Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mad Max Comes Closer To Reality

"I think that our fundamental belief is that for us growth is a way of life and we have to grow at all times."
- Mukesh Ambani, MD, Chairman Reliance Industries, India

The question that jumps to mind each time I read that quote is Why? Why do we believe that growth is a way of life? Why do we believe that we have to grow at all times?

Mr. Ambani is a wealthy man, an influential man in many aspects of the Indian social system. He got there by believing that Reliance (India's largest private sector company and himself its largest shareholder) had to continue to grow. As if the preordained destiny of all corporations is to grow.
Worldcom had to grow. Enron had to grow. Quest had to grow. Exxon has to grow. Halliburton has to grow. These companies became frighteningly large, with startling influence on the political system of their home countries. They could make or break a president, for example.

Some, like Enron, didn't make it because their growth was mostly in the minds of their top executives and shareholders. Others barely survived. Some can't be stopped by currently accepted means.

There's only one reason why growth is an absolute necessity for corporations. Greed. Shareholders don't just want their share, they want more than their share. When shareholders make more profit than expected, they generously endow their top executives with compensation packages that annually rival what in the days of our grandparents constituted a remarkable lifetime of wealth accumulation.

We have seen recently how interconnected business is around the world today when some below-prime mortgages defaulted in some US banks and world stock markets quivered for a few days until the US Federal Reserve and other national banks adjusted their priorities to bring the markets back into line.

Most of us know what it's like when we get to a bank or store to find that we can't make a purchase or deposit or withdraw money from our accounts because "the system is down." What if a hacker brought Microsoft to its knees? What if the New York Stock Exchange had to lock its doors because its computer systems and their redundant backups all went down together?

We tend to think of 9/11, when the World Trade Centers came down, as a colossal tragedy of unprecedented proportions. Yet from a business standpoint 9/11 was something that affected companies simply had to work around. What could have been worse would be a power loss that required rebuilding major infrastructure over a period of weeks or months.

I believe it will happen some day. A couple of years after 9/11 millions of people in northeastern US and central Canada went without power because of a glitch in a power grid in Ohio somewhere. It could have been worse. That required mostly a quick fix.

In my own remote community a year ago, a tornado did enough damage that it required several teams of electrical workers to get power restored to our cottage community within ten days. It would have taken a month if many residents hadn't pitched in to help keep them supplied from morning until night.

That tornado didn't strike New York, Tokyo or London. It struck a cottage community. The real damage it did was in the nearby wilderness where it levelled every tree in a half kilometer swath, two kilometers long. Millions of trees were wrenched out of the ground but nobody cared because no one lived there.

Life as we know it could change in a moment if we suddenly couldn't buy food, couldn't get water out of our taps, couldn't fill our cars with fuel, couldn't turn on our computers. What would change? Mad Max comes to mind. The crazy people who merely annoy or bully their victims today would use their guns to take from others what they need, without considering what those others might need.

Corporate greed has become a social norm--greed is now a personal and accepted norm for many people. When some big crunch arrives, the greedy bullies will become greedier and more aggressive. Some people always profit when the majority of people are in need.

We could focus more on people rather than making the greed of a few the social norm for everyone.

Mad Max was not just a 1979 Australian science fiction movie. It was a forecast of what life could be like in the future if we do not change the focus of our society from money to people. What did we do about it? Nothing. Road rage wasn't a factor in 1979, though it was in the movie.

How many signposts do we need?

Corporate hacks call anyone who wants to make people more important than money a communist. But we aren't, any more than they are fascists. Those are political labels people use to denigrate each other, to destroy their reputations.

Money's not a bad thing. It only becomes bad when people use money as the driving force in their lives, when they make the acquisition of wealth the hallmark of success in their lives.

That's the way it is now in the western world for many people. The people who make important decisions that affect the lives of every one of us.

Think long term. Choose carefully. Vote wisely.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to change society, for those who know what they want but don't know how to do it. It's easier than you think. Political spin doctors know these techniques already. So do those who train terrorists and suicide bombers. If you don't, you will be their play dough.
Learn more at

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