Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Management should learn from the past.

May 31, 2009

In his column in today’s issue of The Observer Simon Caulkin, draws his readers attention to The Puritan Gift  by  brothers Will and Kenneth Hopper in which theyargue that up to the 1970s, US management was living “on the strength of its Puritan inheritance, part of which (with idealism, mechanical aptitudes and unparalleled ability to galvanise energy behind a single aim) was a belief that the coherence of the collective was more important than any individual”

But from the seventies onwards, America, forgetting what had served it well in the past, went in altogether different direction.

 Managers abandoned true north in favour of “neo-Taylorism” – quantitative techniques, “the cult of the expert”, of which the temples were business schools, and heroic CEOs. Raging self-interest and the malign influence of shareholder value did the rest;

Managers in the UK were all too easily persuaded, or could persuade themselves all to easily, to follow suit:

….. lacking their own tradition and burdened by inferiority complex, UK managers were all too easy to drag in the same direction.

Caulkin ends his piece by saying that that the Hoppers’ book does end  on a note of “qualified optimism”

Just as the French had to go to the US to reintroduce resistant vines after their own had been wiped out by phylloxera, so the most thoughtful Anglo-US firms are relearning what they once knew from Japan, inheritor of the human-centred US tradition via Deming and others after the war.

The Puritan Gift2

For those who may have never heard of Deming, a good place to start learning about him and his work is The W. Edwards Deming Institute.


The City & Capitalism.

May 12, 2009

Seth Freedman, author of Binge Trading:The Real Inside Story of Cash, Cocaine and Corruption in the City, has written a rather good article  for today’s edition The Guardian in which he reminds us that the current preoccupation we have with blaming just the City for the financial crisis that has so crippled us ” is utterly unhelpful, and is simply an easy way for the public to ignore its ­collective ­culpability for the financial crisis”.

For all its faults, the City is ­essentially a manifestation of today’s culture, reflecting, and reacting to, the society that it is a part of. Those working in the stockmarket are not genetically programmed to dispense with morals and ethics in their pursuit of ill-gotten gains. Rather, they are products of a society that uses money to rank individuals in terms of success and status. It is ­inevitable that young, ambitious ­graduates will gravitate to an arena where they believe cash rains down like manna from heaven……………….

..The City does not exist in a vacuum; the stockmarket is the heart of a capitalist society, pumping blood around the system. And until capitalism is rejected by the world at large, to attempt to control it is useless: regulation only encourages more potent strains to spring up.

So long as money still trumps morals in society’s eyes, it is futile to protest about those who profit from swine flu by short-selling travel shares. Those frowning now at such activities will be smiling again in a few years when the boom times return. Underneath these short-term ups and downs, the corrosive nature of capitalism’s core still needs to be addressed before any fundamental and far-reaching change can ever occur.

Here we have the dilemma stated baldly and well. I wonder whether or not those who have considered the fall of Communism as a the victory of Capitalism – and there are many who do – can now bring themselves to consider the “corrosive nature of capitalism’s core” might be, let alone address it.

New models for the economy.

May 7, 2009

Today’s edition of The Guardian contains a commentary column  by the never less than interesting  essayist and polemicist Timothy Garton Ash in which he argues that to emerge from what he calls “the greatest crisis of capitalism for 70 years” we need “new models for a sustainable social market economy”. Thea new models will, as he sees it have their core,  a rigorously regulated “free-market” economy in which  each and every one of us will behave more responsibly that we have in the past.

More than 30 years ago, Daniel Bell explored in his Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism the paradox that the dynamism of capitalism depends on individuals living by somewhat different values in their personal lives as producer and as consumer. Extending Max Weber’s famous argument about the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, he suggested that the production side depends on people harking to values such as hard work, punctuality, discipline and a readiness to accept deferred gratification.

The demand side, by contrast, depends on them being self-indulgent, expansive, pleasure-seeking and given to living in the now. Add to this the new constraint that the planet will not sustain more than 6 billion people enjoying constantly rising living standards achieved by the methods of production and consumption so far used. Complicate matters further by the moral argument that the world’s rich have no right to deny the world’s poor a materially better life, which would still be a fraction of the affluence we ourselves enjoy.

What you end up with is not just a systemic conundrum but also a personal challenge to every one of us. The challenge is to find a new balance in our double-lives as producers and consumers, at the same time consciously contributing to a larger set of new international balances between economy and environment, oversaving east and overspending west, rich north and poor south. That, too, is what I mean by a sustainable social market economy.