Blog: Rebalancing Society

Consolidation for Reformation

7 March 2020

“We will either find a way or make one.” (Hannibal)

The blog on January 1st introduced The Declaration of our Interdependence, for the restoration of balance across the three sectors of society—public governments, private enterprises, and plural communities. But how to get from words on a screen to rebalancing of societies? The blog that followed, on February 1st, outlined the first step—the taking of individual and collective actions (shown in a table of of 32 possibilities). This blog discusses how to consolidate such actions into a movement for grounded reformation.

“We will either find a way or make one.” (Hannibal)

The blog on January 1st introduced The Declaration of our Interdependence, for the restoration of balance across the three sectors of society—public governments, private enterprises, and plural communities. But how to get from words on a screen to rebalancing of societies? The blog that followed, on February 1st, outlined the first step—the taking of individual and collective actions (shown in a table of of 32 possibilities). This blog discusses how to consolidate such actions into a movement for grounded reformation.

The Message of the 16th Century Reformation


What is known as the Reformation began with words on a door in Germany and ended with a realignment of power in Europe. In 1517, with widespread outrage over corruption in the dominating religion, an obscure monk named Martin Luther challenged its prevailing authority by nailing a list of 95 theses (really grievances) to the door of one of its churches. His words spread within weeks, carried by the new social medium of the time, the printing press. A groundswell followed, as angry people in communities confronted the corruption. Eventually, new institutions formed and some existing ones reformed. Much of the world changed.

Can our world so change? That was Europe five centuries ago, concerning the corruption of one institution. Today we face corruption in many institutions, worldwide. Is reformation on a global scale impossible? Well, the devastating effects of climate change are not only possible but existent. Income disparities are on the rise. And another great war is possible—and would be the last—with several loose cannons elected by people fed up with these income disparities. When disaster looms, the impossible can become possible, indeed necessary.

Starting on the ground, not at the “top”


Where, then, to begin? At the top? The Reformation did not begin at any top, yet today that is where the  preferred solutions focus: the established authorities are supposed to fix the establishment. Elect heroic leaders. Hold lofty conferences. Make 30-year plans. Pretend to fix capitalism. All to no avail.

The record of heroic leadership is hardly stellar. Much of it has proved to be impotent when not autocratic. Have we not had enough of the leadership fix?

The lofty conferences on global warming seem to generate more of it, thanks to all the travel, let alone the talk (not to mention the swarms of private jets that descend on Davos every year to bemoan the warming). At home, politicians with four-year mandates proclaim 30-year plans. Why do we tolerate such nonsense?

Then there are the adjectival capitalism fixes—Progressive Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Sustainable Capitalism, even Democratic Capitalism (democracy being the adjective). Capitalism certainly needs fixing, but that will not fix societies broken by its own power. It is these societies that need fixing, by restoring balance across their sectors.

The change we require will have to begin on the ground, as it did in the Reformation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt caught the spirit of this when he was asked by an activist to champion a particular change. He replied: “I agree with you. I want to do it. Now go out and make me do it.” The message is clear: reforming established institutions may be the last step in reformation. The first ones have to be taken on the ground.

Pathway to Reformation


Consider these steps to reformation:


Declaration of common cause => Reframing beliefs => Reversing wrongs and Renewing rights => Consolidating this activity => Reforming institutions

The path to reformation is opened by a compelling statement of common cause that reframes what we believe, or have been made to believe, so that we can understand what is wrong and take action to make it right. If we believe that change must come from the top, then most of us will sit around waiting for it to happen. If we believe that the wealth of globalization trickles down to everyone, then we will take what we get. If we believe that democracy is about swinging between left and right, then we will not see the plural sector for the role it must play in buttressing the power of the public and private sectors. It is the reframing of beliefs that galvanizes action.

Consolidating Activities

The last blog presented a table outlining a variety of actions that can be taken to address our problems. We are, in fact, getting a great deal of it, more than ever before. One book estimated the number of social initiatives for such activities to exceed one million, on a wide variety of fronts: for social justice, sustainable environment, world peace, reformed education, and much more.

That book was published in 2007, yet consider what has been happening to the imbalance ever since. The more constructive activity we get, the worse the imbalance becomes. That is because, while the efforts for reformative change are scattered, the forces that exacerbate the imbalance work in concert, for self-interest—as when they promote conspicuous consumption. These efforts will have to consolidate, around a common cause, which I believe will have to be the restoration of balance. A clear focus of attention (such The Declaration of our Interdependence) is required to fuse a myriad of activities into a movement for regeneration. But this consolidation cannot center on any institution or plan; it has to happen as a groundswell of community activity, as in the Reformation, but this time networked worldwide.

We shall have to recognize that imbalance in society is a root cause of the major problems we face—the social injustices, income disparities, decline of democracy, even much of climate change. How, for example, are we to reverse climate change as long as private power drives so much conspicuous consumption? In other words, if you are concerned about the climate, you had better put the rebalancing of society front and center.

The corruption of established institutions is far more widespread than at the time of Luther, and the dangers we face are far more alarming. We have glorified greed and excess long enough; it is time to value balance and benevolence. Our choice comes down to this: grounded reformation or global devastation. We can continue to plunder this planet, and each other, or we can make our way to reformation.

© Henry Mintzberg 2020, adapted from a note on “Next Steps” on The Declaration of our Interdependence.   

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Next step: What can we do now?

1 February 2020

The Declaration of our Interdependence was posted here on January 1, for 2020 vision: to rebalance our societies across government, business, and community. What’s next? Action.

Since I published Rebalancing Society in 2015, one question has kept coming up:  “What can I do?” The answers are, in fact, all over the place, ranging from confronting outrageous behaviors to adopting B Corp status. So I began to make a list of them, adding a few that don’t exist but should, and now I have organized all this into a single table, as you can see below.

The Declaration of our Interdependence was posted here on January 1, for 2020 vision: to rebalance our societies across government, business, and community. What’s next? Action.

Since I published Rebalancing Society in 2015, one question has kept coming up:  “What can I do?” The answers are, in fact, all over the place, ranging from confronting outrageous behaviors to adopting B Corp status. So I began to make a list of them, adding a few that don’t exist but should, and now I have organized all this into a single table, as you can see below.

Beyond what I can do to restore balance is what we can do, in our communities, associations, businesses, governments, and all of these together. The answers are grouped in the table in this order, under three main forms of involvement: reframing our beliefs, in order to reverse what is wrong, and renew what can be made right.

