The UK has a particularly extreme form of capitalism, I read this morning. Is this news to you? It wasn’t for me.
These are the views of Colin Mayer, the author of a report on the future of “the corporation”. He is a professor at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.
According to him, various global crises such as the disastrous impact our activities have on our own habitat and the increasing inequality, certainly in the UK, are forcing us to remind ourselves what the purpose of business is.
To make money?
If you go back in history, you will find that business as well as money once began as a way to address our basic needs.
Take the case of Peter, who was great at making boots and Carla, who was very skilled at catching fish, whereas Paul, Jenny and Chris had a wonderful apple orchard.
People particularly needed boots in the winter, but when lakes and rivers are frozen, fish can be harder to catch and you won’t see many apples on trees in mid-winter.
So instead of all these people needing to do all of these things, Peter would give a pair of boots to Carla, Paul, Jenny and Chris who promised to provide Peter with fish and apples.
And instead of all of these people needing to remember who they promised to provide with boots, apples and fish later, they came up with little notes they handed each other and that is part of the story of how money came about.
As a maker of boots I could, for example, exchange a promise of a basket of apples from Jenny for a promise of a catch of fish, if I had my own apple trees, but my neighbour didn’t but my neighbour had a cousin who was an excellent fisherman. So my neighbour could then take the note to Jenny and receive “my” basket of apples.
This is also part of the story of how the concept of business came about.
You began a business because you were good at something and dedicated and you were providing something worthwhile to everyone around you.
At some point in the past, this mechanism became increasingly skewed, particularly in the west, which had this great urge to impose its ways and views on people in other parts of the world as THE way to live, the ONLY way to live.
Many members of indigenous tribes around the world would disagree, I bet.
Capitalism. The accumulation of goods and money for the sake of accumulation, at any cost.
The cost turned out to be that we are slowly but surely making our own habitat unsuitable for human life.
Sure, we have become better at beating old-fashioned infectious diseases, but we have also been boosting an increasing number of new and old afflictions of which the incidence is increasing.
We have a global depression epidemic, which is a major cause of “disability”.
The various kinds of air pollution we unleashed are making an increasing number of people ill in all sorts of ways, and it does not just concern respiratory health.
Bioethics experts who suggest tweaking asthma genes to curb only one aspect of this are hopelessly out of touch with reality, partly as a result of a major flaw in their logic, namely linear thinking. “If I press this button, the ceiling light will go on. If I press this button again, the ceiling light will go off.”
The cost also includes modern slavery. Millions of people and millions of children are slaves. You can find them working at hotels and at universities, among other places. They’re all around you.
We don’t notice them because hey, extreme capitalism is the only right way to live, right? So we have learned to accept these costs as unavoidable collateral damage.
So we are increasingly making more money so that increasingly more money can and has to be spent on dealing with the problems caused by the business of making more money. That is the real circular economy.
But these costs to people, to the planet and to its many other inhabitants are not inevitable.
Is it hard to turn this tsunami of destructive business approaches around? Oh yeah.
But the tiny house and van life movements are proving that extreme capitalist views are crushing people, and are no longer contributing much to our lives.
The tiny house movement and the van life movement are also sparking new businesses that cater to these movements but don’t buy into the dogma of extreme capitalism.
So, if you want to put sanity back into your business, what should you do?
Differentiate yourself. Don’t blindly do what your government tells you to do and consider that enough. Don’t meekly follow everyone else’s example in your industry. Set the standard higher for yourself.
This also goes for local government. City councils and county councils.