Capitalism: And How to Survive It!
Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.
John Ruskin (1819-1900).
Art critic and patron, draughtsman, philosopher, philanthropist.
Far too often ‘Epilogues’ in books waste words reviewing what has been written and read already, whereas their purpose should be mildly reflective but primarily forward-looking, hence the David Bowie quote introducing the last Part of this book (“I don’t know where I’m going, but I promise it won’t be boring”).
An excellent example of this can be found in the recently published book by Times Literary Supplement editor Stig Abel (2018), How Britain Really Works: Understanding the Ideas and Institutions of a Nation. In the book’s brief Epilogue Abel announces that, at the time of writing, his wife is pregnant with their third child, Phoebe, and he then envisions a ‘state-of-the-nation’ vista of how Britain might look when his unborn child reaches her teenage years in the 2030s. This is not a new intellectual idea, but it is very well executed regarding his book’s essence. In the sections which follow we will aim to emulate (steal) Abel’s literary insight but, in the field of globalization and its impact on global business strategy, we wouldn’t dare to dream so far ahead. As the famous quote from Lenin states: “There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.” Events, dear reader, events…
Towards a New Enlightenment and Achieving Work-Life Balance
Much is made of the impact of social media being excessively negative and there does seem to be an air of doom and gloom if one is foolish enough to get sucked into its sticky entrails or become hooked on 24/7 rolling news channels: they have to say something and, if they become too positive, you may as well switch channels and watch something more ecumenically evangelical. Bad news sells. The print media are desperate and with good reason. Even ‘quality’ newspapers are seduced by the seductive powers of ‘clickbait’ in their online presence. However, the highly respected linguist, author and philosopher Steven Pinker provided welcome respite in 2018 with a reassessment of humanist progress and a renaissance of the enlightenment philosophy, and he did so with reference to strong ideas and hard statistics: we are, for the most part, leading much better lives from many dimensions of measurable or intangible perspectives (Pinker, 2018). As the back cover of his book states (and our reading of it verifies):
If you follow the headlines, the world in the 21st century appears to be sinking into chaos, hatred, and irrationality. Yet Enlightenment Now shows that this is an illusion – a symptom of historical amnesia and statistical fallacies. If you follow the trendlines rather than the headlines, you discover that our lives have become longer, healthier, safer, happier, more peaceful, more stimulating and more prosperous – not just in the West, but worldwide. Such progress is no accident: it’s the gift of a coherent and inspiring value system that many of us embrace without even realizing it. These are the values of the Enlightenment: of reason, science, humanism and progress.
Starting with Chapter One, we have introduced and discussed the seminal, prescient work of Adam Smith and without doubt his Wealth of Nations treatise can be viewed as a blueprint for capitalism (Smith, 1776). Perhaps the strongest critique made of his philosophy has related to its emphasis on ‘self-interest’ which was at its core and which we cited in Chapter Three, Theories of International Business. But, as Pinker (2018) notes:
Smith was not saying that people are ruthlessly selfish, or that they ought to be; he was one of history’s keenest commentators on human sympathy. He only said that in a market, whatever tendency people have to care for their families and themselves can work to the good of all. Exchange can make an entire society not just richer but nicer, because in an effective market it is cheaper to buy things than to steal them, and other people are more valuable to you alive than dead.
This sounds like a reasonable post-Brexit philosophy for the relationship between the UK and the remaining members of its partner in divorce, the EU. Only time will tell and only a fool would tell you otherwise.
Despite an ill-judged and premature General Election in May 2017, the UK will leave the EU at midnight on 29th March 2019. Like all messy divorces, there will be an uncomfortable transition as the former partners find their feet (and their friends) in its aftermath. But long before then, companies should have their strategies, plans and contingencies in place; and that challenge is exactly what this book has aimed to address.
Abell, S. (2018). How Britain Really Works: Understanding the Ideas and Institutions of a Nation. London: John Murray.
Cyert, R. M., & March, J. G. (1963). A Behavioural Theory of the Firm. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall.
Economist. (2017, October 21st). In the lurch: Many places have lost out to globalisation. What can be done to help them? The Economist, 19-24.
Galbraith, J. K. (1999). The Affluent Society: Updated with a New Introduction by the Author (5 Rev ed.). London: Penguin Business.
Mody, A. (2018). EuroTragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pinker, S. (2018). Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. London: Viking.
Saunders, R. (2018). Yes to Europe! The 1975 Referendum and Seventies Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, A. (1776). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Edinburgh: Strathan & Cadell.
Steers, R. M., & Osland, J. S. (2019). Management Across Cultures: Challenges, Strategies, and Skills (4 ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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All content © Colin Edward Egan, 2022