David Amerland

The anachronism with capitalism

Money, the pursuit, lack and attempts to gain it, is a motive force which makes many things happen, including the need for SEO and internet marketing for online business, so a it is only fair to quantify the context in which all this activity occurs. Analysis always has the capacity to provide insights which then can change our behaviour. I am going to explore here a couple of ideas which have been central in guiding my business help writing namely, that money is always a means to an end and that unless there is a greater framework guiding our work life, work itself gets to be pretty meaningless.

Capitalism, as a concept guiding the development of economic models, seems to have won its intellectual struggle with competing ideologies (mainly Communism) with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and our acceptance of shopping and buying as a modern pastime, rather than an activity designed to fulfil a basic need.

The failure of Communism to create anything other than a society which appear to be bereft of ambition, drive and dreams and the fact that its fall ushered what historian Francis Fukuyama called ‘the end of history’ and a truly post-political age made the west think that it had somehow ‘won’ the ideological struggle. By demonstrating that its model did not work, the popular thinking went, Communism also proved that ours (namely Capitalism) does.

The problem with winning

When two popular ideologies compete as Capitalism did with Communism and one fails then tendency to believe in the sanctity of the prevailing one is a dangerous one. If anything we create a sacred cow of sorts which blinkers us to the potential shortcomings of the model we subscribe to.

Capitalism, as a concept, is fairly simple to grasp. It takes profit as a motive force and justifies everything through bottom line economics. This relatively simple minded approach to doing business has been responsible, in the past, for the same single-minded pursuit of development as Communism had displayed at the height of its expansionistic drive, and has shown, time and again, its capacity to treat human lives with the same scant regard for their value as Communism proved it was capable of.

There is a truism in any competitive arena which holds true here too: You become that which you compete against. This is a paradox only at first glance. When you have to competitors, both wanting the same thing (i.e. to win), irrespective of their starting point and their personal belief systems, they will undergo the same development curve and reach the same destination because they share the same goal. This works in sports, war, business and politics.

In its simplest form, left unchecked, Capitalism creates behemoths of countries and corporations, rendering them faceless and unaccountable. Their growth powered by the lives of millions which they ‘chew up’ in their paths.

The problem with winning which is how this section started, is not that victory is achieved but the fact that victory costs and the price, often, is the unquestioning acceptance of dogma as truth. A ‘truth’ which then appears to have been validated by victory. This is a dangerous path to take. Not only does it lead to blinkered thinking of the sort that led to Lysenkoism but it tends to blind us to the fact that any work model which is truly integrated in society needs to be capable of undergoing constant change and development in order to achieve a dynamic balance which makes it beneficial to the society in which it is applied.

It is the nature of business to make money. Money is needed in order to satisfy our needs to survive (both as inpiduals and a corporations) and money is needed to fuel further growth. In a 21st century environment however those who blindly apply a 19th century concept (or even a 20th century one) without taking into account the fact that we live in a fully empowered, information-driven world where the concept of the ‘replaceable inpidual’ - a person seen as a unit which can be put in place or discarded at will, as circumstances warrant – are only setting themselves up to fail.

Not too long ago I wrote a book called Retail Evolution which charted the idea an English gentleman belonging to the John Lewis family had as he lay recovering from a throw off his horse. His idea that his very successful retail business created an inequality of wealth which he enjoyed at the top compared to what was enjoyed by those lower down the chain who actually created it led to what his father called ‘a social experiment’ in which he attempted to pide the rewards more fairly in a way which made every employee working in his business an owner or ‘partner’.

That was the birth of The John Lewis Partnership, a business which is worth over $12 billion a year and which is Britain’s leading retailer. With a workforce of over 150,000 stretching across all its business concerns it manages to balance the delicate needs of a successful commercial enterprise with the needs of those working within it and, in the process, takes into account the development of every community it operates in. The end result is a retail behemoth which any purely capitalistic model would envy. Bottom-line economics are still a guiding principle (after all the purpose of every successful business is to return a profit) but, within The John Lewis Partnership, that need is fully balanced against the demands made by its social awareness and its drive to develop each of its employees to their fullest potential.

Why capitalism must change

You will, quite rightly, ask now, why aren’t there more business emulating the John Lewis model and what is the point of this blogpost? The answer to the first is that the model itself is so poorly understood outside the company (outwardly it appears to operate just like any other retail business) that even within the UK there is still a great deal of doubt on what it exactly is (though it is the undisputed market leader in retail). The answer to the second is perhaps better explained by a recent post in the Harvard Business Review where Harvard professor of economics, Michael Porter, is creating waves at the economic summit in Davos through a paper which suggests, in its broad outline, that its time capitalism work up, smelled the coffee and started to put into working practice just the kind of operation the John Lewis Partnership has been successfully exercising for over 150 years.

What that has to do with you if you are struggling to keep your online business afloat? Plenty. Change, in any society, cannot come from only one direction, nor can it be led by just one small group of people. Change, in order to happen, must be seen as the only viable choice.

For the last 100 years our economic world has been locked in one boom-and-bust cycle after another and the current global credit crunch crisis is another manifestation of just that. If we are to find ways to break out of the excessive peaks and troughs this creates we must look towards creating business models that foster lasting partnerships, deliver real value and create work that is fulfilling and helps give a sense of purpose to people’s lives. Then and perhaps only then can we truly justify the time, effort and energy which goes into work and which drives us to get out of bed in the morning. At the end of the day it is up to us to realize that we are, truly, the architects of the world we live in and responsible for the direction it takes.

© 2019 David Amerland. All rights reserved