Monthly Archives: April 2009

Which Career to Choose? Certainly Not Finance…

A NY Times article on Friday asked “With Finance Disgraced, Which Career Will Be King?” As if a single career needs to be “King.” That’s elitist, totalizing, and sexist….but….

According to the article, massive distributions in intellectual capital are now at hand: “[T]he industry whose troubles are having the greatest impact on the rethinking of careers, especially at the nation’s elite universities, is the one at the center of the country’s economic downturn — finance. For years, the hefty paychecks and social status on Wall Street proved irresistible to many of America’s brightest young people, but the jobs, money and social respect there are much diminished today.”

The article concludes that it isn’t definitive, but early results, based on grad school applications and course enrollments, preliminary job-placement results, and the anecdotal accounts of students and professors, indicate that there is “a new pattern of occupational choice” emerging. “Public service, government, the sciences and even teaching look to be winners, while fewer shiny, young minds are embarking on careers in finance and business consulting.

That’s interesting, but I don’t see these changes as permanent. Nor do I think finance is coming back the way it was.

Recall that, in a post in the fall, I talked about the way Harvard Marketing Professor John Deighton discussed (and foresaw) some of these changes, and indicated that marketing might be the b-school field to succeed finance. That’s still very possible.

Look at the options.

  1. Public service. The great young minds of today being civil servants? Possible, yes. But the bureaucracy, the very system they will serve will need radical change. It may happen. I hope it does happen. But in the meantime, a lot of good people will not be able to tolerate it.
  2. The Sciences. Basic science ain’t for everyone. What we need, and what a lot of young people today are attracted to, is applied science. Science education is shifting (to a more applied model, like in Germany), and that’s a good thing. But everyone can’t be a scientist.
  3. Teaching. Academia, again. Bureaucracy and public service, again. Again, not everyone is going to have the stomach for this.But it is totally, vitally important that we support and(re)build our education systems as never before.

Where do we need some of our powerful innovation and new thinking today? In education. From primary right through to post-secondary.

We’re going to see demand for new, boundary-stretching education and boundary-stretching jobs that better help us learn about and adapt to the rapid changes all around us. The results won’t be basic or applied science, fundamental or advanced education, public or private orientation, but things in-between and changeable.

I’m thinking about programs that can teach a combination of innovation, sustainability, design, customer-centricity media, and technology. There are overlaps in all of these areas, but they are all needed for actual innovation to take place.

Will marketing play an important role in such programs? Absolutely. But perhaps it won’t be called marketing any more. Many of marketings theories, tools, and techniques will be brought to bear.

But maybe the Age of Marketing (as such) is drawing to a close.

Deep Thinking about Deep Recession, Part VII: Turning towards Deep Economics

Remember what your Mother taught you….

In the last few postings, I’ve been analyzing the economic crisis we all face. And I’ve been wondering why we are trying to stimulate a flagging, failing, flawed economy, without making significant changes in it–while we have a window of opportunity open to us. This is the final section.

These questions are fodder for thinkers and scholars around the world. I’ve long been a fan of Bill McKibben and his work on this front, and his new book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future is a useful start to this dialog.

I hope that McKibben’s book, and the work of others, can help to inspire a field of Deep Economics, based on a blending of the ideas of the Deep Ecologists who consider the non-human world to be valuable in and of itself.

Deep Ecology is “deep” because it brings a philosophical, and even spiritual sense to the endeavor of science, avoiding utilitarianism and consequentialist ethics in favor of a type of appreciation and even reverence for Life.

Deep ecology see Life as sacred, not only because it is useful, but because there is place deep within our psyches that knows that it is special, that as living beings we are all connected.

earth economy so deep?What would happen if we were to bring that sort of thinking fully into our lives? What would happen if we had a Deep Society, a Deep Economics, a Deep Marketing (could we?). What would change about:

  • Our work?
  • Our economy?
  • Our businesses?
  • Our academic studies and education system?
  • Our daily lives?
  • Our government?

It’s going to require all that we know. Anthropology, sociology, psychology, network analysis, environmental analysis, and economics.

What will happen when we bring it all together into something greater than what we are thinking, than what we know today, greater than what we are currently doing? What will happen when we envision and fully apprehend a Deep Society based upon Deep Principles, and implement it, act on it. Our challenge today is to build a truly different approach, to make a truly deep approach to our existence as social human beings, and sharers of a planet, real.

