This issue comes to my mind a lot. For anyone who works for any corporation, it must come up at some time.
If there is a "10 Commandments" of capitalism, or a "10 Lessons of the MBA", the centrality of "grow-or-die" must be up there. Maybe it's the "Prime Directive".
Why is that? I am not a business school graduate, or even attendee, having never taking a class in business. But over and over again I hear, if a business doesn't grow, it dies.
To me, this makes a business into the human social equivalent of kudzu. Or the great influenza. Or the USSR. Something that grows at the expense of everything, until it implodes on itself, or destroys everything in its wake until all resources are spent. Hello Tyranosaurus rex.
It seems to me that an interconnected, ecosystem-based model would be more sustainable. That businesses operate in a fluid environment, that changes and evolves, and some business evolve, and some run their course and ultimately give way to others. I think of Kodak, the dominant force in photographic film technology. It's fine to be dominant in that field - but now we are electronic, and every cell phone has a built-in camera. Bye bye Kodak. What good did it do to dominate gel-based chemical photographic film, when that is barely used now? They ran their course.
I don't know. When I hear business people talk about dominating a market, and "crisis crisis, crisis the competition might be bigger, everybody work harder for less, we cant let them overtake us", it makes me think there is something missing. What about providing the best service, or the best product, and being a good employer, with good benefits and security, and not worry about trying to be a monopoly?
I will probably never understand.
"To me, this makes a business into the human social equivalent of kudzu."
~ Sentient Biped
You called that one correctly, Daniel; business is kudzu to the Earth! I've taken lots of economics courses and the competitive mentality may have been appropriate for the days of camel caravans or trading between the Anasazi, Salado and Mogollon, but not in today's world. We have moved through the colonial period, which exploited and manipulated people and resources, instead of enriching each culture.
We are at a cutting edge of change, a new evolutionary development, moving away from business as we have known it from the beginning of civilization. We are no longer citizens of a city, i.e. the days of Athens and Rome, or citizens of nations, i.e. England or Japan. We move into a new era of participating in the maintenance and sustainability of living things on the planet Earth. This dawning age of human development cooperates to keep the Earth's health in mind.
Sadly, our politicians, economists, and religions do not understand this evolutionary progression. Even our science and technology hasn't recognized the transition.
No, people will not understand the meanings of changes taking place. We have to die off and the new generation will take to the notion of cooperation instead of competition because they will have to face the reality of climate change, rising seas, changing weather patterns, failing political systems and breakthroughs in technology. We may never see the reality of what is happening, but we can envision what will happen. We can envision a preferred future because we remember the past.
Sentient, a most thought-provoking topic. Thank you.
I too hear over and over that businesses die if they don't grow. It's propaganda, intended to make many people work harder to enrich those in a few lines of work wealthy, such as bankers where we find many of the so-called 1%.
For instance, your opening words reminded me of a full page advert I saw in a Phoenix newspaper in the 1970s when I lived (and worked) there. In the advert the state's major commercial bank attacked the non-profit Zero Population Growth (ZPG). It all but floored me, until I realized the reason. The home-building business in Arizona was strong, and the bank loaned the builders the money they needed. If ZPG succeeded, the bank's home loan business would falter and loan officers would lose their jobs.
More. When I was a kid the adult men my dad knew, and whom I met, owned small businesses. They worked the necessary days each week to satisfy their families' needs and then did various things: went fishing, flew powered model airplanes, hiked, et cetera.
Capitalism's grow-or-die exists but many working people don't take part. Many who do take part for a while leave their jobs to do something they enjoy more.
The so-called 1% are the prisoners, serving life terms, in their grow-or-die "prisons".
There's another kind of grow-or-die that more of us do take part in: the Darwinian struggle for existence.
I opted out when I decided to have no children and I married a woman who wanted no children. We succeeded. My brothers and sisters (two of each) all had between one and three children and were less free than I.
I had time to do some very important growing, and a lot of enjoying, that they were too busy to do.
It seems to me the concept of "grow or die" is just a lame justification for greed and abuse. I can't blame anyone for wanting more security, or for that matter a bigger market share and more prosperity. But in application, this concept seems to be more, less about business competing, and more about eliminating the competition. Less about creating a better product or service, and more about proliferating.
I've been on a laptop with Windows 8 for over a year. If Microsoft didn't have a near-monopoly on operating systems, this awkward, time consuming, frustrating program would already be off the market. If there was true competition, the product would be better and everyone who uses it would be better off.
The idea of growth-or-die has a corollary, always perpetuate crisis. I've worked for 2 major corporations, and been in several universities. All maintained an atmosphere of fake crises, one after another.
I guess the idea is to keep the employees motivated, keep them working towards the company goal, prevent infighting and prevent criticism of the boss. During the Vietnam war, this behavior led to fragging. Unfortunately, with monopolization of industries and markets, the poor employee has few choices to go elsewhere, and is left feeling like the kitchen slave, spitting in her mistress' soup and wiping their behind with a finger and dipping that into the gravy before serving.
Sentient, you describe well the past and some of the present.
I'm thinking the future will be better.
In 2007 a book reported that in the US of A, more than 11,000 (eleven thousand) businesses are owned by their employees. Many of these are small businesses; a few (Publix Markets in southeastern states to name one) are large businesses.
The profits (and the losses) instead going to absentee owners, go to the employees.
