They live among us. They rule the kingdoms of the earth. They cannot die: they can be dispelled, but it is arguable that they never go away, but merely return under different names. They have no heart, no conscience and no responsibility. They are not alive, as we understand the term: but their actions shape our lives, to their choosing, not ours.
In the old days tee em, if a man was good at making shoes, he set up a shop and made shoes. Probably he waited for someone to come in and say "Make me a pair of shoes", and then he would make the shoes. He would charge the cost of the materials, plus whatever costs were involved in running the business, plus a notional figure representing his time and labour, not less than enough to feed, clothe and shelter himself and his family till the next person came looking for a pair of shoes. This figure would be his profit. The shoes he made were his creations and his responsibility, and he made them well because shoemakers who made crappy shoes didn't get custom.
The logical steps along the primrose path are easy to follow.
One. I grow old. I need someone to carry on making shoes after I am gone. I shall choose my son to inherit my skills and my shop.
Two. My son can't cobble to save his life, and incidentally wants to be a soldier or a monk or something. But here is this likely lad, son of my cousin, who wants to be an apprentice cobbler. I shall take him on.
Three. Young Wossname is certainly a quick worker. Would I had three like him. Then I would never need to make shoes ever again!
What point along the easy progression of excuses and pretexts marks the birth of the first ever corporate entity, I don't know. But somewhere along the line the foundations were laid for the business economy of today. Somewhere along the line, the shoemaking business came to be run by people who didn't know how to make shoes themselves; and then by people who didn't know anything about making shoes: and finally by people who didn't care about making shoes, but only about making money.
If you want to make money at making shoes, you can't just let your workers sit in the shop waiting for people to want new shoes. A good pair of shoes last ten years or more, and your workers have this inconsiderate tendency to want paying all the time. So you need to have them making shoes all the time. Never mind who for. Standardise the sizes, and churn 'em out non-stop. They'll fit someone. And make 'em cheap and nasty so they'll wear out sooner. That works both ways: you save on the materials, and you sell more pairs, which means you can afford to do them cheaper than the genuine shoemaker down the road, and in no time he's doing the same.
I think this marks the birth of the demon: because even if the company had then been taken over by someone who genuinely cared about making shoes, who was genuinely determined to make an effort to restore traditional craftsmanship and quality to the business, by this time it simply wasn't possible: for profit, by this time, was no longer the amount left over that you used to feed your family. It was a necessary thing in itself. You paid your workers, your middle managers, your managers, and of course yourself: and then there was profit. There had to be profit. More, and more, and more profit. The demon was hungry.
You may wonder what all these shoemakers are supposed to mean. You may say "Cobblers!" But it must be obvious by now that when Allied Widgets buys up twenty acres of green pasture and builds a stinking factory on it, or when Spugco plc downsizes its plant and fifteen hundred engineers are thrown on to the dole, it's not the action of any individual. You can't go down to the offices with a gun and say "Bring me the scumbag who did this." Nobody did this. The company did this. The manager, the shareholders, the directors, they only serve. They carry out the wishes of the demon, cheerfully or tormentedly depending how good they are at focussing on their own needs to the exclusion of anyone else's. The demon only has one appetite: to live, and grow, and absorb profit till there is none left.
It's easy to blame the rich: Murdoch, and Al-Fayed, and the rest. But how much control do you think they actually exert over the everyday business operations of the companies they supposedly own? It's easy to sneer at what used to be called "yuppies". I've done it. Bright young men with diplomas in Business Administration, as if that were a real and worthwhile thing to learn and not just the priestcraft of the demon worshippers. They're as much victims of these creatures as anyone else. It's hardly even worth attacking a particular company for its enormities: one disappears, three more take its place. Where we went wrong was in buying shoes from a man who didn't know how to make them himself.
But there's hope. The bigger a demon gets, the less mobile and flexible it is. We all have tales of how the small friendly company we dealt with got taken over by a bigger company, and suddenly couldn't adapt its procedures to our needs the way the small company always had. Companies lose business every day because their systems are too rigid. It doesn't matter to them because there's so much business around. I'm dealing with a company right now whose computer systems will not allow it to take payment for its services from my bank account at any time other than the middle of the month, when there is nothing in my account. This means I have to pay by other methods, which costs the company more to process and is a damnable nuisance to me. It would take very little to cause me to take my business somewhere more flexible, if I thought there was such a somewhere. Corporate demons are turning into dinosaurs: and around their huge feet, scampering hither and thither, picking up the scraps, are (if I mistake not) the new corporate mammals: very small businesses, mostly Internet-based, using their technology to tailor their services to their customers' needs. There is a great potential here, for good or ill.
All we need now is a comet...
It's tempting to dismiss the above as merely the workings of an overactive imagination, and maybe it is. That "business", in the sense of commerce treated as a separate art (if not a religion) is in itself a bad thing, though, is beyond dispute. It's like having electricity around the house, not doing anything, just zapping from room to room like ball lightning. Things get damaged. So do people.
Let's look at profit. That is, after all, the main (only) aim of "business" per se. You hear company bosses saying all the time, as if it were a commonplace truism, "We are in this to make money, after all." Casually, off the cuff, as though it wasn't a complete and monstrous perversion of logic. If, as they say, they are in this to make money, where are their printing presses? Where their minting machines? On whose authority do they issue currency, and what is the exchange rate with sterling? They should be "in this" to sell books, or mend roofs, or arrange package holidays to the Balearics (someone has to). The aim of their business should be their business, in the sense of their specific trade or calling. Otherwise they might as well be doing something else, anything else.
I'm not knocking the concept of profit itself. It is, after all, basic to the employer/employee relationship. When I go to work for a boss, I expect to earn enough from him to survive (in an ideal world). I hope to earn more than that. If what I earn is just enough to enable me to stagger home, collapse on the bed, get up six hours later, eat just enough to get me through the next day and drag myself back into work, I'm in a non-profit situation. This is not how I hope to live. I go to work in order to make a profit from my boss. What I do with that profit is up to me.
Now look at it from the boss's viewpoint. His company demands profit too. But what is a non-profit situation for me (the employee) is also a non-profit situation for him. Ideally he wants to get a full day's work from me while paying me less for it than I need to get me back there the following day. If he pays me more he's losing money/energy, paying for me to do non-work-related things. He needs to get more from me than he gives me: I need to get more from him than I give him. The fact that I'm a human being with needs that don't fit into his balance sheet doesn't matter, can't matter, to him. The company is bigger than I am: therefore it wins.
This relationship, grounded firmly in paradox, lies at the heart of every "business" transaction. Everyone needs to make a (financial) profit to survive: it is physically impossible for everyone to make a (financial) profit. This is why business is bad. This is why managers, otherwise quite sensible and pleasant human beings, behave like pillocks. This is why employees succumb to stress, low morale and sometimes the dumb rebellion of just-obeying-orders. This is why things are getting worse and worse.
week month year: world peace and how to do it.
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