What will it be like? I’m hoping that we find out. And soon.

Deep Thinking about Deep Recession VI: Questioning “Growth” and “One Big Number”

Relative Size of Nation’s GDP

Globalization. Digitization. Green Consumerism. All of them, as we’ve read in the last few posts, reducing economic growth, as measured by our most popular measures. Driving us deeper and deeper into this deep recession.

What’s the problem? What’s the problem with the current solutions being offered by world governments like the G20 alliance? What’s the problem with stoking the economy, with massive Keynesian spending projects matched by huge debt and enormous deficits? With building the IMF into the overfunded, legitimizing cavalry?

The problem is we’re working with the same flawed system. We’re legitimizing it and patching it with bandaids while we pump it full of borrowed-from-our-future resources. We’re measuring growth in the same flawed ways. We’re reifying expenditures and consumption levels far, far, over their sustainable, or even long-term workable, levels. We’re using GNP and GDP as the One Big Number. One Number to Rule them all. One Number to Bind Them to a system.

There’s a big problem with that. And it requires us to look at the One Big Number and question it. And question it again.

“The world has changed and we must change with it.” Isn’t that what President Obama said in his inauguration speech? Well, I think that real change has to start with changes in what we’re measuring, with how we are keeping score.

Gross National Product and Gross Domestic Product just aren’t doing the job anymore. Maybe we don’t need replace them entirely. But maybe we can supplement them, bring in something different. Or make them more subtle, less universal and totalized. Bring a little postmodern reflexive doubt into the economic realm, for once.

One of the best books I’ve read on this topic is by my York University colleague Peter Victor. Peter’s book is called “Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster (Advances in Ecological Economics).”

Prof. Victor talks about how we have gotten into this mindframe where “economic” “growth,” measured and defined in certain very rigid ways (what I’m calling the “One Big Number” problem) by those with entrenched interests (One Big Number is easier to Rule With, remember), has become the over-arching policy objective of countries around the world, the way that governments, corporations, teams, and individuals are assessed, and the way that resources become allocated. Economic Growth is actually a fairly new ideology, emerging only about a half century ago, and Peter shows how it has become rooted to the loaded ideology of the notion of ‘progress.’

Peter argues three points convincingly.

  1. First, that economic growth the way we’ve been doing it just isn’t sustainable in the long term. Period.
  2. Secondly, he repeats the established finding that economic growth and income growth doesn’t seem to lead to happiness. There’s an inverted U-relationship. If you’re destitute, increases in income increase happiness, to some point. After that point, happiness tails off. In my observations of people, I’d say this works fairly well on an individual level, too.
  3. Finally, he shows that economic growth doesn’t and probably won’t ever, eliminate poverty. It does, however, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and has lots of related consequences for the natural environment.

His work is related to the work by the Club of Rome, recent updated in The Limits to growth: A report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind, where we see that, eventually, growth stalls out, flattens, declines, and then major disruptions in the biosphere begin to play havoc with human life.

This thinking raises some extremely important questions. These are the kinds of ideological, paradigmatic questions that the recent G20 activism, that the cracks in the global financial accord should draw us towards.

These are “Second Chance” questions to try to get out system on a better path.

These questions show us how accounting (well, at least measurement) is a critical component of making the world a better place. They ask us:

  • What should we be focusing on?
  • What should we be measuring as well as financial growth?
  • How can we develop qualitatively as a society? What would that look like?
  • Can we measure global equality and opportunity, instead of residual measures like GDP?
  • Can we measure human happiness and welfare? Can we maximize it, while minimizing the impact on the environment?
  • Can we measure the health and stability of our communities?
  • What would a carbon-neutral economic measure look like?
  • What would a zero-impact on habitat destruction look like?
  • What would a sustainability measure, or set of measures, look like?
  • What are the contributions of mental health, optimism, joyfulness, and spirituality to these other measures? How would we factor them in?
  • What would business look like in such a world? What would marketing become?

We need thoughtful answers. And we need them soon.

Why the G20 Protests Matter

One of the blogs about the G20 (breakingviews.com), posted on Fortune.com, argued that “The G20 needs better protestesters.”

