In 2018 I went to Charleston to spend time with my friend, Stuart Williams, to see for myself what drives him, and what makes him do the things he does. This is my report from Day 3.
~ Lawrence Bloom
As I waited for Stuart at a coffee shop near his home on Johns Island, I wrestled with just how egregious I should be on flushing out the comments that make him the lightening rod that he has become in the government and not-for-profit worlds. Given that getting him alone is a feat unto itself, I decided to just dive in to see just how direct I could get him to be on issues that are often very sensitive.
Having already witnessed the passion he has for inclusion, I decided to try and pry out his thoughts on the subject, and, not to disappoint, I found his view to be different to most others, but again, it is one that is hard to argue with because although he leans Democrat most of the time, he really does embrace many Republican ideas.
Bang - “marginalization and exclusion are economic models and are deliberate. As long as modern humans have stood upright, we as a race have extracted things for two reasons, need and or greed, and don’t think for one moment that extraction means only natural resources from the earth. We have extracted indigenous people’s lands and assets, we have extracted free labor i.e. slavery, and we continue to extract people’s capital, hopes, dreams, and even worse their very souls”. He then turned the questioning on me “how much do you think a human life is worth in monetary terms”, his blue eyes piercing me without a blink until I answered. Being unprepared for the question I shamefully admitted that I would need to think about that. “Well, let me help you, if we break down a life into hours, do you think the answer is $7.25 for an hour” he quizzed, still not having blinked, “no” I said, “when you put it that way, an hour of someone’s life is probably worth more than $7.25”.
I pushed harder.
“If we fail at inclusion, I will use some artistic license in reciting a quote from Virgil’s Aeneid (note to self to find out what that is and read it) to describe the outcome”, Williams says. “as I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the American (Roman), I seem to see the River Potomac (Tiber) foaming with much blood."
There are many who heed the advice Williams gives, as an example of why, he wrote this in July 2016:
Do Not Write Off The Reality of Trump & His Tactics
It has long been said that civil unrest in the US will not come from an ethnic minority but from the "forgotten white fe/male" who believe (with valid reasons) that their needs are always being overlooked. It is factions of these people who are stocking arsenals of weapons, believe in white supremacy, and are growing in number. Furthermore, according to Political Research Associates 97% of mass shootings are committed by white males.
This may not seem like a sea change that could swing an election unless we look at the race make up in America where we find that +/- 197,000,000 (almost 67%) of US Citizens are white. Add to this that 47% of voting age public are stating they are independent, and we can begin to see what Trump is doing - going on a sell-out strategy to get as much of the "forgotten white fe/male" vote as he can. If he gets +/- 61,000,000 votes from the right states he will at worst win, and at best he will not so surreptitiously incite a race and humanitarian divide that could lead to a level of civil unrest and a divide in our nation that has not been seen since before the mid 60's.
Every day, we are exposed to surreptitious advertisers using secretive communication practices meant to mislead us about products or services. I believe Trump and his strategists have done their homework and have designed and are executing a brilliant game plan based upon how they believe they can win.
We may be witnessing the rants of a mad man, but they are backed through research conducted by a bright, calculating, powerful team of people who have done their homework, crunched the numbers and believe they have found a niche they can exploit to win the election. It is time to stop writing off Trump and his brain trust as this is for real".
I guess we can all decide how right or wrong he was with this prediction, however, if you believe he was right, you may wish to know that he is predicting a meltdown of society based upon the promotion of division and hate that have become monikers of the Trump administration. “Before the end of his first term we will see blood in our streets as a result of a broken system, which is not to be confused with a system being broken by the unrest” he says.
“But what of the current remedies?” I asked.
“Our national politicians are useless, the Democrats deal in bribes as welfare is a joke, entitlement it is the guilt trip of extraction, and both are actually designed to keep people excluded”. He fully believes that welfare and entitlement were born out of guilt, and he finds it loathsome that “we bribe people to remain excluded by giving them barely enough to survive, but not enough to become included and to thrive”.
As for the Republicans, they get the next full frontal on Trickle Down Economics, “another joke” he says, “firstly, you have to actually be in the barrel to capture anything that trickles down to the bottom, and secondly, even if you are in the barrel, what started at the top is barely a droplet by the time it gets to you.”
