Monday, September 21, 2009

Business Will Change the World, chapter 2: Most Powerful Force


Business is the most powerful force shaping the world.  I don't often use superlatives like 'biggest,' 'best,' or 'most powerful,' because they are usually wrong.  But today I'll make three assertions, and they will all be superlative.  Although these can't be definitively proven, there is evidence by the freighter-load to back them up, and it's headed your way.

Assertions: 
1 - Business is the most powerful force shaping the world.
2 - Business is the most powerful force shaping your life.
3 - Your business decisions are the most impactful part of your life.

Assertion # 1: Business is the most powerful force shaping the world.

Perhaps the biggest change in human culture since the advent of agriculture is happening right now - billions of people are moving from rural lands to cities, following the promise of prosperity offered by business.  In Africa and Asia 1 Million people per week are showing up in cities, looking for a future.  As people move off the farms and grazing lands that used to sustain them, they become consumers.  Business's influence in the world grows with every new family that arrives on the outskirts of a city.

Some of business's other accomplishments: The percentage of the world population living in extreme poverty has dropped by half since the early 80s.  The average person's income in the world today is 50x more than it was in the late 1700s, at the kickoff of the Industrial (i.e. Business) Revolution, and that's adjusted for inflation.  Today there are over 1 billion cars on the roads.  There are over 1 billion computers running Microsoft Windows.  There are over 1 billion people using the Internet.

Maybe bigger, we're changing the composition of earth's atmosphere, and the huge majority of that change comes from business - even the gases attributed to cattle are largely from industrial (i.e. business) farms.  With me now?  Let's move on.

Assertion # 2: Business is the most powerful force shaping your life.

Look around you right now.  How many of the things that you see were made by a business?  Business is why your world looks the way it does - all the stores and restaurants and cafes and furniture and gadgets and styles and movies - all business.  The paycheck that covers your rent and bills comes from business, even if you work for a non-profit or the government.  Business is where they get their money.

Even more fundamentally, since business so profoundly shapes our world, our choices must often conform to the mold that business has built around us.  Many of our biggest decisions: our professions, hometowns, whether to buy or rent, when to marry and retire, are deeply affected by business.

Assertion # 3: Your business decisions are the most impactful part of your life.

What you buy and how you use it, where you work, and what you invest in - your business decisions - have a greater impact on the world than any other part of your life.  The things you buy touch people around the world - miners and smelters and farmers and fabricators and stitchers and assembly line workers and cargo ship deck hands and retail managers and janitors.  Your purchases fund the entire supply chain.  Your work and investments support businesses that do similarly, on a larger scale than you personally.

Almost all of the resources that you use - oil, minerals, trees, electricity - are connected to these decisions, along with almost all the greenhouse gas emissions that you're responsible for.

Let's recap.  Business is the most powerful force shaping our world, and shaping your life.  And your part in business is the most impactful thing that you do.  Business will change the world and you will support it, whether it does what you like or not.  My questions for you are: Can you shape business as it shapes the world?  If so, how, and why don't we?  Discussions of these questions coming next.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Jaziel & Brenda said...

Well James, I enjoy your point of view on all of this. Much more importantly I value your passion for this. The way you speak reminds me of Noah speaking to everyone around him before the flood came. Now to argue in a civil manner :-D

The premise that Business is like a god, which we sometimes serve unknowingly, is quite interesting. We live for some form of business indirectly - this would be similar to some kind of worship. "Business shaping the world" kind of makes me think of the 'creating' power of a god. All in all, this serves to me as a reminder that we are not supposed to live our lives swimming so deeply in the dealings of the average business, but perhaps create a life-creating business that uses the power that business has for the good of us all.

To answer your questions; God gave us the ability to create a living organism (organization) which has the power to create what we desire. Sometimes initial intentions are good, but then negative by-products out-weigh the positive intentional effects produced. There really are many topics that can be discussed about this subject, but without actions - it means nothing. God must be the center of all that we do, or else we will just be modifying the monster and trading the negative aspects for different ones. Serving money as your master is wrong, and administrating what God has placed in your hands is incorrectly is also wrong.

Excuse the lengthy writing. I could go on forever, but I should stop. Let me know what you think.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Bryan Nelle said...

You know you sound a lot like Marx (without the socialist talk that is)? Like a good ol' fashioned materialist. Read the German Ideology, if you already haven't, it will definitely speak to you about the material bases of life.

I do find your (and Marx's) emphasis on the material foundations of life compelling (and, yes, this has significant implications for us as consumers, workers, and business leaders) . However, I tend to think that the immaterial bases of life are as fundamental and as physically powerful a force as the material ones... they are co-constitutive if you will. I am pretty sure that you would agree with this though... (It is basically the premise behind the idea that business does not operate in vacuum, which is where I think your discussions are headed). Anyway, just wanted to temper your claims about the power of business a little and give due respect to norms, values, ideas, culture, political beliefs, etc.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous sarah said...

Great stuff, james!
you said that "the average person's income in the world today is 50x more than it was in the late 1700s" - any idea how this varies for africa?
Looking forward to reading more as always:). Let me know when you're back in UG!

6:41 AM  

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