In North Carolina there is a great range of music on the radio from classical to folk to the most avant-garde. An old tune caught my attention the other day. Some of its catchy words won’t let me go, and I think I am starting to know why: “Who broke the lock? Who broke the lock on the henhouse door? Who broke the lock? I don’t know… I’m a-gonna find out before I go… ” I’m thinking, “Someone broke into the henhouse — the place where the eggs are laid, where something of value is produced — presumably to do some damage.” And I began to wonder, “Who broke the lock?” Isn’t that a question for our world?

My granddaughter recently went to the dentist for the first time and her mother, my daughter, remembered that we had resisted the use of fluoridation in the ’70s and ’80s, but couldn’t remember why when the dentist asked her. This got me to surfing the web to remind myself. I found out that fluoride, the alleged main ingredient in the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal, is a chemical by-product (aka, “industrial waste,”) of synthetic fertilizer production. The same ingredient is dumped in most U.S. big city water supplies (the exception is Portland, Oregon) to try to stop tooth decay. I wonder who is paying for it. I also found out that it has limited use in Europe because it has not been shown to work at best, and is considered to be dangerous at worst. In many children too much fluoride exposure may damage the teeth and one study suggests that high fluoride levels might be a factor in lower IQ’s.

This waste product was once widely used for rat poison and before that was a main ingredient in bomb production in WWII and in the U.S. chemical weapon arsenal which has cost taken over an estimated $200 billion to clean up since the ’50s, and they are not done. One can wonder who broke the lock? And another question: Is the fox guarding the henhouse door? Is there going to be an end to the production of fluoride? I doubt it, but hope so. What you begin to notice is that all this insanity is related and all the potential holistic solutions are as well.

Ending industrial agriculture could be the first step in a comprehensive peace plan… no more fluoride production to worry about. Good local food for all! Leave this, the most reactive mineral, in the ground where it belongs. But to do this we need a new “lock.” That is, we need strong principles to guide our decisions both locally and globally. If we only think in siloed dreams about being the richest or most powerful person, business or nation and have no other guidelines, the lock is already broken and the chickens will run away or get mauled. There are many moral/ethical frameworks which can protect us from mismanaging our resources. Some are complex and less useful in action. The one I have come to love for its simplicity is the Natural Step. It took years for researchers in Sweden to narrow down and focus the issues which cause most of the world’s problems to four principles which our research has modified to focus on positive solutions for investment:

  1. First take care of human needs, and in doing so
  2. Avoid extracting substances from below the earth’s crust and instead recycle, reduce and reuse what we can, and
  3. Avoid developing and using chemical compounds that do not occur in nature, and instead focus on natural solutions and products. And finally
  4. Avoid the degradation of nature, and instead find ways to clean up and enhance the environment and society.

These principles are like a good lock. No one needs to force anyone to abide by them, but the hens will sleep in peace at night if these principles prevail. What is stopping us? In our version, the first principle is key. The problem that confronts us everywhere we look is that businesses have forgotten their main purpose: to take care of human needs. This is so simple and elegant. As consumers and investors in our world we can decide to only support products and services that actually matter… that meet human needs. Would portfolios suffer? This depends on consumers and producers as a movement insisting on best practice, expanding from the congested Wall Street universe of stocks to the much broader global public and private markets as well as lending within local living economies. Good companies will be more highly valued and bad ones will be shunned. This is like letting the hens out to range on fresh ground by day, and closing the door at night with a good lock. Hedge funds are already beginning to short bad polluters and the like because when the… it hits the fan, prices plummet which means shorts and puts might soar. On the other hand, investing in solutions makes for steady value creation.

Let’s fix the lock on the henhouse door! How about ending WMD’s globally (see here)?