Concerning our beliefs, for example if we believe that change must come from “the top”, then those of us not there will sit around waiting for it to happen. If we believe that the wealth of globalization will trickle down to everyone, then we will take what we get. If we believe that democracy is about swinging between the public controls of government on the  left and the private forces of markets on the right, then we will not see the role that communities in the plural sector must play in buttressing the power of the other two sectors. With beliefs like these reframed, we can see our way to constructive action, ranging from creating social enterprises not tethered to the stock market all the way to establishing a Peace Council to renew global government.

You can click on any dot in the table to see some of the possibilities, bearing in mind the following:

  • These answers focus on rebalancing society, with the ones I consider most important in bold face type. We must address climate change urgently, but my belief is that real headway on this will be made only when we bring our societies back toward balance. The disproportionate power of private sector interests is not only driving climate change—with its imperative of more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming—but also impeding efforts by ourselves and our governments to deal with it.
  • This table is not complete: it is a work-in-progress, meant to suggest possibilities for action. Accordingly, please think beyond what you find in these boxes. It is not spectacular creativity that changes the world so much as ordinary creativity, of which we are all capable. (Thus, please share your ideas here or on #ourinterdependence.)
  • All of the entries in the table are brief, and some may seem rather general. Bear with me: I just wanted to get down what I could, as a starting point. Many of the entries are linked to sites that explain them (a number in my earlier blogs).

Action is only the first step. We are getting more of it while the problems of imbalance get steadily worse. We can no longer afford to have action all over the place; it must be consolidated into a movement for global reformation. In other words, we shall have to get our collective act together. This will be the subject of the next blog.

Here is the table, to use and augment. Click on any dot to see these possibilities. You may have to expand the table to do so, and close one entry when you wish to see another.


© Henry Mintzberg 2020, adapted from Next Steps on The Declaration of our Interdependence.

 

The Declaration of our Interdependence

1 January 2020

How to restore balance in this lopsided world?

Encouraging is that so many concerned people are engaged in so many constructive activities—whether to restore social justice, reverse the change in climate and the decline in democracy, or build the social economy—and that so many more people are ready to go.

Missing, however, has been a guiding vision, a statement of purpose as a way forward—toward a consolidated movement for global reformation.

This is why a group of us developed this Declaration of our Interdependence. Please read it, and if you agree with it, sign it, and share it widely.

Let this be a happy new year—for 2020 vision.

The Declaration of our Interdependence

How to restore balance in this lopsided world?

Encouraging is that so many concerned people are engaged in so many constructive activities—whether to restore social justice, reverse the change in climate and the decline in democracy, or build the social economy—and that so many more people are ready to go.

Missing, however, has been a guiding vision, a statement of purpose as a way forward—toward a consolidated movement for global reformation.

This is why a group of us developed this Declaration of our Interdependence. Please read it, and if you agree with it, sign it, and share it widely.

Let this be a happy new year—for 2020 vision.

The Declaration of our Interdependence

Making Progress on our Puzzle

20 December 2019

After decades of addressing the issues of managing in organization—by taking a good look at the accepted wisdom, comparing it with the reality, and considering how best to go forward—I turned my attention to doing much the same thing in the wider world. A TWOG on 21 December 2017, entitled “Going Public with my Puzzle”, described my puzzle of how to restore balance in a lopsided world. In the two years since, we have been making considerable progress. The next TWOG will present one aspect of this, called “The Declaration of our Interdependence”. This TWOG adapts the earlier one as a lead-in to the next one.

I don’t like doing jig-saw puzzles and playing other games that come in a box. They Boggle my mind, Scrabble my brain, Monopolize my attention. I prefer puzzles beyond boxes, including that box called “thinking outside the box.”

After decades of addressing the issues of managing in organization—by taking a good look at the accepted wisdom, comparing it with the reality, and considering how best to go forward—I turned my attention to doing much the same thing in the wider world. A TWOG on 21 December 2017, entitled “Going Public with my Puzzle”, described my puzzle of how to restore balance in a lopsided world. In the two years since, we have been making considerable progress. The next TWOG will present one aspect of this, called “The Declaration of our Interdependence”. This TWOG adapts the earlier one as a lead-in to the next one.

I don’t like doing jig-saw puzzles and playing other games that come in a box. They Boggle my mind, Scrabble my brain, Monopolize my attention. I prefer puzzles beyond boxes, including that box called “thinking outside the box.”

A couple of years ago, I joined some family in Toronto for a game that I was supposed to love as soon as I figured it out. I never did figure it out, perhaps because I never cared to figure it out. I’m a word guy who hates word games in a box (although I love inventing words out of books, like TWOG).

On a table beside this game of ours sat a jig-saw puzzle, its pieces strewn about near the box that showed the picture to make. There and then it hit me. These games are too pat for me, too closed ended. Choose the proper words or move the proper pieces while respecting the proper rules to make the proper picture. I want to fly with ideas, not be grounded by rules.

(I took this photo of that table in Toronto.)

Compare these pat puzzles with puzzling puzzles. They are not about breaking the rules so much as creating new rules to get around old ones that don’t work. To do this, we have to be playful rather than pat, so that we can concoct solutions that seem to be outrageous until they become obvious.

In a Puzzling Puzzle:
1. The pieces are not supplied; some of them have to be found, others invented.
2. These pieces usually appear obscure, not clean-cut—more like fragments.
3. These fragments rarely connect neatly.
4. With no box in sight, the fragments have to create the picture.

(I took this photo of my worktable at home, exactly as I left it to puzzle over the original of this TWOG. Notice the fragments, loosely connected.)

Our profound puzzle    Pat solutions can no more resolve puzzling puzzles than can Monopoly develop entrepreneurs or chess train guerrilla fighters.

As I have discussed in various TWOGs and in a book, at the root of our most foreboding problems—climate change, income disparities, declining democracy, nuclear weapons in the hands of loose cannons—lies the imbalance that plagues our societies. Narrow economic forces, manifested in rampant individualism and unrestrained globalization, have been overwhelming our collective and communal needs. This is our profound puzzle, for which pat solutions, such as fixing capitalism, will not work.

This puzzle has been engaging my attention for many years. (And I thought that the managing of organizations is puzzling!) Recently I have come to the conclusion that what we need is global reformation—mass, non-violent change in our social behaviors. But how to get there?

As I have been probing around—by reading, meeting, testing, and tweeting—many fragments of a possible solution have come at me, left and right, in no particular order. A year ago, I felt it was time to connect these fragments. And so, in February, nine of us gathered at a workshop near Montreal, from which came (a) the draft of a map to see balance in society, (b) the outline of a table to help order the many ideas for action, and (c) the intention to write a declaration of interdependence, as a guide to reframe our thinking, for reformation..

