David M. Boje, April 17, 2017
Storytelling is an act of translation of what one person/group/organization/nation is doing to and for another. ‘Storytelling billionaires’ to and for another points in two directions at once: to the billionaires and to and for another who are not billionaires. Billionaires consume more and have a larger carbon footprint than the poorest 50% of the world’s population. ‘Storytelling billionaires’ is thereby transmitting to them an ethics of answerability for the situation that the non-billionaires find themselves in. This essay considers how ‘answerability ethics’ extends to leadership of billionaires to and for non-billionaires, who inhabit the same planet are part of the same global system of capitalism.
The class I teach, leadership in society (Mgt 388v) at New Mexico State University, has a presentation on April 19 2017 on billionaire leaders in society. Last week there was a presentation on 1% leaders in society. Most students in the leadership in society class wanted to be on one of these two project/presentation teams.
My purpose here is to put billionaire (& 1%) leadership in a societal context. Since my specialty is storytelling, I will focus on the competing storytelling that our US and New Mexico society has about billionaire leadership.
‘Storytelling billionaires’ find itself in a situation of two audiences: other billionaires and translation of their situation to and for another, non-billionaires. Mikhail Bakhtin (1993) says there is an ethical answerability, which means ‘Being’ the one person who has the knowledge and capacity to intervene in the once-occurrent eventness of Being. Answerability ethics does come into play as the storytelling of and by billionaires, to and for non-billionaires, has ethical-answerability points here and now, in this situation, to and for these two different audiences (Bannet, 1993: 174).
Billionaires are leaders in society and in global capitalism who have ethical-answerability points to and for, non-billionaires. Why? There is extreme carbon footprint inequality between billionaires and the poorest, 50% of the world’s population. Billionaires and the poorest 50% of the world’s population live on the resource limits of one world. “Climate change is inextricably linked to economic inequality.” ‘Storytelling billionaires’ is therefore what Bakhtin calls answerability ethics for the situation of late modern capitalism and climate change, of the haves and have-nots, as well as the situation of the planet.
- World’s richest 10% produce 50% of global carbon emissions. Billionaire storytelling of how the 10% richest on the planet are answerable for half the greenhouse-gas emissions carries an ethical answerability to aiding climate-vulnerable non-billionaires exist in the climate change.
“Rich, high emitters should be held accountable for their emissions, no matter where they live,” Oxfam climate policy head, Tim Gore, said in a statement (IBID.). “The poorest half of the global population – around 3.5 billion people – are responsible for only around 10% of total global emissions attributed to individual consumption (Oxfam Report, 2015).
Figure 1: Contrast of Richest 10% and Poorest 50% lifestyle of consumption emissions
How do billionaires and the poorest 50% share out answerability for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, which derive mainly from burning coal, oil and gas? Billionaires in the US and other developing countries developing countries have polluted for much longer and should shoulder a bigger obligation for cutting back, than billionaires and poor in the poorest countries.
Figure 2: Contrast of 1% Richest with 40% Poorest and Global Average for Lifestyle Consumption Emissions (source Oxfam Report, 2015).
Therefore, it is the leadership by the richest 1% that has ethical answerability to do something substantial about curbing their own carbon footprint, since the carbon footprint of the poorest 40% is already extremely low.
Figure 3: Examples of where in the world people in the poorest half of global population live, and the scale of their lifestyle consumption emissions footprints (Source Oxfam Report, 2015).
If we look more closely at which countries on the planet have the largest carbon footprint, it is reasonable to expect ethical answerability and positive leadership for climate change, from that country’s billionaires.
Figure 4: Per capita lifestyle consumption emissions in G20 countries for which data is available (Oxfam Report, 2015).
In the USA, the top 10%, the billionaire class, per capita life style of CO2 emissions is 50 tons (in green), where as the bottom 50% (in red) is about 8 tons CO2 emissions per family. Billionaires are in a stronger, more resourceful, and answerable position to lead climate change.
- What is the ‘Storytelling Billionaires’ that is used to justify the extreme CO2 emissions inequality? Billionaires are heterogeneous. There are different ways of ‘storytelling billionaires’ carbon footprint inequality. Each has a different twist, a different translating of the situation that is answerable for and to another. Each storytelling claims to be an accurate translation of the situation of inequality. One group is storytelling billionaires as answerable for leadership, such as Figure 1 to 4 of the 2015 Oxfam Report. For example, storytelling billionaires: “that in many countries the richest 1% have a much higher carbon footprint per person than the income deciles below them”. “Piketty and Chancel estimate that the country where the people making up the richest 1% have the highest carbon footprints per person is in the United States” (IBID.).
- Other groups are storytelling billionaires, by blaming the poor, for their own situation and circumstance. “If only you were smarter, had more credentials … all would be yours” (Bernstein, 2008: 173). This is the meritocracy approach, storytelling billionaires, how unbiased market forces are solely responsible for wealth distribution, and we dare not tamper with the game rules ‘free market’ capitalism. As this storytelling goes, the poor are just aware of the free market principles of global economics.
