Archive for January, 2008

Why capitalism is so successful

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Growth. There’s your answer.

In order for a society to function ‘naturally’, the concept of growth has to be a central tenet of it. This is because the idea of growth is hard wired into our brains and we are chemically rewarded for pursuing it.

Let’s go back several hundred thousand years. We were, and still are, social animals. We banded together to form groups. This held many advantages for us but even if we were solitary animals the desire to reproduce would still have been there. An animal has to increase its numbers or die out. So having children made us feel good. Life equals growth. We only need to look at the figurines of grossly pregnant females to realise how powerful this drive is.

However, in the past, growth was limited by food supply, territory and predators. It was sustainable growth. A tribe could only become so big before it had to split up into smaller groups and look for new territory. Then with the development of agriculture tribes could become much bigger, so big in fact, that they could establish empires.

Growth makes us feel good. We need to feel something is moving, pushing, developing. This is what capitalism emulates so well. And it is scaleable, just like human society, from a small ‘family’ business, to a conglomerate ‘empire’. It taps into the essence of human motivation. This is why governments and companies talk about growth as if it is life itself (it is).

Unfortunately, the capitalist model is not sustainable. And because of globalisation, when we discover this, it will be on a catastrophic scale. It is also too successful in its one facet approach. It is like heroin; yes, the user feels good initially but in the long run, the total focus on its use makes you ill. Such is the drive for growth that it can become, literally, all consuming when unfettered.

This is why models like communism fail. They only work on an intellectual level. The vast majority of the population are still hard wired to experience the pleasure of seeing something grow – their finances, their family, their firm, their country, their church…

Any viable alternative to capitalism will have to include the concept of growth somewhere. The trick is to make that growth sustainable, measurable and perpetual.

One model I am working on is to continue using capitalism but making the medium of exchange, passion, instead of money.

An update

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Here, I wrote about a company that demonstrated the wrong way of trying to implement change in customer relations.

The situation has now been resolved in an unexpected way.

Their complaints procedure seems to be to ignore any correspondence they receive (this is my experience I have to stress). What correspondence I did receive from them amounted to an email informing me that they had sent the password details regarding the control panel used for invoices, to my client. Why they should use my email address to tell me this but then use another email address belonging to my client to send the actual details makes no sense to me.

I then received a paper letter from them telling me a payment was overdue and that they needed my VISA details. This surprised me as they had my card on continuous authority which is like a direct debit set-up. So once I had obtained the password details to the control panel from them (without so much as an apology from them for passing sensitive information to my client) I decided to take a look at the information on there.

I noticed the VISA details they had were for a card that had subsequently expired. My clients account with me was up to date and I decided that the little bit of mark-up I got out of handling this account was now no longer worth the extra work I had to do. So I contacted my client and told them they could take over the payment of the account if they wanted to, which they did. I received an email from the service provider asking me to confirm that this is indeed the case.

Job done. I had washed my hands of this incompetent company.

Several days later the telephone rings and it’s a representative of this company chasing me for my new card details. I told her that it helps if departments in a company talk to each other, then she would have known that the client had taken over the responsibility for payment. My gentle sarcasm was wasted on her; she couldn’t have cared less.

When I had looked at the control panel, and read the small print on the site, I noticed the company was now owned by a much larger parent company. Just as I had anticipated, the family owned, conscientious proprietors had carefully built up the company until they could sell it for a tidy profit. The company that bought it just wanted to make money. Whereas the original owners had asked themselves “How can we best serve our customers and make a profit?” the new owners asked themselves “How can we maximise our profits without losing existing customers?”

These are two entirely different questions.

Jeremy Clarkson’s bank account

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

In order to demonstrate what a storm in a teacup the loss of 25 million bank account details by the government is, Jeremy Clarkson printed his own account details in a daily newspaper.

The result of his hubris was that someone had anonymously set up a direct debit on his account for £500 to be paid into a charity.

What the story neglected to mention was the fact that a particularly inept Nigerian colonel had deposited 12.6 million US dollars into Clarkson’s account as well.

Freethinkers meeting Jan 7th

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

What a diverse bunch of people who turned up for this meeting held in Westgate studios in Wakefield.

After people had introduced themselves I wanted to demonstrate a visual metaphor which showed the importance of critical thinking in any debate. In the two minutes it took me to set up the props the room was buzzing with animated conversation and I was somewhat reluctant to interrupt. I did interrupt, made my point and the evening commenced but the incident got me thinking…

Thanks to everyone who contributed and made such a stimulating evening. The subjects were broad and far reaching but seemed to centre around the concept of the ‘outsider’ which is perhaps unsurprising as we were all freethinkers and artists.

On a practical note, it was decided that meetings would take place on the first Monday of every month, so the next one will be February the 4th commencing at 7.00 pm. It was also decided that a topic should be chosen before a meeting so people could have a think about it and raise any issues at the meeting. Richard suggested that the topic for the next meeting should be ‘fame’ as he has a particular fascination of it (along with vast majority of the population I should guess, going by the number of celebrity programmes there are on television).

So we will look at fame; what is it, how do we define it, why do some people want it, why does it have such power? To kick start the meeting we will ask each person there if they would like to be famous and why (if they can bring a famous person along with them to tell us what it is actually like, even better).

And so my solution to what got me thinking in the second paragraph… Instead of having the formal meeting first and people going to the pub afterwards if they wished, I suggest we meet informally in the pub first, have our ‘getting to know you’ chats, then have the formal discussion afterwards. This could be held in the pub itself if it is quiet, or if not, we could retire to one of the studio spaces in the Prudential Buildings.

It could be that people get too comfortable in the pub (which hasn’t been chosen yet and need not be a pub – any suggestions?) and may not want to decamp to the other place. I see this as a challenge to make the topic of discussion so interesting that people will want to be involved.

I also suggest (should people agree that meeting in the pub first is a good idea) that an official greeter is appointed for each meeting who will be there in plenty of time to make any first time visitors welcome and introduce them to others as they arrive.

Until such time as we have a dedicated forum, can people please leave their comments and suggestions here for others to see.

Many thanks to all involved and I look forward to making connections at the next meeting.

Thoughts for the new year

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

The Edge (not the rock star) has an annual event, which is to ask leading thinkers a pertinent question. Here, they ask the question, ‘what have you changed your mind about?’

A scientist, changing their mind? Crikey!