Driving back to Montreal from the retreat, Jeremiah Lee, a consultant in Boston, and I read through the clauses of the American Declaration of Independence and began to draft other ones, sometimes using the wording of the original. A great many drafts later, the nine of us agreed that “The Declaration of our Interdependence” was ready to be posted, which will be done here, and on its own site, on the first of January—for 2020 vision.

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. The map and the table will be posted on the site of the declaration, and may be the subjects of later TWOGs.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part V

4 October 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

Someone once remarked that “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”1 What most of us do instead is extrapolate: the optimists the trends they like, the pessimists the ones they don’t. To complete this five-part essay, I will do both. I have made my choice; what’s yours?

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

Someone once remarked that “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”1 What most of us do instead is extrapolate: the optimists the trends they like, the pessimists the ones they don’t. To complete this five-part essay, I will do both. I have made my choice; what’s yours?

We can maintain the course we are on—do nothing much different, continue to ride the current, with a few adjustments—which may lead to devastation, and possibly annihilation, whether from a climate that has had enough of us or a world war that will be the last. Or else we can wake up and address a situation that is no longer tenable. There are signs of that too.

In one significant sense, the prevailing trend today resembles that of Germany in 1933, when a third of the electorate, angered by the treaty that ended World War I, sought their revenge by voting for the Nazi party. Fascism, and World War II followed. Many people today, angered by the imbalance that marginalizes them, have also been seeking their revenge by voting for tyrants.

Five centuries earlier, also in what is now Germany, many people were angry too, with the established ecclesiastic, political, and economic powers, but they did something quite different: engaged in a ground-up reformation that rearranged power in their world. Today, many people have similar feelings about the greediness and lack of compassion of the established powers, and have been expressing a readiness to act for constructive change. Give them a compelling way forward and watch them go.

The States of the World Today   Democracy is now deteriorating at an alarming rate, resulting in a growing number of illiberal democracies (such as in Hungary and the Philippines), that are sliding in the direction of the many established autocratic regimes. This leaves a few countries clinging to a flawed model of liberal democracy (notably the UK and US) and some that do maintain a semblance of balanced democracy (such as Germany, Canada, the Nordic states, and several other small countries). Meanwhile, the same old superpowers continue with their antics, one undemocratic (China), another illiberal (Russia), the third headed that way under the leadership of a loose cannon (US).

The real danger is the slide toward autocracy, because, at the rate it is going, this planet could soon end up with global fascism. The recent experience of Venezuela, in the lead, so to speak, shows how easily tyranny can sweep aside constitutional protections—as if we needed more evidence of this. And it makes no difference if the autocracy is called communism, capitalism, or populism (whether Muslim, anti-Muslim, Jewish, anti-Semitic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or secular). Dogma is dogma, and demagogues are demagogues. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Fearing decency, the autocrats of the world unite. Angela Merkel was denounced for caring about refugees, while Saudi Arabia punished Canada for a single tweet about its arrest of two journalists. They united in the 1930s too, although eventually America came to the rescue. Imagine World War II without this and you may be seeing World War III.

Reformation from the Ground Up   What if we come to our collective senses? Early in the Sixteenth Century, with so many people angered at the corruption of their church, the Reformation followed after a monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the door of a church in a town called Wittenberg. This sparked a movement from the ground up, eventually engaging certain established officials, that spread fast, far, and wide—thanks to a new communications technology of the time, the printing press. Does this sound familiar? With our new social media, and so many people now prepared to act, another reformation—meaning massive but largely nonviolent change in social behavior—could well be coming.

Does this sound utopian? Maybe, but the current reality is hardy utopian.  A reformation on such a scale may be unprecedented, but the problems we face are unprecedented.

Let me offer another example, indicative of how quickly a people can reframe and shift behavior from the ground up. I refer to what is known here in Quebec as The Quiet Revolution, although it was really a quiet reformation. By 1960, many of the women of Quebec had had it with a dominating church in cahoots with autocratic politics. The death of a long-entrenched Premier was the spark that set off the change. Just about every Quebecoise I know from that time has many siblings; their mothers driven by the clergy to procreate non-stop. Just about none has more than a child or two. One wrote to me recently about this “effervescent period”: “The Church that consumed my youth fell apart like a house of cards.” Other places in the world have experienced similar shifts, but perhaps none so profoundly as Quebec. At that point, there were no marches, no protests, no election of other autocrats, just a sweeping shift in mindset that profoundly changed the society. Quebec became, and with lapses remains, probably the most progressive place in North America.

Answering the Irene Question   Irene is a finance manager in Canada, who has worked in the private and plural sectors. She read a draft of my book Rebalancing Society and responded with: “I’d like to do something. I just don’t know where to start.” You cannot imagine how often I have been asked the Irene question ever since!

Add up all the Irenes and Ivans of the world, and we have the makings of a massive global movement for constructive reformation. We just need to coalesce our energies around some shared sense of direction—some compelling narrative that suggests a way forward. The idea of a reformation to rebalance society could be that: to attain a dynamic equilibrium across the public, private, and plural sectors of society.

What can we do in our own lives? What can we do in our communities and associations? What can our enterprises do, small and large, entrepreneurial and corporate, national and international? What can our governments do, at the municipal, national, and global levels? And what can all of us and all of this do together? In other words, the levels of change can be Personal, Plural, Private, Public, and Planet, shown in the table below in terms of Reframing our Beliefs, Reforming our Wrongs, and Renewing our Rights (in both senses of the term).

Find your place in the table: the possibilities are endless. I have my own collection, all over the table. For example, at the top left, I have “ditch the economic dogma”2 (personal level reframing); in the middle, “fix or abandon the stock market” (private level reforming) and “grow the social economy” (plural level renewing); and on the bottom right, “create a Peace Council to replace the (in)Security Council of the United Nations” (planet level renewing).

A Pathway to Reformation    In an earlier blog, I wrote about the puzzling puzzle of rebalancing society. Unlike a pat puzzle (such as a jigsaw one):

  1. The pieces have to be discovered, or created.
  2. Each appears obscure, like a fragment.
  3. They need to connect, although never neatly.
  4. With no box in sight, the picture has to be constructed from these fragments and connections.

The table above can help to identify many of these fragments. But how to fit them together to create the compelling image? Perhaps an answer can lie in what I am currently working on, labelled a Pathway to Reformation, in four phases.

A. Reformation begins in a long-simmering place, about to combust spontaneously. The women of Quebec, like the Eastern Europeans under communism, were all ready to go. Now, perhaps as never before, a great many people are ready to go, all around the globe. 

B.  A spark ignites, in the form of an event (the death of a politician), or the action of a group (opening up the Berlin Wall), a community or even a major part of a society (the women of Quebec).

