The Economics of Decency in the Desert

10 principles of burning man

My wife Marlene, who is also my business partner, and our daughters Christa Marie and Caitlyn Rose, both in their young twenties, just returned from our first trip to Burning Man.  Burning Man is in its 39th year and currently held annually in the Black Rock desert North of Reno.

Although often known for its liberal dress code, like none maybe, music, and various mood altering substances, it is also a remarkable gathering of diversity, innovation, expressionism, and amazing feats.  Although there is significant consumption of varying substances, none of it is to fill the closet or our electronic collection, more so to fill the Spirit.

As I have been long into making the case for decency as a powerful economic driver, I found Burning Man to be a convincing demonstration. 

A city of 70,000 emerges for a week, once a year, in the desert. All necessities are packed in and out (i.e. it’s just a desert before and becomes a desert after).  There is no infrastructure.  You leave nothing on the ground or “in” the ground, including body waste.  Really…pack it in, pack it out! 

Just think of the conceptual possibilities this lifestyle represents in caring for and sustaining the environment, potentially opening a floodgate of saved dollars available to the necessary new industries. 

Dollars that would build value, rather than add cost.

Burning Man operates on 10 Principles, similar to our Fundamentals that we share every week, that set the standards of behavior.  Inside this behavioral code, there is enormous freedom to express yourself.  There is an environment of acceptance and appreciation. People walk the street, sometimes in just their shoes and maybe a dust mask, and others barely notice. It is a mecca for expressing oneself how they always wanted and would not dare in our normal environments.

I remember, as a kid, having terrible dreams of finding myself at school in my underwear, completely horrified.  Here it would be just another average costume.  All around me I found the amazing creativity that this kind of freedom can produce.

There was an enormous spirit of generosity and giving, as well as caring for others.  Women could appear in scant covering amidst energetic partying and various states of “self medication”, yet feel safe.  My daughters would disappear until early morning hours, yet I never found myself concerned.  I would love to feel the same when they head to 6th street in Austin.

There is way too much to write about this experience. It was just a microcosm of what could be possible when people function in an environment of acceptance, kindness, caring and generosity.  You’ll just have to extrapolate what that might mean to an economy.

Two current issues have shown up recently in the news that add to our growing library of evidence that the world is asking for Economics of Decency and Decency in Commerce.

GM workers go on strike asking for better wages, and asking for expanded working opportunities.  In essence, they request a greater sharing of the results of their production.  It will be interesting to see if decency plays a role in these negotiations.  History is not encouraging.

In another threatened strike, Amazon employees are protesting Amazon’s perceived inaction regarding Climate Change.  One might say they have a demand for decency.  Although, for them, this is not an economic issue. It is rather a value issue.

Imagine the whole new economy that could result out of an aggressive response to this threat, whether its cause is manmade or not, like sustainable energy.  Again, let’s see if decency comes in how this is resolved at Amazon?

In a bit of contrast between the mentioned events, the GM workers are seeking a fair share, where Amazon is a different game altogether. They are demanding a social conscience on the part of Amazon.

That’s different!

The Business Roundtable recently issued a new statement of principle.

Since 1978, Business Roundtable has periodically issued Principles of Corporate Governance. Each version of the document issued since 1997 has endorsed principles of shareholder primacy – that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. With today’s announcement, the new Statement supersedes previous statements and outlines a modern standard for corporate responsibility. 

As the old paradigm for business shifts, we are reminded that there is a principle for bringing people together for the purpose of production that hasn’t changed.

That is: decency pays!

Yes, the desert may have been an unusual place to find evidence of the remarkable results that can be accomplished when people operate under a banner of acceptance, kindness, caring and generosity, but it begs the question,

“will you bring the desert to work?”

With care and Blessings,


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