The tale of the neighbour and the fridge

Yesterday something really shocking happened. At ten o'clock in the evening my neighbour walked into my house and went straight to the fridge. Without batting an eyelid, he put the entire contents in two large shopping bags and walked straight back out of the door again. On his way out, one of the bags tore open, leaving a trail of broken bottles, sauces and jam jars in my living room and hallway. The dirty stains in my carpet are the sad remains of his strange action.


I was shocked, but after a few minutes I decided to walk up to my neighbour and ask him for an explanation. He said that his action was completely normal and that I should not complain about a few groceries. When I asked him to at least clean up the mess in my room and pay for the damages, he shouted that it was my mess, that I had to clean it up myself and slammed the door in my face.


I decided to call the police, but they said they couldn’t help me. I had to prove that my neighbour was the one who robbed my fridge and left the mess. It was his word against mine. Two days later I learned that my neighbour sold the contents of my refrigerator at a local market nearby.


Fortunately, what you have just read never happened, but strangely enough the story shows great similarities with the way oil companies do their work. They knock on the door of certain countries, enter the house so to say, and then start investigating the goods that they can trade. They call this process ‘research and development’. When they find what they are looking for, they bring in the shopping bags, which they call ‘investments’. Then they start selling the goods according to the principles of the ‘free market’ driven by the mechanism of ‘supply and demand’.


The oil company is like my neighbour, but he has a different name; we call him ‘entrepreneur’, and he is a very good one since he makes a ‘profit’ out of it. The fact that this neighbour refuses to clean up the mess and does not compensate the damages, is called ‘profit maximization’. The police in this story, that watches but does not intervene, can be compared to the failing government, not setting any rules.


You might think that I am exaggerating, but I am quite sure that the people in Nigeria, faced with the environmental pollution caused by Shell, do recognize themselves quite well in "the tale of the greedy neighbour and the fridge". Shell, like the neighbour in my story, systematically refuses to pay for the pollution they cause, and walks away with skyrocketing profits. The same goes for all the other oil companies that caused major environmental damage, like BP and Exxon Mobil.


Nevertheless the real problem is not to be found in the bad behaviour of just a few companies. The real problem is the way we manage property. We find it normal, wise even, to sell land and raw materials as if they were private property. We do this with oil, gas, water, land and many other assets that come from the earth. We do not know any better, since this is what we have been doing for thousands of years.


But what would happen if we decided that the earth and its resources can no longer be made into private property? What would happen if we moved from a profit-driven economy, to a system where the common good is the main objective?  A new system that promotes sustainable activities and really serves the common good? A new economic system based on solidarity, real cooperation and public welfare? Not solely based on money but on common values?


You might think I am too much of a dreamer?


Personally I don’t think so. And I am not the only one. My neighbour is also convinced that we can do things differently. Look at and find out that there are many initiatives around the world that show that it can be done.


Michel Bijpost


 |  2013 08 06  |  Permalink  |  Share


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