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We are running our world as though people don’t matter

What’s the most common thing you hear political and business leaders say about Kenya’s insecurity problem? That it’s having a bad effect on the economy. That as tourism implodes, economic purchasing power heads south. That as fear pervades the nation, the investment climate suffers.

What’s wrong with this picture? All of the above is true, but does it really capture the essential point? We should indeed be worried about the financial impact of what happens in our nation, but is that really all there is to worry about?

Here’s a crazy thought for you: insecurity is first and foremost a major problem because our people are dying and suffering, not because businesses are affected.

Many years ago, E. F. Schumacher published a thought-provoking little book: ‘Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.’ The ‘people mattered’ part of that is really important. I studied economics myself, and it was never because I wanted to learn how to use equations to maximize profit. It was because I wanted to understand the welfare of the human collective, and what systems and philosophies can optimize the wellbeing of people. People. Not abstract entities or organizations or nations.

Schumacher warned that if we elevate goods above people, and consumption above creative activity, we will limit what it means to be human. And guess what – we did exactly that.

Have you ever asked yourself why our practice of business and economics is so far removed from what we are taught in our spiritual traditions, or even from what we know to be true in our normal lives as human beings? Why are we so preoccupied with accounting abstractions like GDP and PBT, but not the human beings that create them?

The extreme of that approach is visible in Kenya today. Work is done primarily to benefit others, so it is viewed as a chore, a necessary evil, something to be avoided. Humans are viewed as resources, so the aim is to wring every drop of work out of them whilst pretending to motivate them. Because society is structured for the privileged few, the majority lead lives of futility and frustration. The worker tries to dodge work; the employer tries to replace workers with machines.

Even more chillingly, a few deaths, or even a lot, are not really a big deal in Kenya. The little people die all the time – in road crashes, in acts of thuggery, in the attacks of terrorists, or through the deeds of those who sell them dangerous alcohol or fake medicines. It’s OK. It’s all just road kill, collateral damage. As long as the big people are safe. That’s why we have heavily armed forces protecting the well-to-do, but can barely muster a response when it’s the little folk being slaughtered.

The sooner we realize that this is not a natural state of being, the better for all of us. It is not natural to have to live behind razor wires and security alarms for fear of your fellow man; it is not natural to worry that should you have an accident on a highway the first thing that people running to the scene are likely to do is rob you.

Schumacher pointed out very eloquently that this situation is not sustainable. Slowly but surely, the social fabric erodes; people get engaged in a me-first struggle for survival; fights for land and resources erupt everywhere; and the environment is destroyed for narrow personal gain. Sound familiar?

So how would we do things differently? How would we run the world – our nations and our corporations – as though people mattered? It can be done, and is being done. To see what such a world looks like, see you here next Sunday morning.

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