Size Matters

This past week’s financial troubles illustrate an obsession with the value of size and the inherent dangers of uncontrolled growth that have been plaguing our financial, commercial (and social) life for far too long. Quite apart from the old sexual innuendo about the value of “large” (or maybe because of it), we have become slaves to “big” in every aspect of our lives. Freed from sensible regulation and government oversight as well as moral and rational constraints, business corporations have been getting larger and larger by the year, snaffling up the competition like greedy trolls as they seek to bloat their bottom lines. As they do so, the richness of life has been depreciated, and, along with it, the care and concern for every member of society.

A handful of “big guys” now control almost every area of the economy. Everyone wants to be the WalMart or Home Depot in their field. It’s all about having more power to dominate and control their markets, and of course make lots and lots of cash (and maybe that thing between their legs). Corporate law encourages this by demanding that the first priority of a corporation is to make gobs of money for its shareholders (if you want a great perspective on this see The Corporation, an excellent Canadian documentary on the dangers of big business).

But there are huge problems in this trend towards big. We’ve become all too familiar with “WalMart Effect”, whereby the construction of a superstore in an area eliminates smaller stores, homogenizes the market and, in many cases, destroys local economies. This same principle applies throughout the natural world. Living systems thrive on variety. If one particular aspect becomes too dominant, the delicate web of existence can be upset, and life threatened. Cancer is a classic example. Cancer cells always exist in our bodies, but as long as they are in balance with the rest of the physiology they are no danger. When circumstances such as bad diet or environmental pollution allow their uncontrolled growth they can kill off the very body which gives them life. Anybody watching events on Wall Street the last few days cannot avoid noticing the similarities.

According to U.S. Senator Bernie Saunders on his website ( : “We must end the danger posed by companies that are “too big to fail,” that is, companies whose failure would cause systemic harm to the U.S. economy. If a company is too big to fail, it is too big to exist….We should not be trying to solve the current financial crisis by creating even larger, more powerful institutions. Their failure could cause even more harm to the entire economy.”

Author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken (Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution) believes this desire for dominance in business, government (and even religious belief for that matter), is a failing idea which is now being replaced by a silent revolution of grass roots community activism. In his latest book, Blessed Unrest, How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming he describes the convergence of the environmental and social justice movements as the largest and fastest growing social movement in history, comprising over one million organizations worldwide. Its strength lies in its diversity and the smaller scale of each component part. Collectively, he calls this movement a “Third Superpower”. Essentially it reflects a desire to govern society on behalf of everyone and not just a small number of special elites. You know, “Government for the People, by the People.”

Those who mock the value of Barack Obama’s time spent as a community organizer, dismiss what potentially may be his most valuable asset for future governance. As the bumper sticker says: “Jesus was a community organizer.” This response is not surprising since, under the huge misnomer of “a free market”, they are probably the same people who have been encouraging unregulated growth by big business for many years now. And we can see how well that works. According to sources quoted in today’s New York Post (9/21/08), the market was just 500 trades from a complete financial meltdown last Friday.

It’s another sign of the crucial watershed that has now been reached in the world between old, worn out ideas and enlightened new principles; and how vital it is that we each wake up to our responsibilities at this critical time, so that when we vote we make the choices that guarantee a safer and more equitable future for everyone.

Our lives depend upon it in more ways than we can imagine.