28 January 2007

Business as battlefield

I had an unexpected treat on Friday. I was at a seminar in Cardiff on Sustainable Production and Consumption. If you've read any of my posts on bioregional economics you'll guess that I was delighted to find out that such a concept exists at the highest levels of government. Slightly more depressing is the realisation that it was invented at Rio in 1992--a full 15 years ago and yet very little has been done.

There was a stirring presentation by a lady from DEFRA who explained everything that is being done to 'green business'. The consumption end is more of a problem, as she rightly admitted, since buying less stuff is not good for business. This prompted me to question how attempts to move towards greener methods of production can be consistent with an economic system that has as its central tenets growth and free trade. She gamely took this on the chin and later invited me to join the UNEP group exploring whether the economic system itself is the problem. I await a phone call . . .

I have slipped into a generalised whinge: back to the unexpected treat. This was a presentation from Ken Peattie, boss of Cardiff University's sustainable business wing, known as BRASS (most of its staff don't seem to know why). His presentation consisted of a demolition of the central business metaphor of the battlefield. This reminded me of a book I edited years ago that was a history of the post-war development of management consultancy. It made a similar point that demobbed officers formed the majority of the first entrants into this dubious profession.

The organisation of business in the post-war world was left in the hands of people whose previous experience of organisation and management was in the extreme culture of the military. Perhaps it is not surprising, once we realise this, that the spread of the managerialist culture that management consultancy bring with it has led to the launching of a long sequence of syntactically impossible wars against unsuspecting nouns such as terror, drugs and cancer. Equally unsurprising that these wars have been a disaster for all except those who produce and sell the relevant weaponry.

Professor Peattie developed his theme by pointing out the consequences for the environment of the business battle. More and more areas of our planet are coming to resemble the classic images of battlefields. Social impacts ranging from stress-related disease to continuing poverty in the poorer countries of the world can be belittled as 'collateral damage'. Those who fail to thrive in this aggressive, militaristic economy can be dismissed as wimps and cowards.

The increasingly unethical nature of modern business is justified, within the economy-as-war metaphor, under the slogan 'All is fair in love and war'. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, so that business is regarded with contempt by many of our most creative people, with only those with a shortage of morals or imagination being attracted to becoming businessmen.

In the summer I attended a family wedding--always a good setting for undercover social research. The person to my right was a policeman, which did not give me much encouragement and we didn't speak much. To my right I had a spivvy looking chap who introduced himself as an entrepreneur, which he qualified by saying that this meant he was a bastard. Should this defensiveness be seen as a sign of hope? Are entrepreneurs becoming as ashamed as smokers and drivers and people who fly to Amsterdam for the weekend? And he didn't even know I was a green economist.


  1. "Peace is the foundation of God; war is satanic institution."

  2. “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. Already they have raised up a money aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power should be taken from banks, and restored to the people.” Thomas Jefferson

    Money was originally invented as a convenient alternative to barter, an alternative without which a highly developed civilisation like ours could not exist.

    Imagine trying to pay the taxi driver with a bag of coal or the grocery bill with a box of spanners and a set of golf clubs. Imagine trying to carry all that around with you when you go shopping. As societies grew more complex and social ...