The Root Cause Sustaining Injustice

Over the last few weeks, it felt to me like I was having the same conversation.

It goes like this:

Person: There are many social issues that need to be fixed. So many stories that people are unaware of. So many injustices that we should be doing more to solve. What are your thoughts on data-driven approaches to solving X?
Me: Storytelling drives awareness and may even lead to cosmetic fixes until the news cycle moves on. At the core, the problem lies in the business of it all. The fact that a particular social injustice is profitable to those with power. Thus, to solve X we should focus on making X a financially unappealing venture.

After having this conversation for the fifth time, it dawned on me that it may not be as obvious to everyone else as it is to me. So, here I am on Medium.

Here is a quick list of injustices that survive today because their business models are attractive:

Slavery: In the United States, slavery benefited both the North and the South. Everything from political empires to banks are built on slave labor, which was and is very economically attractive. As slavery became less attractive (i.e. rebellions, lawsuits, etc.), there was a need to transform the institution into other things (a topic for another time). For more on this, see this, this, this, and this.

Poverty: State governments and their private industry partners have been using America’s poor as very attractive sources of revenue. For more information, go here.

Incarceration: The prison population makes a lot of revenue for private prison corporations and is a fantastic, low-cost labor source for a lot of businesses (everyone from Walmart to McDonalds). Read this, this, this, this, this, and this.

Homelessness: Real estate moguls have long leveraged their policy connections to make affordable housing and housing shelters extremely profitable enterprises — reducing the incentive for real solutions to homelessness. For more, go here, here, and here.

Police Abuse: Setting aside the origin of American policing, marginalized communities have long been the income source that fuels local Police Departments, which keep other communities safe. Everything from context-specific ticketing to asset forfeitures are the current established best practice for keeping the local justice system up and running financially. See this for more.

Racism: The artificial separation of us from them and the designation of one group being better than anyone has led to creation of multi-billion industries — ranging from the beauty industry to the media. The demolition of the institution, its socialization, and marketing would make entire sectors irrelevant.

We need to talk about an injustice | Bryan Stevenson | Ted Talk

The list above is by no means complete. I could have included Drug Trafficking, Human Trafficking, De-forestation, Refugee Hatred, Obesity and Starvation, but I didn’t.

So, feel free to add as many issues as you can come up with.

However, to make this interaction engaging and impactful, you should CHOOSE ONE ISSUE.

Then, think long and hard about how you can make it an unattractive business for anyone to be in.

Think about the levers that you can use to move the needle forward: legal, societal or technological.

Looking forward to your comments/thoughts.