We humans have for centuries been throwing off political tyranny. Some of us are now throwing off economic tyranny.
In some European nations, Spain for one, people are further along than we Yanks are.
Re Windows 8.
I bought one too. Some people at Microsoft forgot that they are mechanics and tried art. I tinker with it but I use my Windows 7 laptop.
A tech writer in the SF Chronicle suggests Linux and says it has MSWord-compatible office applications. I may try it on my little Win 7 netbook, which I now use mainly for games.
That writer said it's available at http://zorin-os.com and either a free download (but requires burning to a disc for installing) or on a disk for eight dollars.
My work program is not set up for linux. I'm stuck with microsoft operating system.
You inspired me to get out my little win 7 notebook. it is so much easier than the win 8 system i've been using for a year. dammit.
Aw, you can pretty much get Windows 8 to act like Windows 7.
My laptop surprises me now and then (it has weird secrets). But it's bearable.
Much food for thought here and many insights. Thanks to all.
I have given this a lot of thought, having been free now for 12 years from the corporate 9-5 (and often well beyond). When you're on the inside, you don't question the Darwinian growth ethic.
But marketing is war -- creative destruction that has been enormously consumptive of resources. The farther I get from that life, the more I see it. I once read a comment by a SF writer (I think) that in the intergalactic competition for effective, creation of a just, sustainable society, capitalism wouldn't make the first cut.
But there was a time when resources seemed limitless, and so, in the auto industry, where I spent 8 years, pointless style changes and other planned obsolescence guaranteed growth for a long time. So yes, all the wastefulness makes sense when you're on the inside. If you seriously question it, you wouldn't be there in the first place.
Similarly for alternative fuels. The economics of the internal combustion engine, plus the continued (and seemingly endless) supply of fossil fuel meant that the car companies would never seriously commit to other fuels. Early cars were powered by steam and electricity. They weren't pursued.
But the society is itself to blame. NASCAR, Indy, jet-skis...we burn fuel for our own amusement! No society that's serious about conservation does that.
Two footnotes to the earth-destroying, amorality of capitalism: first, because of its ability to create wealth and innovation, a few of us enjoy a standard of living undreamed of by the richest people a few centuries ago, even monarchs. And the other side of the coin: too many billions still live in misery, dying of air pollution from the dung they burn indoors. It is beneath contempt that capitalism delivers ever more advanced war machinery while children die of malnutrition.
I love that idea of corporate 9-5. For me it's more like 730 to 730. plus homework. I suspect the same is true for many now in many fields of endeavor.
The wealth produced by capitalism also depends on many socialistic / communitarian functions - primary, secondary, and tertiary education, public health systems, govt supported university research and innovation, public airways, roads, sewers - far more critical than almost anyone knows, police, and govt support for perpetual wars. We claim our system is capitalistic, but it's more of a hybrid between capitalism and socialism, with the pendulum swinging back and forth between the two, never reaching one or the other. And at every step, it seems, producing increasing wealth at one end, and increasing poverty at the other.
To me, capitalism implies a level playing field, a competition that is not distorted by legal preferential treatment or corruption, it implies a safe place to work, income enough the pay wages that support a family, equal opportunity for all who are qualified for the job without preferences of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief or non-belief.
None of these is true in modern capitalist countries. Rules and regulations distort each of these dimensions. Furthermore, laws to prevent the organization of labor favors corporations and big businesses. Prejudices of one kind or another provide extra challenges for those who do not fit the preferred race, gender, sexual orientation religious belief or non-belief.
The role of government should be to protect owners of capital and owners of labor from exploiting and manipulating one another. Government should protect property rights even as it protects producers rights. It should provide rules of safety, fair play, and it should make access to health care, education, and pension plans. The incentives put in place by government should be to improve the team work of all involved in getting goods and services to the market. It is not reasonable to have government playing owners of capital against owners of labor. It is not a game of one wins and one loses. Capital and labor, working cooperatively together to produce the goods and services, make strong individuals, businesses and government.
I was raised to believe in meritocracy. If you work hard, are thoughtful, do right by others, have a good attitude, are productive, you will be treated as a valued member of your team. Your employer will respond as appropriate to reward you benefiting your company with your effort, in turn with security, fair salary, and promised benefits.
Instead, most companies are the lowest common denominator of greed. Employers don't face their employees. Many performance measures are anonymous, and many now are monitored electronically by a big-brother computer system that knows all of your flaws, but does not notice any of the good you do. So-called "teams" are rife with favoritism and back-stabbing politics. The "big bosses" are in their crystal towers, and regard their employees and customers with disdain and discomfort. They must wash their hands in sinks with golden fixtures, if they happen to accidentally touch an employee or customer.
Whatever meritocracy there was, is dying. The old unions seem powerless to do what they used to do. Where I work there are unions supposedly working together with owners, but it's more like the final scene of Animal Farm, where you can't tell the farmers from the pigs.
I think we need a new, grass-roots union movement. I don't have optimism about that either - might be too much like Teapartyism. Demagogues taking advantage of unthinking sheep.
Sentient, check out employee-owned companies.
A Harvard Business Review article in the early 1970s said such companies treat the environment better and have less theft by employees.
I have read of, but not seen, the tax law that favors the owners of small businesses, who when they retire sell their businesses to their employees.
A book published in 2007 said there are more than 11,000 such companies in the USofA.
Employee ownership might save capitalism from itself.