C. This spreads, in the form of a massive but non-violent shift in social behavior, as a groundswell of social initiatives to reframe and renew. These days, with the help of the social media, it can spread from community to community to go global, becoming a worldwide social movement.

D. Reforms mostly follow, in institutions—governments in the public sector, businesses in the private sector, associations in the plural sector. Most institutions need to be overwhelmed by social forces before they will accept major reforms.

Is such a reformation possible? With the decline of democracy, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the warming of the planet, it had better be possible. This world will simply not fix itself. People who care about it will have to do that. There is wealth in the world as never before, enough for decent living far and wide—so long as we can relinquish our superfluous entitlements. Some of us might just discover what decent living is all about.

For the sake of survival, we need to shift the initiative from our private interests to our common interest. Like the women of Quebec, we shall have to get our collective act together—to reframe our thinking so that we can reform our wrongs and renew our rights. Hence, ask not what your leadership has been doing to you. Ask what you can be doing for our communityship—not as conservatives or liberals, from the left or the right, but as decent folk who care about our planet and our progeny.

What’s your choice??

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See  Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series.

Apparently first said in the Danish parliament in the 1930s.

that greed is good, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect.

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part IV

5 September 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

How to reverse the imbalance that extends from our heads through our societies to our planet?  Certainly not by lining up behind a favorite sector and ignoring the other two.

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

How to reverse the imbalance that extends from our heads through our societies to our planet?  Certainly not by lining up behind a favorite sector and ignoring the other two.

Fixing Private Sector Capitalism?  The popular solution in the United States is to fix capitalism. Proposals abound for what can be called adjectival capitalism: Progressive Capitalism, Breakthrough Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Regenerative Capitalism, Sustainable Capitalism, and best of all, Democratic Capitalism (capitalism being the noun, democracy the adjective). Methinks that capitalism doth propose too much. How in the world did this word capitalism, essentially about the funding of private enterprises, become the be all and end all of human existence? (Ask an economist.)

Capitalism certainly needs fixing, not least in its stock markets, with their relentless drive for MORE—more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming, the consequences be damned. There are better ways to grow healthy enterprises, for example with patient, responsible capital. Likewise, while we need as much corporate social responsibility (CSR) as we can get, can anyone seriously believe that more CSR could compensate for all the CSI (irresponsibility) we now see around us? Moreover, will private sector interests voluntarily cede the immense power that they have amassed? 

It is societies that need fixing, and fixing capitalism will no more do that than would fixing communism have fixed the broken regimes of Eastern Europe. Capitalism will have to be put in its place, namely the marketplace, out of the public space.

Public Sector Government to the Rescue?  Then there are those who expect government to fix the problem—it is, after all, the paramount authority in democratic society. But look what’s been happening to that authority, and to democracy itself. What can the many governments already coopted by private interests really do? Furthermore, government is hardly the most nuanced institution for a problem that requires nuanced solutions, nor is it especially venturesome for a problem that requires bold action. Whether they come from the left or the right, widely elected governments are drawn toward the center, so as not to upset any major interests.

If not the private or public sectors, then what? The answer will have to begin with an appreciation that there are three fundamental sectors in society, not two.

The Plural Sector for Balance   Just as a stool cannot balance itself on one leg, so a society cannot balance itself on one sector, be that capitalism in the private sector any more than communism in the public sector. And trying to do so on the two more moderate legs of social liberalism on the left and traditional conservatism on the right has driven many countries to swing back and forth between them, fruitlessly, while private interests advance unchecked. A third leg is required for balance.

I call it the plural sector (rather that “civil society”) because it requires a label to be seen as taking its place alongside the sectors called public and private. A society can stand tall when it is supported by the solid legs of respected governments in the public sector, responsible businesses in the private sector, and robust communities in the plural sector.

What is this plural sector? It is all those associations that are neither public nor private—owned neither by the state nor by private investors. Some are owned by their members, as in cooperatives; others are owned by no-one, such as NGOs, clubs, foundations, charities, religious orders, and not-for-profit hospitals, many of these community-based. Alexis de Tocqueville referred to them as associations in his 1830s volumes on Democracy in America, and recognized the key role they were playing in sustaining the new democracy.

We too are the plural sector, each of us and all of us, in our social lives. Many of us work in the private sector and most of us vote in the public sector but all of us live in the plural sector. (How many of its associations figured in your life last week—say, shopping in a co-op, working out at the Y, attending a “private” university, maybe even marching in a protest?)

Thus, the plural sector is huge, far larger than most people recognize. (In the U.S., for example, there are more cooperative memberships than people.) Yet it is obscure, long lost in the great battles over left versus right, public controls versus private interests. This will have to change if we are to get out of the mess that we have created for ourselves. Here, then, is the fundamental point: if we are to stop our descent into self-destruction, the sector that should be called plural will have to take its place alongside the ones called public and private.

Starting in the Plural Sector    With so much dysfunction in the other two sectors, rebalancing will have to begin in the plural sector. We shall have to assert our concerns in our communities, and connect them into an international movement for reformation. The new globalization begins here, in the plural sector—socially and politically as well as economically.

Bear in mind that local community is where major social change—namely reformation—has often begun, whether the collapse of a wall in Berlin, a bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama, or a list of 95 theses nailed to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The established institutions of society—governments, businesses, even some associations—usually need  to be pushed into reform of this kind. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt told a group of activists: “You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.”  Many a business CEO, facing the constraints of the financial world, could well be telling the activists of today the same thing.

The time for such action is right, now. Perhaps never before have so many people around the world been prepared to vote with their feet and their wallets as well as their ballots. This energy just has to be channeled constructively, toward tangible changes across all three sectors, rather than just being used to lash out in frustration.

Each of the Sectors and all of the Sectors   The plural sector, as noted, has to take the lead, but with clout. Recent protests have brought massive numbers of people into streets around the world, yet the problems continue to intensify. Effective protest requires targeted action: for example, not just occupying Wall Street, but challenging objectionable activities taking place behind its closed doors. In Paraguay, recently, women fed up with the acquittal of a corrupt politician pelted his house with eggs. He resigned. The potential of caring people—especially women and youth—has hardly been tapped.

The associations of the plural sector can also be a potent force for rebalancing, especially working together. Now more than ever, we need full recognition of de Tocqueville’s point about the role that these associations can play in sustaining democracy. This sector may indeed be plural—it includes the National Rifle Association, and so on. But for every NRA, the sector encompasses NGOs concerned with the consequences of imbalance. Amnesty International deals with the problems of social justice, Greenpeace with threats to the environment, Doctors Without Borders with the injures of war.  Beyond each of these specific causes, however, lies their common cause, namely to correct the imbalance that helps to create these problems. What if an alliance of prominent NGOs championed a mobilizing manifesto for balance? As David Brooks put it in a New York Times comment, “…people in the exhausted majority have no narrative…no coherent philosophic worldview to organize their thinking and compel action” (17 October 2018). 

