Downsizing Detroit – Anyone want a farm?

A friend of mine sent me this interesting, and kind of disturbing article about Detroit’s proposed solution to its urban sprawl and diminishing populations: tearing down the neighbourhoods and creating new agricultural land.

It has taken me a while to write about it, because, honestly, I wasn’t sure what I could say – it is heartbreaking to see a city that was built on the promises of a modern world in decay and decline. But it is also unsurprising – thanks to Michael Moore’s early films like Roger and Me (which focused on Flint, MI), it is widely known that Detroit was made promises by the auto industry that were not kept.

Promises that could not be kept given the current legislation that deals with corporations (and, yes, I realize that legislation in the States is different than here). Corporate Charter legislation that demands they provide ever-increasing profit to their shareholders, regardless of consequences. ‘Free’-Trade Legislation that makes it more affordable to build cars 1,000 or 5,000 kilometres away from the market where they will be sold than to pay union wages. Accounting and Income Tax legislation that allows companies to externalize environmental and social justice repercussions of the decisions they make. And, finally, a legislative bundle that has created an entire generation of corporate CEOs and profiteers with a twisted set of values where a dollar is more important that a human life and lying is justified when it will make more profit.

I don’t really have a problem with delivering value and profit, that is what companies are for, after all. The problem I have is with the current definition of ‘value’. As a Green, if a company wants to deliver value to me, then it had better be thinking, not just about the jingle of money in my piggy bank, but also the long-term health and well-being of me, my children and my community. I care about the sustainability of my investments, I want to know that it is a good idea not just for me, but for my kids and their grand-kids.

And I have to say that the current corporate culture does not seem to be taking us in that direction. Our current system of fines is largely meaningless and has almost no power to change the behaviour of a corporation – especially for the largest ones, the current fines are considered part of doing business, certainly not a deterrent. Yet, in case after case, companies that take better care of their employees, community, and the environment are more profitable than those who insist on sticking to the ‘status quo’.

So here’s what I would like to see: a Corporate Charter granted in Canada would be dependent upon the company agreeing to both domestic and foreign Corporate Social Responsibility Charters and that, if a corporation was in violation of that Charter on a regular basis, that the Charter would be revoked, the Corporation would be dissolved, and the proceeds of asset sales would be used to compensate employees and shareholders. I would like to see the onus of proof on the corporations themselves, and I would like to see this legislation enforced.

Oh, and one other tidbit I would love to see thrown in to deal with exorbitant executive salaries: let’s cap their compensation at 1000x that of the lowest paid worker. That’s right, if you operate in a free trade zone and the worker there makes $0.50 or $1.00 per day, your total compensation (no sneaking around with stock transfers) is going to work out to around $52,000 per year. Too low, you protest. How about 10,000 times? $520,000 doesn’t sound too bad. Does it? Right now, there are many executives being paid 100,000 to 1 million times more than their lowest paid worker. Does that seem right? Do you think that companies would behave differently if their compensation were tied to that of their lowliest employee (contract or part-time)? I do.

As for Detroit, a relic of the modern-age experiment in automobiles, perhaps they will figure out a way to revitalize their economy and transition to sustainable growth through green industry… or maybe it will just become a great place to own a farm.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 12th, 2010 at 2:57 pm and is filed under accountability, Canada, Economics, environment, U.S.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Downsizing Detroit – Anyone want a farm?”

  1. Smartwool ski socks Says:

    Cheers for the info. Greatly appreciated….