Love, War & Economics
It’s not confusing to most folks, but it bothers me a lot. The conventional wisdom is that we’ve got the best of all worlds–freedom to innovate and be a winner, in a free-market orgy of talent and capital and consumers. The only problem with the dance is that it’s so hard to find anybody that’s actually made it work for them. Even those who seem to have it made will–with little prompting–spill out a tangled web of possessions and obligations and stresses that are suffocating them. And for most of the few who have made it without an ulcer or a coronary, there’s been a lot of history that they don’t want their kids at boarding school to know much about.
Managerial Capitalism – the Rule of Meritocracy
Free-market capitalism is neither aristocracy or democracy. Its special “ocracy” is meritocracy – those who are most able rise to the top of the pecking orders of multi-national corporations and their management teams, not determined by any static biases of family, ethnicity, national origin or even gender. But the lack of those perceptible biases doesn’t mean there’s a lack of bias. The bias is for a special blend of intelligence and energy called merit. Most of the significant wealth is managed by corporations which need a steady supply of hungry young tigers with big brains and bigger egos to attack markets and destroy competition and launch killer products to conquer market segments. It sounds as brutal as feudalism. The expendable foot soldiers of these campaigns are people from the same social classes as those who rise to the top. The difference may be in their genes–their hearts don’t seem to be in the unending fight–and at some level they know they’re expendable as soon as a wave of re-engineering or acquisition dictates. There’s been a steady increase in the level of commitment, intelligence, energy, ambition and ruthlessness required to rise to the top of any corporation, so the few who make it are reaping greater rewards compared to the people who fight in the trenches. And that’s why they’re in the game.
Money, not nobility, is the only way to differentiate oneself from the run-of-the-mill. The stock market wealth engine has reduced the process to a formula: Own stock or options in a company; build the company (perhaps from scratch); buy another company or be bought out; own stock and be perceived as instrumental in building the new organization; buy another company or be bought out… That process builds the winner’s web of wealth. Stock is never given out of generosity, so folks who don’t negotiate hard have a more constrained web of wealth. If they are downsized, they are separated from their web of wealth, perhaps before they have any significant bit of other people’s productivity.
Meritocracy’s profound, counter-genetic shift
Historically, those chieftains who were woven into a web of wealth maintained a web of support for the many whose productivity they laid claim to. In our time, technology means that more productivity does not mean more workers. The genetically based contract – that the powerful protect the weak in exchange for their productivity – has broken down. It would never occur to a king or noble (or silver-backed gorilla) to estrange a loyal and hard working serf simply because there were harder-working serfs. This all changed with the pervasive application of the Net Present Value calculation.
With no alternative in sight and general agreement that capitalism won the battle of the isms, no one seems to see any alternative but to keep carrying a heavier load each year, like the farmer carrying a calf around each day until he falls under an unsupportable load of bull.
Perhaps this is not the final system. Perhaps there’s life after meritocracy, especially when one observes that the products and services produced by the meritocrats are not always satisfactory. Just because these hard-charging companies are defeating each other in the market doesn’t mean they’re winning customers’ hearts and minds. There’s something about large organizations which squanders most of the participants’ time and energy in producing motion rather than progress. Too often, they seem as competitive with customers as they are with competitors, designing byzantine structures to lock a customer into a complex dependency when all the customer wanted to do was surf the net or call home.
Some day we may discover that our suspicions were correct, that, during the years surrounding the beginning of the third millennium, only 10% of our efforts were producing value but we were going crazy with the cultural and economic myths surrounding that 10% of our effort. All it took was to change the work protocols slightly and people once again were able to turn most of that wasted 90% into a real life.
I believe that Xpertweb provides those protocols, but we shall see.