In the private sector, corporations can likewise be addressing the causes of social and environmental problems, beyond relieving their conditions. For example, recycling is good, but reducing waste is better. And best of all would be CSR to promote balance in society, in place of corporate activities that exacerbate the imbalance. But for serious consideration of this, publicly-traded corporations will have to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the stock markets---that short-term obsession with MORE. A utopian thought? Maybe. But businesspeople need only look to Venezuela to appreciate what they have to lose when imbalance runs its full course.

Turning to the public sector, to deal with income disparities, governments will have to liberate themselves from the monied interests of society, domestic and global. This can start with a frontal attack on the legal bribery of political donations.

Some countries, notably in Scandinavia, function well because they have retained their balance. Others, especially some of the most “advanced”, need to recover it before they too cede their democracy to narrow populism. And internationally, few countries can stand up to the divide-and-rule tactics of economic globalization. But acting together, however, they could—as the European Union has demonstrated in confronting companies such as Google. Moreover, acting together, smaller democratic countries need to challenge the assumption that three superpowers must vie with each other for global superiority. Enough of this dangerous nonsense. Is some sort of balanced global governance possible? It had better be so long as nuclear holocaust is possible.

Imagine a city with weak government and no police force. The gangs would take over, carving up the place for themselves, or else battling until they destroy each other, and perhaps the city as well. This is the state of our global village today. Imagine, instead, if an assembly of balanced democracies took on the common cause of global sanity. Who knows, maybe one day this could metamorphose into a Peace Council, to replace the Security Council of the United Nations, whose five permanent members account for about three-quarters of the world’s exports of arms. This is an insecurity council.

Does this idea sound impossible? Only in the context of the lunacy that we take for granted. Such a council in waiting could certainly be possible, indeed may be exactly what we shall need when a real catastrophe is imminent. And please understand that with the proliferation of nuclear weapons in a world ruled increasingly by loose-cannon thugs, this is a question of when, not if. Thus, we need solutions that seem impossible until they become obvious.

Above all there must be a consolidation of effort across all the sectors. We have heard much about PPPs—public-private-partnerships. We need to hear more about PPPPs—again with the plural sector taking its rightful place alongside the other two. Our downward spiral will continue as long as the sectors work at cross-purposes, with the powerful private sector lobbying a weakened public sector that accedes to it or else colludes with it, while both sectors ignore the plural sector, which, in turn, lash out at the excesses of both.

An ascending spiral of renewal can combine what each of the sectors can contribute for balance. Grounded engagement in the plural sector can prompt orchestrated planning in the public sector to encourage autonomous venturing in the private sector. We need to act personally and plurally, privately and publicly.

Each of us and All of us    All of the above is not about whoever “ought to be doing something about this.”  It is about each of us and all of us, who need to create a groundswell for a world of decency. We vote knowing that our one ballot hardly counts but that all our ballots together do. We shall have to adopt the same attitude as we vote in other ways, for the sake of balance: socially, politically, economically, and environmentally.

Click to PART V. YOU CHOOSE: GROUNDED REFORMATION OR GLOBAL DEVASTATION?

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series.

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part III

16 August 2019

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

We now have a new hegemony in the world, driven by the canon called “globalization”, in the name of “liberal democracy.”

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

We now have a new hegemony in the world, driven by the canon called “globalization”, in the name of “liberal democracy.”

Economic Globalization Unconstrained   The imbalance in favor of the “monied corporations” that concerned Thomas Jefferson has gone global, replacing American hegemony. This is an economic form of globalization that amalgamates the power of multinational corporations, free of any countervailing power. There is no substantial global government to speak of; indeed, the most powerful international agencies, all of them ardently economic—the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD—are cheerleaders for this globalization.

In effect, an unholy alliance of economic dogma with private greed has been overwhelming our collective needs and common interests, thereby destabilizing much of the globe. United this alliance stands, so that divided, many nations yield (excepting the three superpowers, which are able to cheerlead for their own multinationals). On the “level playing field” of our global village, the New York Giants take on some high school team from Timbuktu, with the WTO as the referee. All this in the name of “liberal democracy”.

How Liberal Democracy has become an Oxymoron   Good luck trying to sort out the different meanings of the word “liberal”. My Oxford dictionary lists “favoring individual liberty and limited government involvement in economic affairs” alongside “favoring…a significant role for the state in matters of economics and social justice” together with “open-minded, not prejudiced.” Why not have it all: open markets, open societies. open minds? Many eminent liberals and conservatives alike, on both side of the Atlantic (even though Europeans tend to use the word in the first sense, Americans in the second), do believe that we can have it all, under the label “liberal democracy”.

This worked, more or less, when democracy was overcoming the rule of monarchs, aristocrats, and autocrats. But with the rise of the great imbalance, in favor of private sector interests, the term liberal democracy has become an oxymoron, as the wealthy nations that most subscribe to it have become less democratic and less socially liberal.

How has this happened? Quite simply, in fact. (1) Economic globalization, facing no countervailing power, has been able to play many governments off against each other, especially to have taxes cut on wealth and profits. (2) Denied these traditional sources of income, the governments have reduced services, especially for the disadvantaged, and raised regressive taxes, namely on the sale of goods and services. (3)  And this has further squeezed the very people marginalized by this globalization, namely those who have endured cuts in their wages, benefits, and protections. There is an economic tide all right, but rather than raising all boats, the buoyant yachts have been swamping the anchored dinghies.

Those people still enamored with liberal democracy—usually its prime beneficiaries—don’t get this, or at least don’t care to get it, even though many of the less educated people who have been suffering the consequences do. They sense that free enterprises in free markets have become antithetical to their own freedoms. But not knowing what to do about it, they have been lashing out in the place most open to them, the ballot box. After all, you can con all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot con many of the people most of the time.

The effect of this has become all too evident, with strongmen (so far, no women) elected in countries such as Venezuela, Hungary, Nicaragua, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and the United States, not to mention the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. Donald Trump has become a model of sorts, having empowered the bullies of the world, in the high offices as well as on the high streets.

Anything but the establishment, say many of these voters, who certainly know what they are against. So vote they do, far left or far right—who can tell the difference anyway?  (Was the Brexit majority left or right?)  Unfortunately for them, populist leaders often become tyrants, turning against the very democracy that put them into office. (The prime minister of Hungary proudly calls his country an “illiberal democracy”. At least he has the adjective right.) Some wreck their economies in the process, with Venezuela leading the pack. How many others will follow? And if you think that only the marginalized suffer, check out the fortunes of the privileged in Venezuela.

