on copyright and how there seems to be a move to try to limit information and it's distribution, I'm quite willing to take the risk.
We all know about sweat shops and the fact that the reason we can get clothing as cheaply as we can is sweat shops. And sure, there's a counter argument here - that the people in these sweat shops are often thankful to have a job.

But, it shows that capitalism doesn't work. Those values that we place so highly aren't afforded elsewhere. We're taught that it's okay or that it's not okay but there's nothing we can do about it anyway.

The system sucks. The system, at times, seems to encourage immoral behaviour and discourage ethical behaviour. The accumulation of money seems to trump ethics until we're using those same words to describe the accumulation of money.

But capitalism is supposed to be based upon the ethics of people. If you believe something to be unacceptably unethical, then the people are supposed to talk with their wallets. This is ineffective in New Zealand in particular - how often do we complain about the food at a particular eatery but then go back the following day/week/month?

So is it that money is bad, or is it that our apathy, while encouraged but still bears our taking responsibility, leads to the rewarding of unethical behaviour? And if unethical behaviour is so ingrained in certain industries, such as clothing/footwear, what are our options for breaking the mould? Is there ethical clothing to be had, while still functioning within modern society? And if our whole economic situation is based upon the price of common commodity goods such as clothing, can we afford to clothe ourselves in more ethical ways without the blatant exploitation of people?

The answer to that question can probably be found in eggs. There's a movement towards free range eggs BUT there's a price to be paid for free range eggs. A lot of people won't buy free range eggs because of the price differential compared to battery farm eggs. And following the theme of this post, it seems that there's VERY little in the words "Free Range". So it turns out you can charge twice as much for "Free Range" eggs while still maintaining overcrowded conditions with de-beaking and the sort. So even if you choose to do what is supposedly the ethical thing, it seems business adjusts to take advantage of it to turn over higher profits - essentially a reward for unethical behaviour.

And I'm not saying that you can't do good things with money. But the accumulation of money seems to lead to some questionable behaviour all in the name of maximising profit. Hell, I've been struggling with this myself. How ethical is it to charge for development after the fact? Assuming that development is done regardless of investment i.e. The services and development sold as a package thus the development has to already be done, am I always going to then be chasing to recoup those costs? And assuming that one project isn't enough to live on, i.e. the demand for that development isn't high enough to make a full time living (yet), is it ethical to also charge to start to pay for the costs of future development? At what point does that just turn to greed?

So in terms of framing a question - "Is money good? Is money bad?" - BNZ, you get a huge FAIL from me. There are much bigger questions in there and BNZ, you've opened that door around "good or bad" - essentially asking the ethical question. Let's have a real debate around this marketing campaign.

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