Business and the Great Society

On January 4, 1965, in Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union Address he stated …. ”we begin a new quest for union. We seek the unity of LBJman with the world that he has built—with the knowledge that can save or destroy him—with the cities which can stimulate or stifle him—with the wealth and the machines which can enrich or menace his spirit. We seek to establish a harmony between man and society which will allow each of us to enlarge the meaning of his life and all of us to elevate the quality of our civilization.” As America contemplates the fifty-year legacy of Johnson’s “Great Society”, it is worthwhile to consider the role of business, if any, in the “War on Poverty.”

During the ongoing debates, blogs and commentaries over the success or failure of Johnson’s programs, there is a gushing tendency to present incalculable numbers of people living in poverty. Somehow, in the political rhetoric espousing differing philosophies and agendas, what seems to be lost is the question where we collectively ask, Why is it the world’s wealthiest nation cannot feed, house and educate all of its citizens? If there are those who believe that government should not be in the business of social welfare, then they must also agree that business is not the answer either. Business does however, have a duty to be a responsible co-member of society. What gives some people the most difficulty in assessing the value of the Johnson’s social programs is the moral assumption that any system that provides the basic necessities of survival on a routine basis will lead to a systemic dependency that deteriorates the will for self-determination.

As evidence of this phenomenon critics point to is the raw numbers of those seem trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. On the other hand, to focus solely on poverty rates when assessing the results of the Great Society’s initiatives is to ignore what was at the heart of Johnson’s plan – to create economic opportunity for all of America’s residents; to break down the walls and impediments to gaining full access to the opportunities this society has to offer. Johnson never intended that government should be the solitary provider of social support for America’s poor. Consider the types of programs proposed, which were designed to provide better schools, better healthcare, better living conditions, as well as better training for better job opportunities, it is clear that monetary handouts were not the goal. All of the programs initiated were designed to bolster those at the bottom of the economic spectrum or to combat decades of cultural and economic disparity.

From a business perspective, the day-to-day objectives of growing a concern notwithstanding, a visionary approach to economic development in the United States should be viewed, by business, as being in its own interests. Local, small businesses provide more than goods and services; they offer jobs, something which gives people a greater sense of community than any government-funded program could every provide. Poverty and economic instability are the enemies of business as well as governments. Yet, less than two percent of Fortune 500 companies take a pro-active approach to poverty, most are reactive and more than a few take no action what-so-ever. Since the term globalization came into vogue, the reality of the working poor has come along as well. These are the groups of people who, no matter how many hours they work, cannot raise their economic status above the poverty level. Lax or nonexistent working standards around the world have led to a situation whereby more than 3 billion people, nearly half the world’s population, live on $2.50 or less a day. This is not only a morally intolerable situation it is wholly unsustainable as well. The good news is that business can take a lead role in addressing the issues of inequality and poverty. To become an organization that is pro-active in its sense of social responsibility, try these approaches:

–          Go beyond legal compliance; actively engage your employees and community on issues of responsibility.

–          Think in terms of societal responsibility, not just social responsiveness.

–          Have a triple E standard of behavior (Ethics, Equity & Effectiveness).

–          Communicate in-out, out-in, up-down, down-up.

–          Do the right things right.

–          Do well by doing good.

–          Discard the pyramid model of business growth

Businesses who increase revenues and profits become job creators and as employment grows, the economy broadens; goods and services are more accessible, better schools are built, living conditions improve, people are less reliant on government intervention and America comes closer to that Great Society.

~ Richard


About Richard
I have spent my entire life learning to be a better communicator in in all facets of my life. I have learned as much from my failures as I have from success; laughing, crying and loving along the way. After earning a B.S. in Communications I decided to share what I have learned while continuing my own personal growth. I believe that the better we are to each other, the richer our lives will become.

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