France recently appeared to go another way. Its electorate rejected the far right and the far left, to get the established center—liberal democracy. Then, with an increase in diesel fuel taxes—the regressive straw on that camel’s back—came massive protests in the streets. When up to 77% of the people support a protests, you know that something is up. Or at least down, namely liberal democracy. Where to go next?

 

Click to Part IV:  Regaining Balance

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See  Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series. 

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part II

19 July 2019

   
I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION

Hillary Clinton used the word “deplorables” to dismiss those people who supported her opponent in the last presidential election. This claim was itself deplorable, a callous disregard for the understandable concerns of at least some Americans. Who is more deplorable: these who voted for Donald Trump, or those who drove so many of them to do so? Count people like many of us among the latter, the fortunate 10% or so--lawyers, consultants, accountants, academics, managers and analysts—who live the good life off the fortunes of the 1%, while taking Uber to drive more working people toward the minimum wage. If we wish to see a deplorable, we might try looking in the mirror.

Fake Facts from and for all   Fake facts are deplorable too, no question. But they have been inundating society long before Donald Trump came along—even if he does take political theater to a new level. Recall the fake facts of past elections; count the advertisements today that lie by omission if not commission, including those that sell politicians the way they sell detergents; consider what Fox News and the tabloids have been doing for years, now joined by more brazen blogs.

Who these days doesn’t play loose and easy with the facts, from celebrities who endorse products they don’t use and physicians who dismiss “alternate” forms of treatment they don’t understand, to economists who claim to have won a Nobel Prize that doesn’t exist? (Economists at the National Bank of Sweden created that prize for other economists. Check out “Not a Nobel Prize” buried in nobelprize.org.) The American economy is doing well, we are told—just look at the rate of employment. How about looking at the state of employment: stagnating incomes, shameful minimum wages, the elimination of benefits, the proliferation of contract work, and all that “downsizing”—21st century bloodletting—at the drop of a share price. And don’t forget the “leaders” who give us 30-year plans to fix the environment, just before they leave office. This has to be the ultimate joke—except nobody laughs.

The real winner of the fake facts sweepstakes has to be, not Donald Trump, but Vladimir Putin. He saw a huge opening in the fragmentation of American society and used the country’s own social media to ram fake facts straight through it. This is telling: united America could have stood; rampantly individualistic, it stumbles.

Reflecting in America   America is the land of action more than reflection. This is its great strength as well as its debilitating weakness. I was once at a party in rural Virginia in which a group of retired military guys went on and on about government and taxes without ever realizing where all their income and pensions come from.

“Individualism” can mean acting for oneself or thinking for oneself. Rampant in the country is the former. “The Americans will always do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the alternatives” (attributed to Winston Churchill, among others). America is running out of alternatives.

I get the International New York Times regularly. These days it reads like the New York Rant: article after article, comment after comment about Donald Trump’s latest transgression, with rarely an insightful probe into what is truly troubling America. Much the same can be said about CNN, in panel after panel, ad nauseum.

In his Times column of 8 February 2018, Thomas Friedman described the United States as “the world’s strongest guardian of truth, science and democratic norms.” Friedman is hardly alone, even among liberal commentators (such as, Madeleine Albright and George Soros), in promoting this image of noble America, as if there has never also been a nasty America. No Vietnam, no Bay of Pigs, no Iraq, no Pinochet’s Chile, no incursions into the countries of Latin America and elsewhere, never an agenda on behalf of the monied corporations. Just selective memory. Friedman again, on 15 November 2018: “…we always stood for universal values of freedom and human rights…” How can smart people be so dumb?

What has been dumbing down so much of America?   This is a serious question. I have American friends who are among the most thoughtful people I know. Theirs have become voices in the country’s wilderness.

Can the answer lie in the sheer pace and pressure of American life, intensified by the relentless distractions of the new electronic technologies? Or has being on top globally obscured sight of the ground locally? Who knows, maybe it’s all those chemicals in the food, fertilizers in the crops. What I do know is that somebody had better find out what is driving America crazy.

The 19th century comment attributed to P.T. Barnum, that “There’s a sucker born every minute”, suggests that this dumbing down is not new, and while hardly just American, takes on a special character in America. (Recall snake oil remedies and the like.) Perhaps, then, the answer does lie in this pace and pressure: the relentlessness of change in a mass and mobile society, exacerbated by economic forces that foster anxiety. Will the United States be the first country in peacetime history to succumb to incessant change?

In such a society, fitting in can be the safest course: go with the flow, impress. Don’t stand out, except to lead the flow, by taking it to some new extreme. If greed is good, be the greediest (maybe you can become president). If you have something to sell, outshout the competitors. If it’s stardom you crave, be the brashest. Just don’t buck the prevailing worldview, no matter how questionable it has become, unless you can find identity in some club with its own worldview—Saunders, Trump, anti-globalization, pro-choice, pro-life, whatever. And once you are there, don’t work it out, let alone think it through. Fight it out.

David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column (17 October 2018) about the “cult conformity” that has displaced “individual thought” in America. This reluctance to reflect can be found from “Make America great again” for the excluded, and “Fix capitalism to fix society” for the entitled, to “If freedom is to prevail…American leadership is urgently required” for the established (Madeleine Albright in the New York Times, 6 April 2018). All this while America, capitalism, and leadership spin out of control. This is not the wisdom of crowds; this is groupthink.

I have reflected on America in the hope that there can be more reflection in America. We need noble America, not to save us, but to join all other noble peoples in saving ourselves.

Click to Part III: Globalization in the name of “Liberal Democracy”

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced in whole or in part, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series. (Order at Berrett-Koehler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or Download as PDF)

 

Donald Trump is not the problem - Part I

4 July 2019

This is the first of a five-part series.

I. THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA

II. REFLECTING ON AND IN AMERICA

III. GLOBALIZATION IN THE NAME OF “LIBERAL DEMOCRACY”

IV. REGAINING BALANCE

V. YOU CHOOSE: GLOBAL DEVASTATION OR GROUNDED REFORMATION  

 

Summary of the Series  A healthy society balances the collective responsibilities of governments in the public sector with the commercial interests of businesses in the private sector and the communal concerns of citizens in the plural sector. Two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson warned of the problem that now pervades and corrupts America: imbalance in favor of private sector interests—of which Donald Trump is a dramatized version. Fixing capitalism will no more fix this problem than would fixing communism have fixed the broken regimes of Eastern Europe. Please understand that the real deplorables are those of us who have allowed rampant self-interest (under the guise of Liberal Democracy) to drive so many “deplorables” to vote for deplorable leadership. Shall we ride this tide to global devastation, or engage ourselves in grounded reformation? This will require that business be restored to its proper place, namely the marketplace, so that government can get on with serving in the public place, while the sector better called plural (rather than “civil society”) can reclaim its fundamental place of sustaining democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville described, also two centuries ago.

