Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department announced the nation’s Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures for the second quarter of 2009 fell at another record level. In other words, people are buying and selling very little in this country right now. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has read the ad section of a newspaper or visited a mall in the past few months: stores are closing left and right, running liquidation sales and doing anything they can to get rid of so much product. What everyone’s trying to sell doesn’t matter, because to put it simply, no one’s buying. The question is, “What have we done wrong, both as consumers and as vendors, in the past? What are we doing wrong as we look toward our future?”
Although bad economic news is something that we seem to be getting used to in these trying times, our national economic strategy should instead focus on how to solve our woes by changing what we measure and how we value its true impact. The GDP measures the overall value of a country’s economic output in terms of consumption, but it doesn’t address or consider the values or priorities of the output. We need to focus on what’s important outside of money; take for example regard to the pollution economic activity produces or other societal problems. The GDP can’t measure that kind of issue in raw data.
One may attribute the decline in economic activity to the increasing number of disenfranchised families, rising unemployment, collapsing environmental systems, and unprecedented pollution. But although macro-analysis,the process of solving a problem by looking at larger factors, can be used as an important tool to monitor national economic activity, it’s the micro-decisions – “Should I buy that?”- that is the ultimate driver of any analysis. Changing how much we consume will certainly have a net effect on output statistics such as GDP, but changing how and where we consume changes the paradigm.
In today’s society there is a growing focus on societal and environmental issues. Instead of focusing solely on financial bottom lines, otherwise known as capital or enterprise, companies are adopting a broader perspective that includes a triple bottom line: society, environment and enterprise. This change in business application includes operating in ecologically efficient ways that restore, rather than destroy, the environment.
But until we as business owners gain the trust of our nation’s government and citizens, and until we learn to trust them, there is still a long way to go to achieve our goals. In recent months we have experienced a “clash of values” that makes it difficult for us to give money-owners the benefit of the doubt. The misalignment between banks and taxpayers began with a significant amount tax dollars being infused into for-profit banks and continued when the very same banks attempted to raise fees and rates to further bolster their financial position knowing that the government had previously committed to their survival. This is pure greed, plain and simple.
So as consumers we exist in a society where economic growth is measured, but societal costs are ignored and as taxpayers, the decision to support too-big-to-fail corporations is made for us. As for ourselves, our dollars are by far our biggest tool for effecting change. When we choose where we bank, where we let others hold and use our money, we create a powerful relationship. Our banks should be aligned with our values and represent our priorities. It may sound hackneyed, but we all must take the time to re-learn to care for others before ourselves. Even more powerful than regulation is the privilege to be in business and serve your employees, shareholders and stakeholders.
It is the consumer, or in this case the depositor, that provides the privilege, and that depositor can take it away. The shortest path to success is direct and swift action; bank depositors should come to the realization that if informed, and if properly measured, they can affect drastic and meaningful change by considering where to rest their money. As a result of the decisions they make, change is on the way.
By Dan Parker. Dan Parker works with SustainLINK, an organization that helps depositors make intelligent decisions regarding their deposits, as well as small and medium sized organizations to measure their sustainability through an innovative efficiency ratio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.