We cannot expect those billionaires in control to share the reins of power. There are deep-pocketed billionaires with vested interests in the current carbon footprint inequality, even though the path is not sustainable. E.g. The Koch brothers. If billionaires playing the game of monopoly capitalism, continue on the path they are on, blaming the victim, fairly soon, nation states will devote such a large share of the economy to war and health care cost, without anything left over for education or paying the price for the climate change problem
- Environmental Justice – storytelling billionaires.
“In the summer of 1978, a trucking company illegally dumped 31,000 gallons of used transformer oil along hundreds of miles of roads in Warren County, North Carolina. The location was no accident: This was the poorest county in the state, and the majority of its residents were black. Adding insult to injury, the state decided to place a hazardous-waste landfill in the area that would store the used oil and also serve as a repository for toxins from other counties. Rather than accept their fate, locals filed a lawsuit charging racial discrimination and were arrested for staging protests and sit-ins. Borrowing language and strategies from the civil rights struggle, they helped shape an emerging social movement for ‘environmental justice’.” This is also structural racism: Race is the most significant determinant of the location of hazardous waste facility. Facilities are sited where land is cheap and environmental laws are lax. The storytelling plays out this way: The local population becomes aware of the health effects, the contamination of their bodies and their local environment. They begin to organize ‘citizen science’ to gather health data on the results of the hazardous waste landfill. The corporate player here is Shell, and they use blame-the-victim storytelling: “ Shell’s social-responsibility rhetoric as well as its blame-the-victim argument that contamination comes not from industry but from unhygienic slum dwellers” (IBID.).
- Hypothesis: Billionaire elites Protect their Environmental Privileges using Green Storytelling. ‘Storytelling billionaires’ from the ‘Green’ movement is subject to environmental justice critique. Billionaires, like it or not, do profit from environmental inequality, enjoy environmental privileges: access to material consumption amenities that are denied to the 50% poorest on the planet (open ‘green’ space, including green forests, organic food to eat, organic wine bars, well-insulated homes, clean air to breathe, and clean water to drink). The mainstream billionaire environmental (Green) movement is often hostile to environmental justice, but amenable to green amenities, and protecting them from the poorest of the poor. For example in 1999 the Aspen City Council passed a resolution petitioning US Congress and the president to restrict the number of immigrants entering the US. The storytelling rationale was that immigrants tax the nation’s scarce resources and ecosystems, and negatively impact population stabilization. This puts a moral gloss on the racist agenda of environmental inequality, and sustains environmental privilege. The white and wealthy billionaires seldom form a alliance with environmental justice advocates. Rather the storytelling billionaire logic of Green-sustainability protects environmental privileges.
- In New Mexico, Unchecked carbon pollution that causes climate change is fundamentally altering our environment and putting fish and wildlife populations and our outdoor heritage at risk.
Of the 525 billionaires in the USA, zero are living in New Mexico. According to Forbes, the richest person in New Mexico is Mack Chase, president of Chase Energy Corporation in Artesia. The entrepreneur and philanthropist is worth $650 million. In 2012 Mack Chase was honored with a distinguished leadership award. The Chase Foundation of Artesia, N.M., has donated $100,000 to the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center. The money will be used by the center to provide drug information to health care professionals. “Nearly 40,000 New Mexican households are millionaires according to the new Phoenix Marketing International 2014 Global Wealth Monitor report, or about 5 percent of the state’s total households”.
New Mexico population is 2,045,525 and the number living in poverty: is 436,153, or 21%.
In sum, billionaires throughout the world have a miserable carbon footprint track record. ‘Storytelling billionaires’ is caught up in an apologetic for environmental privileges, known as blaming the victim. Billionaires sustain a Horatio Alger mythology, that if the poor got off their duff, saved their wages, got an education, and competed in the game free market capitalism, they could become a billionaire. There are no billionaires living in New Mexico. The number of millionaires is growing, while New Mexico ranks at the very bottom in child poverty in the entire USA, and second from the bottom in family poverty. New Mexico has landfills in the poorest places in New Mexico, including a nuclear waste storage facility.
It is time that New Mexico enact environmental justice in its millionaire leaders, who are answerable ethically and monetarily for their environmental privileges.
Billionaire leadership can be answerable, and create environmental justice, as well as cut back on his or her own carbon footprint. Billionaire leaders can also be answerable for billionaire storytelling. Each storytellers gives antecedent ‘billionaire storytelling’ its meaning context. These storytellings are not by accident. It is a situation of demand, survival of the billionaire class, and a counter-storytelling, for the survival of the poverty class.
I agree with Eve Tavor Bannet (1993), a university is an Tower of Babel, commonly known as the Ivory Tower. Bannet points out there are several ways to understand the Ivory Tower. The reason I bring up these versions of Ivory Tower, is they have quite different ‘billionaire storytelling.’