In a letter of 1816, Thomas Jefferson expressed the “hope [that] we…shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of their country.”

This, the founding fathers did not do. Instead, they exacerbated the problem by addressing another, which had provoked their revolution, namely the excessive power of government. To constrain it, they introduced checks and balances across its legislative, executive, and judicial branches. But the introduction of no similar checks and balances on those monied corporations has proved to be the flaw in America’s venerated model of democracy.

The Battle for Control of America   The battle between the private interests of wealth and public efforts to contain it continued throughout American history, for example with the rise of the monopolistic trusts late in the nineteenth century, countered eventually by the anti-trust legislation. But union-busting continued into the twentieth century, until Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s restored some semblance of balance for the people most disadvantaged by the Depression.

This balance sustained itself for several decades after World War Two, when tax rates were substantial and welfare programs generous while the economy grew robustly. In 1980, the election of Ronald Reagan, to fix America with market solutions, poured oil on the fire that had been smoldering since Jefferson’s time. Union-busting and its consequences returned with a vengeance, sanctioned by a misunderstanding since 1989 of what brought down the Berlin Wall—that capitalism had triumphed. American democracy has been burning ever since.

Three Sectors in Check for Balance   A healthy society balances the collective responsibilities of governments in the public sector with the commercial interests of businesses in the private sector and the communal concerns of citizens in the plural sector—so labelled, instead of “civil society”, to be seen as taking its place alongside the sectors called public and private.

The plural sector is huge, comprising associations that are neither publicly owned by government nor privately owned by investors. Some, often called cooperatives, are owned by their members. The United States has more cooperative memberships than people. Others are owned by no-one, such as NGOs, foundations, religious orders, trusts, and clubs, as well as certain universities and hospitals. Many of these operate in “the commons”, meaning that their services are widely accessible, as are those of Wikipedia. Its size notwithstanding, the plural sector itself is obscure, despite Alexis de Tocqueville’s identification in the 1830s of its “associations” as key to the new Democracy in America.

In a healthy society, the three sectors hold each other in check while cooperating for constructive change. In this regard, the United States today is not a healthy society, with a dominant private sector that has significantly coopted the power of the public sector and marginalized the influence of the plural sector.

The Coup of the Corporate “Person”  How did this 200-year-old battle for control of America end this way? Thank its Supreme Court. In 1886, its justices acknowledged—although never discussed—the status of corporations, monied and otherwise, as “persons” in the eyes of the law. This status, once established and never challenged, led to other Court decisions that further empowered these artificial persons, finally to the one that has taken balance over the edge. In 2010, “Citizens United” opened the floodgates to private power, by extending the rights of persons, artificial and real, to fund political campaigns to their hearts’ content. In effect, the Supreme Court legalized bribery in the United States. Today, the monied corporations of America no longer need to bid defiance to the laws of their country; they can twist those laws to their own advantage.

Arguably, however, the turning point came a bit earlier, in 1989, with a misunderstanding of what brought down the Berlin Wall. Pundits in the West enamored of the prevailing dogma of economics—that greed is good, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect—proffered a ready explanation for the fall of that wall: that capitalism had triumphed. They were dead wrong. Balance had triumphed. While the successful countries of the West were in relative balance, the communist regimes of Eastern Europe were severely out of balance, on the side of their public sectors. These regimes collapsed largely under their own dead weight.

The failure to understand this has been upsetting balance in many of the democratic countries ever since, especially the United States, where the regulations on “free enterprise” have been steadily removed. Capitalism has indeed been triumphing since 1989, with the consequence that America, leading many other countries, is now dangerously skewed to the private sector. How ironic that the very problem that brought down communism in Eastern Europe—a fundamental imbalance across the three sectors of society—is now bringing down democracy in America, and beyond.

Shareholder Value   Most large corporations today march to the tune of Shareholder Value, which has nothing to do with moral values. In keeping with the prevailing dogma of economics, this is about the stock markets’ relentless drive for MORE: more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming. This serves the investors, with all else, when convenient, be damned: workers, communities, the environment, and democracy itself. Grabbing MORE trumps getting better.

Robust businesses grow by offering better products, services, and prices. They are explorers. But what happens when the explorers run out of old markets and new ideas, while, having gone “public”, the wolves of Wall Street are baying at the door? Look around: many become exploiters. They trash their brands, con their customers, cut unseen costs (maintenance, research), bust the unions and then squeeze the workers by putting them on contract at lower pay with fewer protections. Anything to up the price of the stock, quickly. Some buy competitors, in the name of competition, or lobby governments to reduce taxes, in the name of free enterprise. This is not aberrant behavior: the unprincipled pursuit of Shareholder Value has rendered it mainstream—corporate business as usual—albeit with responsible exceptions.

Many of the “owners” of today’s corporations are day traders, while the “human resources” that have devoted decades to these corporations can be discarded like any other resource. In cahoots with these day traders, include me, and perhaps you too, because stock markets are masters at turning ordinary investors into mercenaries. We lift our heads out of the sand only long enough to check our gains, while we too let the consequences be damned. In the United States, these consequences now include alarming disparities of income, distressing levels of incarceration, and most surprising in the U.S. of all places, a conspicuous decline in social mobility.

Into this swamp waded Donald Trump, ostensibly to drain it. Instead, he has been wallowing in it, providing the country with more of the same business as usual, not least his own.

Ubiquitous Corruption, legal and criminal    The degrading of enterprise is serious enough. Worse is the outright corruption, and the worst of this is the legal corruption, because it is difficult to challenge and thus ubiquitous. Think back to the subprime mortgages and now to other schemes emanating from some of the blue-chip banks; have a look at the tricks being used by the sugar-drink makers to block efforts to reduce obesity; and don’t forget all that bribing in Congress. (The real criminals of today are the lawmakers who refuse or reverse efforts to curb global warming.) And read this comment in the New York Times (23 September 2017) about the city of London’s challenge to Uber: “There is a feeling in the air that regulators should stand up to businesses that simply ignore any regulations they don’t like.” No kidding! The flaunting of regulations by pit bull corporations has apparently become normal. Call this the age of abomination.