The author, Edward Hadas, argues that in the current time of great need we are lacking badly-needed insights.

“The global mismanagement of the financial system has led to a deep recession. Intellectual paralysis has gripped the authorities and their policy response has been risky. After such failure, the political leaders gathered in London for the G-20 conference deserve a serious challenge. Sadly, all they are getting are the senseless slogans of a hippie festival.”

There’s the logical leap. Mr. Hadas decries the “intellectual paralysis” and the risky policies of governments who really don’t have any precedent for the current sociocultural-economic conditions. I agree wholeheartedly, and have been writing about those conditions for a while now.

But expecting protesters to offer up “a serious challenge” to politicians engaged at the conference is entirely missing the point. Are they going to present a serious policy recommendation? It would be wonderful and terrific is they would. Gathered together under a single banner, represented by a single articulate voice, the protesters could say “here’s the way out, implement these policies and you will save they world.” But how likely is that?

But the authors insists on looking for the unlikely, and then chiding the protesters when he doesn’t find it. So, taking a look at whether there is anything substantial or comprehensive being protested, Hadas argues that there isn’t anything meaningful there. It’s naive. It’s vacuous. It’s full of simplistic sloganeering. It lacks “a new intellectual framework.”

The author concludes: “Protesters who look like they just want a street party aren’t likely to be up to the challenge. Sadly, the more intellectually sophisticated Left seems to be hardly more capable of helping out. Any protester who can articulate a coherent alternative to the establishment’s tattered notions really could change the world.

Mr. Hadas, I wonder, is that what protests are for? Is that how social movements begin: the protesters articulate a coherent ideology, a new social vision, and then present it to the government, who enacts it?

Of course not. That’s ridiculous, and even more naive that the actions ascribed to the G20 protests. Why is Mr. Hadas insisting (and why do so many others insist) on judging the success of a protest based on what it “looks like”? The WTO Seattle Protests were a success based not on what they looked like, certainly not on their use of violence, but, I believe, because they showed a discontent underground, a cultural and subcultural current, that there are still people out there who don’t like the current system and who are organizing to try to change it.

One fascinating thing that these protests show, and one big reason why they matter, is their use of new technology. CNN ran a very interesting story about the use of information and communications technology tools by protesters at the G20 in London, and how authorities tried to use the same technologies to stay ahead of the protesters (thanks to Ece Ilhan for sending this to me). This protest, like Seattle before it, and others, was a manifestation of Net guru Howard Rheingold’s idea of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, a type of Smart Mobilization of mobs-within-crowds.

Do these protests matter? Are they significant?

Protests are symbolic acts of systemic resistance. They are groups of people who are displaying their unhappiness with entire social systems. They aren’t meant to articulate detailed policy recommendations or ideological statements. Their cultural contribution is images of angry crowds, of “the people” acting against hegemonic power in a general way, sounds bites and placards and images.

What we get are images. And images are powerful. In our culture, they are probably the most powerful articulations of all.

Look at these G20 images.

G20_Protestesters_are_Damn_Hippies?

With the double peace sign (face-ainted in eco-green, of course), I guess it’s easy to see how this group could be linked to tthe generation of the hippies and the 1960s. But that simple fact isn’t enough to dismiss this protest, or these protesters. Instead, we might note, as a number of intellectuals have already noted, the lasting impact of the 1960s and the types of resistance that were pioneered during that time, the many social movements that have changed, and continue to change, the world. Images of hippies? Yes. Is that a problem? Only if you judge using kneejerk reactions, rather than carefully understanding why the metaphors and tropes of ’60s radicalism still hold power over four decades later. Read the sign, not just the signs.

g20_protests1.jpg

Here’s another trope that leads to the “Street Party” dismissal. We see nudity and body emphasis, masks and drumming and dance at a lot of these protests. Why? Because they are about over-civilization. They are about machine culture. They are about ideology, and one of modern activism’s greatest weapons is the invocation of primitivism. It is primitivism that gives protest a lot of its power (and its appeal). I’ve written about this under the guise of tribes, and in my research on Burning Man. This is a very important relationship.

g20_2.jpg

Here’s another powerful, ubiquotous protests image: good versus evil, and the demons among us. As Jay Handelman and I wrote in our 2004 JCR on Consumer Activism, the roots of a lot of consumer activism (and of social movements and activism in general in America) draw from religious, moral roots. This image creates a spectral, haunting, looming demon out of American dollar bills, to try to draw attention to that ancient root of all evils in the world: money, capital, and the systems that sustain it. Channeling fear, hatred, and anger in this way doesn’t follow a logical, intellectual process. Instead, it draws on instinctive reactions, to try to mobilize and to shock into a new form of (moral) awareness. Images like this, which are artistic, religious, and visceral, show that this is not a “mere” street party or hippie celebration.