Roland Barthes looks at the university as a ‘happy Babel’ the opposite of the biblical confusion of languages. A university has the language of physics, economics, business, sociology, art, history, engineering, philosophy, ecology, to name a few disciplines, plus the languages of Spanish spoken at home, by most families in our New Mexico community. In a ‘Happy’ public university, no one language is dominant, nor has power over any other language. Of course, this is an idealized version of the Ivory Tower, and right now Business and Engineering are the dominant languages of power and control. NMSU is far from an egalitarian model of Ivory Tower.
Pierre Bourdieu has a more negative rendition of Ivory Tower. As Bannet (1993: 159) summarizes:
“The ‘outsiders’ in question – provincials, foreigners, intellectuals, left-wingers, innovators, Jews, and children of poor families who had been educated at public expense instead of in elite private schools (no mentiaon of women) – had the imprudence to expect the same career structure as those faculty members whose inherited (Roan-Catholc-Parisian-bourgeois) social and cultural norms really entitled them to the highest University psots.”
In other words, the Ivory Tower, including here at NMSU is heterogeneous languages, life-styles, politics, intellectual interests, and attitudes of what constitutes a University. There are conflicts among the rivals. One group Bourdieu calls “academic capital’ who get power in the university (including NMSU) by having the right background, making the right friends, sitting on key committees, administering grants, and deciding promotions and tenure of friends. Since accumulating ‘academic capital’ is so very time consuming, there is not much time for research. It is an academia meritocracy where power is invested in who you know in seats of power within the University.
Another powerful group forms in the Ivory Tower, is comprised of ‘academic researchers’ such as myself, who write journal articles in top-tier journals (& quite a few books) that appeal to an international audience.
The two groups ‘academic capital’ and ‘academic research’ pfovide ‘happy Babel’ with some measure of plurality, but there is a definite struggle of each against the other. I am part of another group, those who came from poor family, on welfare, going to a state university (U of I) on a military war (Vietnam) entitlement, and am therefore not from the correctness of ‘academic capital’ and identify with ‘academic research.’
There is another version of Ivory Tower, by Gerald Graf. The American university is a proliferation of many disciplines. Even in my own management department, we have the storytellers, human resource management, organizational behavior, leadership, operations research, strategy, and systems (no enrollees). There is a further heterogeneity between faculty and students specializing in quantitative methods (most) and a few that choose the qualitative methods (e.g. storytelling). Check out any department at NMSU, and you will find as much heterogeneity. For Graf, Babel is not ‘Happy’ University. Rather the University, its colleges and departments, have to isolate various languages (disciplines) in order to avoid interdisciplinary chaos and confusion (Babel of conflicting language/discipline groups). The solution the American university ahs adopted is to use administrative spacing, rather than actually have the various languages (& ideologies) engage in debate.
For the ‘billionaire storytelling’ we have various languages (& ideologies) in the class that mirror those in society. There is much ado about Horatio Alger, the by your bootstraps path to leadership in society, and this storytelling of leadership is opposed by those with an ear for inequity, how the ‘system’ is much like a game of Monopoly, where the billionaires already own all the railroads, Park Place, and Boardwalk, before the poorest 50% put their player on the board. The two groups of students (& faculty) talk past one another, each subscribing to a different ‘billionaire storytelling’ of leadership. This is a conflict of translations, a difference of interpretations, and why the storytelling of billionaire leadership is a difficult topic, yet highly relevant to a leadership in society course.
As an ‘academic researcher’ I provoke an ethical answerability debate. I decenter the Horatio Alger myth of bootstraps to riches, by putting the situation in a climate change and environmental justice, and environmental privilege context.
There are world-making possibilities. There are ‘new worlds’ in which there is environmental justice, and an answerability of leadership for environmental privilege. This would give climate action a new destination and destiny. Bannet (1993) recommends translation, as a path forward.
How can the Horatio Alger bootstraps-to-rich billionaire storytelling ‘translate’ into an environmental justice and equity billionaire storytelling? This would make ‘storytelling billionaires’ into translation between narrative and counternarrative, between haves and have-nots, who share the Earth, unequally. As the number of billionaires increases, do too toes the impossibility of achieving equivalence.
Bannet, Eve Tavor. (1993) Postcultural Theory: Critical Theory after the Marxist Paradigm. NY, NY: Paragon House.
Bernstein, J. (2008). Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed?(and Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
 Oxfam Report 2 December 2015, EXTREME CARBON INEQUALITY Why the Paris climate deal must put the poorest, lowest emitting and most vulnerable people first
 World’s richest 10% produce half of global carbon emissions says Oxfam, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/02/worlds-richest-10-produce-half-of-global-carbon-emissions-says-oxfam
 Reducing inequality and carbon footprints within countries
By Dario Kenner – WhyGreenEconomy.org – February, 2016 http://www.greeneconomycoalition.org/know-how/reducing-inequality-and-carbon-footprints-within-countries
 August 7, 2012 Colin Jerolmack. Chocking on Poverty: Inequality and Environmental Justice, http://www.publicbooks.org/choking-on-poverty-inequality-and-environmental-suffering/
 National Wildlife factsheet. New Mexico: Top Power Plant Carbon Polluters
 Billionaires by state https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_the_number_of_billionaires