Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

A few weeks ago, I posted that I had a theory that there was one specific cause which creates or at least contributes to most of the things that are wrong with our society. I promised that I'd post about it, and I didn't mean to be a tease, but I've been distracted. Now I'm actually trying to write it, and I'm realizing that I have a whole book's worth of stuff that I'm trying to say, half of which I've actually figured out and half that I'm still working on. So, I will try to present the basics of my idea here, but I beg your indulgence because it's not going to be as clear and complete as I had imagined.

Before you read on, if you didn't contribute your list of things that are wrong with our society before, or you'd like to add some more, feel free to do so here. After I have explained my theory, I will try to show how the specific problems proposed can be blamed on this cause.

Briefly, the big problem is that capitalism is broken. Our modern world has come to be dominated by a relatively small number of giant corporations which operate in a a fundamentally destructive and stupid way.

Before I explain in any more detail, I want to make it clear that I'm not saying that capitalism itself is evil. Private ownership of the means of production and the right of individuals to profit from those privately owned means have arguably created the single most powerful historical force in human history, and while much of the change they have brought has been undesirable in many ways, a great deal of good has come of it. I'm also not saying that corporations are inherently evil. The basic ideas of allowing companies to be bigger than what one person could own, and of limiting the financial liability of a business venture to the assets of the business itself, are sensible ones, and the economic growth in the last couple of centuries -- and all that comes with it, good and bad -- wouldn't be possible without having corporations.

No, the basic idea of a capitalist economy is a good one, but somewhere along the line, some things got out of whack, and feedback loops developed that pushed things farther and farther out of whack. The way our corporations are run is completely nuts, unless you look at their operations in a very specific way from a very specific viewpoint -- which is unfortunately the viewpoint that corporate management and stockholders do look at them from. Everything is about shareholder value. This wouldn't be so bad if shareholder value actually meant the long term health of the corporation, but it doesn't. Shareholder value is about what the markets perceive, not about what's really happening, and it's only about the very short term. Intangibles like the environment or worker morale, or even future economic returns, are insignificant compared to the next quarterly report.

Some people would call this corporate greed, but it's not really about greed. Greed is acting in your own self-interest without regard for others, but the corporate mindset isn't actually acting in the best interest of the corporation.

As I try to write this, I'm discovering that I'm not as ready to write as I thought I was, and I further find that I don't have any more time right now. Rather than blow off writing this entirely, I will post what I have and hope it makes some sense. There are three main lines of thought I hope to clarify in future posts:

  • The proximate cause of our problems is oversized corporations exclusively focused on maximizing perceived shareholder value in the very short term.

  • I can show that most of the specific things wrong today are caused, directly or indirectly, by this corporate mindset.

  • The corporate mindlessness itself has specific causes, relatively minor mis-adjustments in the capitalist system which could imaginably actually be fixed.

Tags: philosophy
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