“What about philanthropy and the not-for-profit industry”? I ask.
All of a sudden he stops me abruptly, “my dear fellow, do you want to go on like this or just cut to the chase”, he says.
I got the feeling that although polite, this was not a question.
“To find the cause we have to take a deep look into the socioeconomic pyramid to see who or what is hiding in plain sight. Who or what gets to benefit from the Top thinking that the residents at the Bottom are all lazy and just want handouts, and the Bottom thinking that all of the residents at the Top never release any of their capital, neither of which are true”.
He had mentioned this before but now he took it a stage further.
“If I go to the residents at the Top and perpetuate a narrative that those at the Bottom need more money to help with an effect of poverty, I can probably convince them to release more capital. Then, if I go to the residents of the Bottom and agree with them that the Top does not do enough, I can probably convince them that I am their answer. However, what I forget to tell both parties, is that the majority of the money released from the Top will never make it to the bottom, hence I can perpetuate the narrative of the Top not releasing enough, and the bottom being lazy and wanting more. Add to this that certain community leaders do not want problems fixed as it puts them out of a role of power, and it does not take a genius to figure out where the choke points are. So, until the Top and Bottom have a direct line of sight to each other nothing will change, as not only is entitlement the guilt trip of extraction, it feeds so many that are not even marginalized”.
“Examples”? I ask with less gusto than I started this interview.
“Let me start by saying that there are numerous NFP’s and Foundations that do incredible work and must be supported, even if many of them are focused on the effects of a lack of inclusion and not the cause. Many people with huge hearts have donated billions and billions of dollars, but because poverty and lack of inclusion are economic models, we have been fighting economics with charity for at least 60-years which is like taking a knife to a gun fight, and the fact that no solution has been found speaks for itself”, he says.
“You appear to be a good researcher, so go and see what the net worth of certain politicians and NFP leaders was before they entered their respective offices, and then look at what they were when they left. Do the same for certain community leaders that represent marginalized community segments, and, while you are at it, go and find where over 70% of the $427Billion donated by American’s in 2018 went, as it never made it to fund the Bottom-Up innovations it was purposed to support".
“Do you know where it went”? I asked.
“Personnel, G&A, administration, “awareness”, fund-raising, and professional fees”. I must admit, I had never thought of charity, entitlement, welfare etc., “feeding” those not in marginalized communities.
“So, what is left?” I asked.
“Access" he blurts out. "Why on earth would we destroy something that has worked for 70% of humanity, as opposed to working our tails off to provide the other 30% with access to it. Empowerment, business, economics, commerce and an edited version of Charter Cities is the answer. Editing capitalism to become inclusive, and empowering all people to become included, which makes the modern business leader the most important person in the room”.
Obviously, the above statement is what Impact Economics has been designed to do but given we spoke enough about that in our prior two interviews, I pressed on with my line of questioning about access.
“Access will allow marginalized people to increasing economic vibrancy in their own communities. Access leads to inclusion, inclusion leads to equity, equity leads to resiliency, and before something can be sustainable it must be resilient. Thus, access can equal sustainable".
“Is this why Impact Investing is so important?” I ask.
“Impact Investing is important for numerous reasons, but it pales in comparison to the impact modern business leaders can have. Are there some businesses that knowingly make their money at the expense of segments of humanity and or our planet, - for sure, however, most modern business owners truly care about their communities and have a high desire to help".
"Let's put into context the potential positive impact businesses can have in in America.In our country there are over 16,000,000 operating businesses, combined, they employ over 129,000,000 people, they touch every community in the US, and they all use financial, human, and environmental resources to run their operations. The most important of these companies come from the two extremes of the socioeconomic spectrum i.e. those being started by younger entrepreneurs who have already accumulated great wealth and a now focusing some of that capital, but more importantly their intellectual capital, on the social and environmental problems we face; plus those being started by new entrepreneurs living in marginalized communities and who are last starting to be included in the start-up ecosystem. Obviously, we must expedite the rate at which the latter are empowered to participate i.e. be included!
