Not all business leaders view the economy as an I-win-you-lose arena. But that’s the latest scary mutation of capitalism animating Donald Trump’s world-view, and he applies it most prominently in his approach to trade. Economists generally view trade as a win-win kind of thing, and Trump’s hostility to it puts him at odds not only with mainstream economists but also, or even more, with neoliberal free-market advocates on the right.
For Trump, every deal is a face-off in the ring, an opportunity for domination. This vision of the nature of human exchange — John Paul Rollert dubs it “sociopathic capitalism” or “capitalism as zero-sum combat” (The Atlantic) — has captivating dramatic appeal. But it locks us into a mindset that makes growth impossible: If every gain I make is at your expense, the pie we share never expands.
Whatever its limits and failures, neoliberal capitalism promoted an idea of commerce as a civil, mutually beneficial exchange, not a gladiatorial combat ending in conquest and extraction. In the world of sociopathic capitalism that Trump inhabits, the tension between cooperation and competition at the heart of all economic activity is resolved. To hell with cooperation — competition rules!
This Hobbesian war pits all against all and puts civilization itself at risk. (Hey, not trying to ruin your afternoon, but this is where we’re at this November.) Such a “beat or get beaten” life is, as Rollert puts it, “dismal and squalid.” Remember to vote on Tuesday.
What do customers want? To feel understood and respected, say the creators of a new survey that measures what it calls “customer quotient,” or CQ (Harvard Business Review). CQ is an attempt to assess why some brands command unusual loyalty. REI, the outdoor goods co-op, tops the CQ list. The ranking is less about the perceived quality of goods than about the firm’s perceived quality of heart.
“While some basic level of quality is a prerequisite,” the study’s authors write, “consumers place a premium on brands that they believe to be direct, forthright about their values, and consistent in acting on them.” These qualities are independent of the political spectrum: both liberal Ben & Jerry’s and socially conservative Chick-fil-A turn up on the CQ leaderboard. Another finding: Grocery stores make up half the top ten. They may be “for old people,” but we trust them.
What If the Purpose of Business Is to Create?
Judge business acquisitions purely on the basis of market return, and they frequently look bad. But mergers and acquisitions can also be the engines of recombinant creativity in business, writes NewCo editor-in-chief John Battelle (NewCo Shift).
What if we focus less on “extraction of capital for shareholders” and begin to think about “maximization of creativity for all stakeholders in a business” instead? Then, M&A stops looking like ego-driven empire-building and emerges as the essential work of figuring out the future.
Tech Is the New Church
A century ago, the intellectual class feared that the “death of God” and the abandonment of religious worship would undermine society and doom us all to existential crisis. A new study by social psychologists at the University of Cologne suggests it’s time to close the book on the conflict between science and religion (Quartz).
Science — specifically, a belief in technological progress — is our new religion, and those who believe in it receive a payoff in a sense of well-being. A survey of 1500 people in the Netherlands found that both religious faith and trust in science gave people a sense of “life satisfaction.” But the science-minded also felt a deeper sense of personal control. When God does something good, who knows why? Whereas when technology solves a problem, we can see how it happened, and sense that more improvements might be on the way.
The American Way of Death, Upgraded
Our positive-thinking business culture has always had problems dealing with death, the ultimate downer. The companies that help people manage mortality’s approach and its aftermath tend to the traditional, small-scale, and community-based. Now a new wave of startups is aiming to change that (The New York Times).
With names like Willing, Parting, Grace, and Cake, these firms hope to bring the convenience of cloud-based documents, information, and counseling to the world of wills, hospices, burial, and cremation. In this industry, though, bots remain on the sideline — for the moment, at least. Unlike so many of the other kinds of services that the on-demand economy is disrupting, this realm is one where personal contact and the human touch still seem to be essential.
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