Stewardship as a Social Value

Summary: Conscious consumption is each individual’s responsibility. Understanding what we consume and how we facilitate the commoditization of life is a necessity if we are to promote the modification of social values to include holistic stewardship of our planetary resources.

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By Madhavi Venkatesan, PhD

All life has intrinsic value. Human life may be able to dominate and subordinate other life forms due to nothing more than brute force but does this equate with a fundamental right to forcibly inseminate, isolate, and commoditize other life forms? Arguably, the claim of human status based on a hierarchy of life forms would apvenkatesan1pear to be more consistent with stewardship, not domination.

To justify the horrific treatment of other life forms through an assertion that provision of quality of life would be too expensive provides a greater insight into the social values of the present period and nothing more. The treatment we provide to the voiceless impacts our sense of humanity and the manner in which we will ultimately treat one another.

Economics does not justify exploitation, it is a discipline founded on moral philosophy. The value and fairness elements that were embedded explicitly and implicitly in the work of Adam Smith and David Ricardo did not survive the overly simplified twentieth century quantification of the behavioral science. The ignorant greed among some in our society has promoted the use of price as a means to perpetuate profit and consumption, but this is not economic theory, this is the oversimplified, myopic perspective of the individual who is succumbing to self-focused benefit without thought of holistic cost.

Price is not an appropVen2riate measure on its own. It is the fairness of price that is important. A fair price captures the cost of raising a healthy animal. A cheap price implicitly captures the low cost of raising an animal, not necessarily healthy and not net necessarily of nutritious value. The animal is produced like a piece of equipment on an assembly line, fattened with hormones, injected with antibiotics, living in and eating its own feces, with limited development physically and mentally; cheaply treated, cheaply priced, it offers minimal consumption benefit. The flesh that composed the animal, the same meager nutrition and development embedded in the animal will be the fuel source for the consumer. The cheapness in its price imposes yet another adversity: that life can be thrown away—trashed—based on market-promoted price elasticity. Further from an ecological perspective, the concentrated living conditions of these voiceless, captive living commodities adversely impacts groundwater and, depending how feces are discarded, can create further human health impacts.

We have inherited frameworks that are based on ideas and beliefs that were and are not consistent with the reality of life. We live in a continuous system; how we treat other animals and how we treat the ecosystem we inhabit has an impact on human life both through human health and in how we develop, maintain, and pass on humanity as a social value.

Ven3Madhavi Venkatesan is a faculty member in the Department of Economics at Bridgewater State University, where her present academic interests are specific to the integration of sustainability into the economics curriculum. Prior to re-entering academics, Madhavi held senior level positions in investor relations for three Fortune 250 companies. In this capacity she was a key point of contact for investors and stakeholders and was singularly instrumental in the development of socially responsible investing strategies and corporate social responsibility reporting. Madhavi started her financial services career after completing her post-doctoral fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. She has a PhD, M.A. and B.A. in Economics from Vanderbilt University and a Masters of Environmental Management from Harvard University. She is presently a Masters of Environmental Law and Policy candidate at Vermont Law School.