Today, the US public companies alone hold more than $2 Trillion in cash assets on their balance sheets, indeed some of it is levered, and too much remains offshore, however for the focus of this conversation, let us assume that the cash on hand at private companies makes up the difference. So, what could happen every business truly embraced Impact Economics which includes the modern Leadership and Management practices of Profit for Purpose?
Current research shows that they would:
Generate higher corporate revenues
Positively affect 129,000,000 current employees and the people/communities they support
Increase EDI by hiring and investing in more people residing in marginalized communities
Produce greater corporate margins
Help increase the velocity of capital and standard of living in virtually every community in America
Deliver enhanced corporate bottom-line results
Reduce the effects of climate change and help steward and regenerate imperative parts of our environmental ecosystem
Increase corporate brandy and equity values
Support investments in Impact/Purposed/Mission-driven businesses while making a profit
Decrease employee and customer/client turnover
Help imperative initiatives get to scale
Hire the best and brightest talent
Bring offshore capital back on shore
Help transform finance, education and poverty
Reduce reliance upon and interference by government
The current management theory being taught at undergrad and grad schools and being passed on at companies is wrong and that, in and of itself has to change”. As you guessed it, he has already started changing that at the College of Charleston.
I had seen research (not from Williams) that supports his claims, however, I had also read about the failure of at least two Charter City pilot’s, so I pushed him on that.
“They failed because they did not push the envelope far enough, leaving too much influence from the very administrations they were designed to negate” Williams says. “We need to revisit the structure of Charter Cities and support Paul Romer in his work, possibly combining them with the model for of bio-spheres, but certainly implementing Impact Economics within them”.
Recognizing I was running out of time I fired off one more question, “are you anti-government and not-for-profits?" I asked.
“No, I am not, but I am 100% against demonizing the top and bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid so that they can hold on to the narrative that they are the answer when clearly they are only contributors, and at times, inefficient and ineffective ones at best. What we need are public/private partnerships run by people who wish to build economic ecosystems where everyone and everything (including government and not-for-profits) are included, where people are empowered, and where the choke points are unlocked”.
“Can you give me an example”? I asked.
“Yes, in 2012 I was asked to design an economic model to help with immigration, I agreed, but only if I was given the freedom to do it using a whole systems approach that would also contribute to helping solve additional problems that our country faced.
Because our country was (still is) facing so many critical and systemic problems, I felt that this was an opportunity to show the true potential of Impact Economics. In 2012 (and now it is worse) welfare, immigration, minimum wage, healthcare, education, and decaying infrastructure were worthy of inclusion in the top ten problems our nation faced. Critical problems often require solutions that numerous people are critical of and I knew that the solution I had designed would fall into that category.
Although America’s infrastructure was crumbling before our eyes, the scale of capital and human resources required to not only fix the problems but to replace the outdated infrastructure with sustainable alternatives appeared to be unavailable. Additionally, it was sad to observe that the drive for the American Dream had resulted in the unintended consequence of many service- oriented jobs being aligned with failure and/or embarrassment, and thus numerous able-bodied American citizens refusing to accept certain unskilled positions when welfare could provide an alternative. The latter was often driven by the level of the minimum wage, and by the fact that employers hire illegal immigrants because they will accept lower pay for doing the jobs that are hard to fill. We should be mindful that in many instances, wages are not depressed by those who accept them, they are depressed by those who pay them.
In 2012 illegal immigrants made up +/- 5% of our population and we are being led to believe that there were +/- 5,000,000 that have been in the country long enough to be given immunity, over which there was the usual political fight. My first step therefore was to find a bi-partisan way to get past this problem.
I suggested that our country should adopt a mandate that all able-bodied illegal immigrants in the designated category above be required to serve a minimum of 4 years of service to this country if they wished to receive immunity and have any potential of becoming citizens. They should be given the option to work on sustainable infrastructure projects, receive a living wage (above the current minimum), pay taxes, receive on the job training (education), and access to healthcare. Individuals could add an additional year of service for each (non-able bodied or not of appropriate age to work) immediate family member only that they wished to remain with them in the US. Individuals opting to decline this offer would be escorted back home.