Its about the Visualization, Stupid

Here’s a key visual. It’s an image. It says something is wrong. It says the system isn’t working. It is encouraging us not to simply patch up or fix the current system, but to thing about what could be. To envision another world. The world of the possible. This is the essence of social movements. Images of discontent. Intimations of a better way.

First, come the protests. Then comes the organizing, the consensus building, the ideology construction, the alternative-weighing, and finally the policy recommending and politicking and movement making. It doesn’t happen all at once.

We’re seeing the front end of the wave. Don’t expect finished work. But it is up to all of us to take these initial forays and work on them. We can ask ourselves if the system is working or not. And if it isn’t, then we need to ask ourselves what each of us can do to imagine a possible world that is better.

Deep Reflecting on the G20 Accord: The Cowboy Crackdown

Global Cowboys…Bewareno cowboys

No more Cowboy Economics, “they” declare from on high.

I’ve been reflecting on this global recession for the last few posts, and now we have globally ruminated over it through the fascinating G20 WTO Summit in London.

As widely reported, a lot of the involved parties went away happy from the G20. CNN’s consensus was that the biggest winner from the G20 was, without a doubt, the International Monetary Fund. The IMF will see it financial resources triple. It flagging legitimacy is going to be propped up, and “suddenly it’s being viewed as a savior of countries large and small.” Financial lending condition will be related, the money is going to flow.

The G20 was all about adapting to financial crisis by increasing government financing. It was about stimulating the free market by offering government incentives. It was about healing capitalism by altering capitalism. It was about quietly burying University of Chicago style free market financial governance models.

In some ways, it was an officiating ceremony over the death of one global economic mode of governance, and the birth of another.

  • Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd captured this idea nicely when he said, “We’re beginning to crack down on cowboys in global markets.”

Cowboys are free marketeers, lone wolves, snatch-and-grabbers, exploiters. What do you do with uncivilized rebels causing a major ruckus? Well, I reckon y’all restrain ‘em. Y’all rope ‘em in. Y’all regulate ‘em, y’all.

albert_capitalism.jpg

A book I read during my Ph.D. program was very influential on my thinking. It was called Capitalism vs. Capitalism: How America’s Obsession with Individual Achievement and Short-Term Profit has Led It to the Brink of Collapse. That’s seems like a pretty self-explanatory title, but I”ll tell you a little bit more.

In the book, the author, Michel Albert, a French business executive, talks about two basic models of capitalism at play in the world today.

  • The first is the “Anglo-American model” where greed is good, individual gain is rewarded, the stakes are determined by risk-and-reward, and the government is generally free-market-positive or laissez-faire. This is the kind of economic governance suggested for years by the school of thought that has come to be known as Chicago School of Economics-stule governance.
  • Albert then talks about “the Rhine model.” This model originated in the Swiss, German insurance industries, where risk had to be shared by communities, and which was later followed in the post WW2 periods by Germany and, to a large extent, Japan. That is a more communal form of capitalism, where the government attempts to manage the economy for the long-term success of the entire society. He emphasizes that this is a communally-oriented capitalism, capitalism run for the common good, not, as it has been ideologically termed, “Welfare State” or “Nanny State” Economics.

Both models have their origins and their main definition elements in the world of finance. Both had strong ideological elements. And, in the post-Communist world, both had global aspirations. Albert proposed that the Anglo-American model was spreading, and was disastrous and would fail. And that we needed to look at the Rhine model as the ideal.

The book was originally published in 1991, 18 years ago. It’s ideas hold up fairly well today.

I think this is the big shift we are seeing. The Anglo-American model has been ascendant through the 1990s and up until about 2005, and then we’ve seen the pendulum turn to a more Rhine-like model (meanwhile, all his classifications have been complicated by the alterations in global politics). Politically, big parts of the world have seemingly moved from extreme right to center to left.

