Fixing broken business

What if we stopped thinking of economics as a negative paradigm – the art of removing problems such as barriers to commerce – and started thinking of it as a positive paradigm, involving maximizing potential? That is a question which Umair Haque asks at the start of his book Betterness: Economics for Humans. What if commerce can make us better off in bigger and more human ways than simply “having”?

The fundamental assumptions of business as we know it include shareholder value creation, mass production, hierarchical management, and disposable goods made for consumers. The jobs that most organizations offer most people seem unfulfilling. The “visions” that companies have are typically unexciting. We measure a country’s prosperity in terms of industrial output, GDP, but we ignore more important things like the emotional, social, intellectual, physical and ethical growth of humans.

The book goes on to suggest a better path to future prosperity, consisting of:

  • Eudaimonia: a good life, which is meaningfully rich – with relationships, ideas, emotion, health, fulfilment, great accomplishment and enduring achievement.
  • Poeisis: generating new wealth, and multiplying the Common Wealth, as opposed to net-destructive forms of competition such as rent seeking.
  • Arête: virtue – habits and patterns of behaviour that seed and nurture eudaimonia, replacing “vision-mission-strategy-objectives” with “ambition-intention-constraints-imperatives”.
  • Kairos: critical junctures, when opportunities emerge and unexpected, unimagined, transformative new paths can be chosen.

The author’s enthusiasm for his vision of the new future probably exceeds that of his average reader, but his diagnosis of the malaise of the present certainly resonates. Something is definitely wrong when people need to be encouraged to consume more useless stuff quickly to help governments balance their books. The author’s entertaining writing style makes this a pleasant starting point for the reader in imagining his or her own vision of a better future.

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