As the above could only work if there was also focus on reducing the future flow of illegal immigrants, investments would need to be made in border control that would create a positive economic and social impact for the border towns that were straining to fund the costs associated with the defense of these borders, while treating illegal immigrants in a humane manner. Investments in the infrastructure, technology and the labor force required to secure our borders would increase the velocity of capital in those regions, helping regenerate economies and communities.
As the above would obviously require capital, the borders should be secured in a manner that would stem the flow of corporate tax dollars out of America (in essence bringing more of them back), while stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into America.
America should always welcome immigrants for the right reasons, but it should be on a legal basis.
Next, there were too many able-bodied people on welfare and it was time that the tax dollars being spent on that be put to work to drive empowerment and not entitlement. In addition to the offer to immigrants, my suggestion was that the country mandate that all able bodied people on welfare also join in providing service to their nation, and in doing so, receive a living wage (above the current minimum), pay taxes, receive on the job training (education), and have access to healthcare. The minimum term of service would be four years, and failure to accept this mandate would make those eligible to work, ineligible for welfare. In essence we would be taking current welfare dollars and redirecting them to building sustainable infrastructure projects.
The extra capital required to bridge the gap between the redirected welfare dollars and what it would cost to pay a living wage would be funded by the private sector companies given the contracts to build America’s sustainable infrastructure.
Next, our country should bring back a draft under a servant leadership structure that allowed flexibility while rewarding service. The choice of how to serve would go way beyond which branch of the military to enter, as draftees could choose between initiatives such as sustainable infrastructure, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, clean-tech, education, healthcare, etc.
The program was designed as follows:
High school students already accepted too college serve for a minimum of 1 year, however, college bound draftees could select to volunteer for up to 4 years of service, with the government paying for one year of college for each year served. Students selecting this option would receive basic room, board, a small stipend, and healthcare while in service.
Students opting not to attend college would enter the draft as apprentices, thereby receiving enhanced training in a specific vocational or technical skill. Draft tenure would be dependent upon the time required to learn their trade. Students selecting this option would receive a living wage (above the current minimum but paying taxes) and a full benefit package.
Dare we even begin to think that by bringing people together from different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, religions etc., to work under a common cause, we might just heal some of the divides apparent in our country.
The program would be made available to any American wanting to enter it based upon a needs test, i.e., open to those citizens currently employed in jobs paying less than the draft so that they would have the option of receiving the same opportunity as everyone else.
Next, the government should outsource much of the necessary work to appropriate (accredited as sustainable) private sector companies that agree to:
Full transparency on all revenues and expenses
Adherence to all required sustainability initiatives/mandates, i.e., providing equal returns to all stakeholders (employees, communities, the environment, financial and supply chains)
Their payments being made based either:
- On a capped ROE, i.e., a fixed return over and above the total agreed upon expense required to complete a project; or
- Net of tax, i.e., the tax is taken out at source.
We ran the numbers, and the program would have worked, however, it was shot down because it was too bipartisan.
This was the first time Williams had mentioned this work, and I was blown away by its vision and simplicity i.e. use a problem to create a solution that fixes multiple additional problems.
Finally, as he was readying to leave, I asked him one more question.
“Where do you feel America is today?”
“We are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Not that they are not important, but for the foreseeable future we should not be fighting over where the pendulum falls on gun control, right to life/choice, a bloody wall, etc., etc., as they are the chairs. The gaping hole in the hull is the hate and divide that have exponentially grown since Obama was elected and while we rearrange the chairs, we are not focused on term limits, money and special interests out of politics, and politician benefits”.
I truly enjoyed my three days with Stuart, and I left incredibly excited to be an integral part of his book that will provide any reader with options on how they can participate in and personally benefit from Impact Economics and the creation of a sustainable future. He appears to see the world in four dimensions and at times he gets frustrated at his inability to make what he sees one dimensional so that others can comprehend it. As I left Charleston, I reflected upon the time I spent with his students, the residents of marginalized segments of Charleston he empowers, and the business and civic leaders he works with because it is through their adoption of Impact Economics that I have hope for the future. My only question is, can this work be scaled in time? I guess that is up to all of us.