Economically, we have moved from increasingly emphasizing openness and free-markets governing themselves, to increasingly emphasizing the governmental regulation of markets. We are now carefully considering the management of markets for the common good. And that common good is increasingly complex, requiring increasingly delicate and sophisticated governance bodies.

Related side note: Isn’t it interesting that the biggest protests take place at the WTO meetings, not at the UN? Perhaps the WTO is really the major global regulatory body that direct the investment of resources today.

I think we are definitely moving in the right direction. Overall, I like the directions President Obama is taking the country. I think the WTO is clearly thinking clearly about global capitalism and the need for its regulation.

But there’s more, much more that can be done.

Not just the Great Cowboy Crackdown. We need clearer assessments of our past and present. And we urgently need new models, new ways of thinking about where we are, and where we want to Be.

Deep Thinking about Deep Recession V: The Impact on “Growth”

Economic Impact–watch out…run for cover!!!!

In the last few posts, I’ve laid out what I speculate may be three big differences between this recession and prior ones.

  • 1. Globalization. Although globalization has been going on since well before David Ricardo was potty-trained, we have had some pretty dramatic shifts in production and wealth over the last decade.
  • 2. Digitalization. Although technology has been allowing us to abstract concepts and ideas from the real world and share them in an immaterial way for millennia (the alphabet? the scroll?), information and communications technology advances of the last decade are changing the way that we relate to the physical world in unprecedented ways.
  • 3. Green Consumerism. Although Rachel Carson was already preaching to an eco-conscious choir in the 1960s, we’ve seen a mass diffusion of awareness in the last few years that is just beginning to manifest in a questioning of consumption habits, alongside some small changes, alongside a few bold government initiatives. Those changes could get a lot bigger fast.

As well, these changes all work together. Each one has the potential to accelerate the others.

So what do we have with these three trends in terms of their effect on “growth”–which is what the recession and depression terms are supposed to be capturing?

First, we have a world where the capital flows, the currency prices, and the employment rates are still in flux, still reflecting massive changes that have taken place at the level of vital services and things being produced and moved around, controlled and available.

If we have less production in high wage countries like the USA, Canada, and France, and more in low wage countries like China and India, it makes sense that, on the global stage, support services would, as a total number, be lower. The guy who is working in the plant in China, making less, is going to be spending less on his food, clothes, entertainment, escargot, cologne, and so on than the guy working in the plant in France. And all those support services are going to suffer. In Windsor Ontario, where the auto plants used to pump out cars, the people who used to work on the assembly lines can no longer afford to eat in restaurants, shop in the malls, or go to the movies the way they once did. Job losses aren’t isolated. It all trickles down.

That bespeaks continuing trouble and challenge for North America and Western Europe.

Next, we have the shift towards information technology increasing consumer power, reducing prices, and changing different types of consumption from physical to lower-cost virtual. That means lower prices at the cash register (which may be increasingly a disintermediating virtual cash register), and subsequent lower revenues. It means more opportunities for peer-to-peer “sharing,” of films, music, TV shows, books, and magazines too. It means less material needed to produce things. And all the service jobs associated with those material things start to disappear. All of this can lead (particularly if the industry required to support these immaterial forms of consumption is lower cost than the one required to support the former more matter-based form, and also if it, too is being globalized, see point #1 above) to reduced financial growth.

Finally, we have consumers questioning and potentially reducing consumption because of environmental concerns. Less stuff bought, smaller cars, more bikes on the road, more efficient light bulbs, less energy consumed–these have their economic ramification, and those ramification ramify (sorry) the more this green “movement” gathers momentum. Green means leaner living. And leaner living means lower revenues as well. In the aggregate, it means reduced financial growth.

Does anyone remember the book “Green Is Gold/Business Talking to Business About The Environmental Revolution“? For particular companies and individuals, maybe, but in aggregate? I really don’t think so. Not real green. Real green means less. Less consumption, less production, less for everyone. Sorry.

Doom and gloom? I don’t think so. I think we need to question the entire enterprise of measuring recession and depression and think in more subtle terms about what we’re doing and where we need to go and, in particular, what we define and gloss to ourselves as a civilization as “progress.”

No, I’m not done with this yet. Is anybody out there? Halloooo?