Monday, December 05, 2005

Bottom Of The Pyramid (BOP)

I can think of no better quote which describes the type of architecture we need for a more just and equal society than Ghandi's first test:
"Whenever you are in doubt...apply the first test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be any use to him. Will he gain anything from it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? True development puts first those that society puts last"

Corporations as they exist today are merely dictatorships of the owners and managers over the employees with no regard for nature or humanity. Corporate's sole purpose is to extract a surplus from their employees in the form of a profit. The employees, secluded from participation and ownership, cannot exercise any effective control over the planning or future direction of the company, despite its direct impact on their lives. We have become wage slaves to consumerism as the corporate empire keeps on smiling and counting their profits. We constantly feed the machine which steals our precious time as it grinds us under it's weight of capital.

We are not unlike a wild animal which finds it's way into a baited trap. We know by instinct that the smell of annihilation abounds in the baited area, but we just can't resist. We recognize the smell of the hunter and the danger it poses. We know we should stay as far away as possible, and avoid the sweet smell of the bait, but the idea of having a small piece of what the trapper possesses is just too hard to resist! So we volunteerily stick our head in the noose, and the more we strain to reach the bait, the tighter the noose becomes.

With around 80% of the world's population living on less than $2.00 a day, it would stand to reason that many of the 4-5 billion people would be easy prey to the traps laid by business entrepreneurs. Some are proposing that help to the poor should involve consumer-driven market processes. The proponents of this plan believe the way to help the power-base of the 5 billion in poverty is to change market theories and incorporate the capitalistic ideology within the poorest "bottom of the pyramid", or BOP as it's been labeled. Thereby creating wealth at the lowest tier of the social structure. They propose that it is possible to alleviate poverty through profits. One of those preaching the capitalist salvation theory is C.K. Prahalad, who lays out the groundwork in his book "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid". According to Prahalad,
"Low-income markets present a prodigious opportunity for the world's wealthiest companies--to seek their fortunes and bring prosperity to the aspiring poor. The development of markets and effective business models at the BOP can transform the poverty alleviation task from one of constant struggle with subsidies and aid to entrepreneurship and the generation of wealth. When the poor at the BOP are treated as consumers, they can reap the benefits of respect, choice, and self-esteem and have an opportunity to climb out of the poverty trap."

Another proponent is Hernando de Soto of Peru, author of the book, "The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else". When asked in an interview, [i]"How do you convince the affluent of today, who own most of the property, to support legal reforms that might weaken their position, Hernando replied,
"The first thing to note is that times have changed. Whatever resistance on the part of the elites to sharing power, in many cases it has diminished because the poor have already staked out a large amount of the assets"
If this is true in Peru, perhaps the rest of the world should take some lessons from them. Because quite frankly, I haven't seen the poor staking out large amounts of assets anywhere else in the world. Not even in the "Empire of Captial", the U.S.

The World Resource Institute is the major supporter of the BOP theory and WRI has many, many corporate financial contributors which can be viewed on their funders page. Seeing as how the Pew Charitable Trust is one of the foundations who support WRI, and the list of corporate contributors reads like a "whos who" of corporatism, I find it very difficult to get behind this philosophy due to the willingness of these corporate giants to fund the project. Just my biased opinion of course! But whenever the fox offers to watch over the chicken coup, I just naturally become suspicious.

So if we apply Ghandi's first test; will this plan that supports "capitalism to fight the poverty which capitalism created" pass the test? Will this idea of entrepreneurship be of any use to the 4-5 billion? Will the plan offer the poor control over their destiny? Are these proponents really concerned about helping this massive base of people in poverty, or do they merely see these people as a marketing strategy in order to increase corporate profits? It sure makes me wonder what Ghandi would say? Would he say this plan puts first those that society puts last, or would he say the plan serves as good bait and it's noose is set?


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