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Our incentives should be in line with our values
Jun 18, 2004, 12:11a

We need a global economic and social system where our incentives are in line with our values. So frequently I see individuals and organizations doing not what they want to do based on what they know to value, but what they are incented to do by what they have been taught to value. Some people work too much at the expense of being good parents, because they are incented to do so by their salary. Some companies mistreat their employees by maintaining unsafe working conditions, because they are incented to do so by short-term profits.

Capitalism is the best system we have for funneling greed into general well-being, but it's not good. We need something better.

See the excellent excerpt below, by Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech given to the Commonwealth Club of California, 1968:

"What do we stand for? Where do we want to go? Do we stand for our wealth? Is that what is important about America? Is that what is significant about the United States? Asked better perhaps, are we really so wealthy?

Half a million American children suffer from serious malnutrition, and I have seen of them, some of them, I have seen personally some of them starving in the state of Mississippi, their stomachs bloated, their bones and their bodies scarred, many of them retarded for life. Up to 80 percent of some Indian tribes are unemployed. And the suicide rate among the high school children is shockingly high, dozens of times the national average. For the black American of the urban ghetto, we really do not know what its unemployment rate is, because from one-fifth to one-third of these adult men in these areas have literally dropped out from sight, uncounted and unknown by all of the agencies of government, drifting about the cities, without hope and without family and without a future.

By these standards, we are not so rich a country. Truly we have a great gross national product, almost 800 billion dollars, but can that be the criterion by which we judge this country? Is it enough? For the gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife and television programs, which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. And the gross national product, the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither wit nor courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our duty to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America, except why we are proud to be Americans. Is it then that, is it then our wealth or is it our military power that we stand for in the United States?

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