Infelizmente, está apenas em inglês.
America’s Addiction and the New Economics of Strategy
Posted by Umair Haque on July 28, 2008 1:58 PM
Troublingly, the macroeconomic crisis that’s engulfed the world shows no signs of ending. Why not - why is it grinding on with the grim relentlessness of a drought? Because it’s not a simple financial crisis: it’s a broader economic one. What are the contours of that broader crisis?
We’re not just addicted to cheap oil, as Tom Friedman and Al Gore have eloquently argued. There’s a deeper economic truth at work here. We’re addicted to consumption. Let’s re-examine the house of cards that is the global financial system. Emerging markets seek export-led growth: they undervalue their currencies, so their exports are more competitive purely in terms of price. That’s essentially a subsidy to consumers on the other side of the table – those in the developed world. As emerging markets accumulate surpluses, they recycle them: they lend them back to the US and UK in the form of government and mortgage debt, stabilizing their economies, and amplifying the existing consumption subsidy through leverage.
Amplifying that artificial cheapness is the simple fact the true costs of production haven't been factored in - until now: very real costs like pollution, community fragmentation, and abusive labour standards. So we’ve been able to consume mercilessly and remorselessly – with no regard for the human, social, or environmental consequences, to us or to others.
It’s not just cheap oil we’re addicted to: it’s cheap everything. And the world we’re entering isn’t really of Peak Oil as it is one of Peak Consumption. But consumption wasn’t the only choice we could have made. We could have chosen, instead, to invest. In what? In anything: anything would have been a more sensible choice than naïve consumption – education, energy, healthcare, transportation, even a more sensible and rational kind of finance.
Why didn’t we? Part of the reason is surely deregulation. But a larger part is strategy itself: our economy is built on firms whose very purpose is to sell; to relentlessly push people into endlessly consuming, without ever considering the long-run consequences.
In a world where consumption itself must slow, the boardroom faces tough choices. Does it continue to hawk stuff that “satisfies” largely artificial needs? Or does it choose to do something authentic, meaningful, and purposive – something that makes us all radically better off than we were before?
Do we need razors with ten blades – or a single blade that never dulls?
When the economic history of the early 21st century is written, I suspect it will read something like this. Emerging markets – and the people that broke their backs in them – lent the developed world tremendous amounts. What did the developed world do with it? Instead of investing it in tomorrow, they spent it on McMansions, Hummers, and strip malls.
And that leads us squarely back to strategy: because the addiction has left us strung-out. At the heart of next-generation advantage is, paradoxically, being able to break yesterday’s maladaptive consumption addiction – not fuel it. It is firms who can shift past nihilistic, meaningless industrial-era corporate purpose – beyond acting as mere pushers of an addiction – who will power the next global financial system.
Companies like this are tomorrow’s revolutionaries – companies, as tiny and fumbling as their steps may be, as diverse as Whole Foods, Threadless, Google, and Marks & Spencer. Let’s track down more companies that are living this set of next-generation economics already. Fire away in the comments and suggest some – or fire away with questions, challenges, and your own thoughts.