Not that there is any shortage of criminal corruption, for example Volkswagen’s cheating on diesel emission tests and the officials of General Motors who delayed repairing an ignition switch that was killing drivers. But don’t look for white-collar criminals among the throngs in prison, thanks to a third kind of corruption, namely politicians in cahoots with corporations. This allows pharmaceutical companies to exploit government-granted monopolies (called patents) so that people die for want of medicines that could be affordable as well as considerably profitable. What kind of a society tolerates this? The gun lobby gets away with its own form of murder, while on a larger scale, a “military-industrial complex” sustains levels of American defense spending greater than the next half dozen countries combined. This includes a nuclear arsenal that leaves one finger on the proverbial button, presumably to “get them before they get us”, even if that could get everybody. What kind of madness is driving America? Look beyond those “deplorables”.

Click to Part II:  Reflecting on and in America

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced in whole or in part, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See Rebalancing Society… radical renewal beyond left, right, and center for the forerunner to this series (Order at Berrett-Koehler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or Download as PDF)

 

Saving community from technology


20 June 2019

I bring you this TWOG (TWeet 2 blOG—no human intervention) dictating into my iPhobe1 with my head down, so that you can read it on a sidewalk with your head down, bumping into strangers.

Individualism runs rampant in society while community runs down: we isolate ourselves to the detriment of our social relationships. Blame the technologies that were developed to serve us: they have been driving us away from each other. The consequences could be dire.



Let’s start with the wheel, which, quite literally, made it easier to drive away from each other. Just throw our belongings into a wagon and roll off to some private place.

I bring you this TWOG (TWeet 2 blOG—no human intervention) dictating into my iPhobe1 with my head down, so that you can read it on a sidewalk with your head down, bumping into strangers.

Individualism runs rampant in society while community runs down: we isolate ourselves to the detriment of our social relationships. Blame the technologies that were developed to serve us: they have been driving us away from each other. The consequences could be dire.



Let’s start with the wheel, which, quite literally, made it easier to drive away from each other. Just throw our belongings into a wagon and roll off to some private place.

When the printing press came along, we no longer had to go to some monastery to read a book. We could buy it, take it home in our wagon, and read it in isolation. (When the flashlight was invented, we could even do that under the covers.) 

Eventually we developed various motorized uses of the wheel. The railroad took us further and faster away from our communities, albeit riding together. But the automobile took care of that: we could speed away from the masses all alone, albeit en mass.

Of all the technologies, the automobile is perhaps the epitome of our individuality. We wrap ourselves in this hunk of metal and tear along some highway, bearing down on the car in front that is passing at the speed limit.  Some nerve. “Get off my highway!“

This is called “tailgating.” Have you ever been tailgated on a sidewalk? Of course not. This is community: you can turn around and say “Hey buddy, this is our sidewalk.” Actually, of course yes. Now we are tailgated constantly on sidewalks, and worse, by all those people texting, head down (making use of a newer technology—see what I mean). “Hey buddy, get up: you’re in my way!”

In fact, we no longer need so many sidewalks. Thanks to the automobile, we can live in the suburbs, where we can drive from our driveway straight to the local mall, to shop. But not in a market. The word used to designate the place where we congregated on Saturday morning to talk and shop—this was the heart and soul of community. Today the word market designates a heartless cyberspace where we buy and sell electrons.



The radio brought entertainment into our homes, as voice. Television added image, so that we no longer had need to go to a theater, let alone to a drive-in. We sit on a couch like a potato as it all comes to us.



The telephone was maybe more of a game changer. When we first moved to France (in an airplane—another get-away technology), phones were hard to get. So there came these unexpected knocks on the door: a colleague dropping by to chat, someone else wanting to ask a question. How quaint! Then the telephones arrived, and took care of that. My French friends stayed home and phoned.



Now we have the social media, which should be called the anti-social media. Why call? Who needs voice? Find a sidewalk, put that head down, and text, text, text. Just be careful to step around that guy we knocked over.

All the new electronic devices— laptops, pads, phobes, whatever—have certainly put us in touch. I refer to our fingers, with a keyboard, while the rest of us sits there, for hours, working at home and shopping from home or else playing videos at home, all of this all alone. No need for those malls, let alone those sidewalks. “Ah,” you tweet back, “but can we ever network now!” Sure, so long as you understand that a network is not a community. (If you don’t, try getting your Facebook “friends” to help paint your house, let alone rebuild your barn.2)

These technologies may be extending our social networks in amazing ways, but they are doing so at the expense of our community relationships. We are so busy texting and tweeting that we barely have time for meeting and greeting. Where is the technology for meaning?3

Of course, there remain places where we can still connect with real people. Elevators, for example, even at home, with the family. But to do that, we would have to lift our heads, however momentarily. Why bother? Just to greet a neighbour we never met? Or talk with a colleague to whom we are texting anyway? Or connect with the kids? (Good luck: try getting them to raise their heads.)

Guess what? Community matters. We are social animals, dependent on our relationships to live full lives, even to survive intact. Collaboration is necessary to get things done, but don’t expect it from the binary bits of an electronic device. In his New York Times column in 2012, Thomas Friedman reported asking an Egyptian friend about the protest movement there that failed: “Facebook really helped people to communicate, but not to collaborate,” he replied. Friedman added that “at their worst, [social media] can become addictive substitutes for real action.” That’s a serious problem.

Face it: our cherished technologies cage our social relationships. We need to restore community—at work, at home, and on the sidewalks of society.

______________________________________________

1 I made this typographical error recently, when hitting one of the tiny keys on my iphobe.
2 In fact, the word community has become fashionable to describe what are really networks, as in the “business community” or the “medical community”—“people with common interests [but] not common values, history, or memory.” A century or two earlier, the word “seemed to connote a specific group of people, from a particular patch of earth, who knew and judged and kept an eye on one another, who shared habits and history and memories, and could at times be persuaded to act as a whole on behalf of a part” (Giridharadas, 2013).
3 In an article entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”, Marche claimed that, thanks largely to ourselves, “we suffer from unprecedented alienation…. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society.”

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. Extended from a passage in Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

Concerned but confused? Time to coalesce and correct

18 May 2019

I had a dream recently. I was going up and down an elevator, to find some event, not sure what. There was nothing doing at the top, but I found people congregating at the bottom, only to hear an announcement that the event was canceled.

So a few of us, milling around--a motley crew of fifteen or so, most of the others young, all of us concerned but confused about the state of the world—made our way to an open field, to do something about it. We kicked around a few ideas, not much of consequence. When another thirty or so people joined, we had a critical mass, all ready to go—but where? Since it was my dream, I took charge, suggesting that, wherever we go, whatever we do, it has to be...

I had a dream recently. I was going up and down an elevator, to find some event, not sure what. There was nothing doing at the top, but I found people congregating at the bottom, only to hear an announcement that the event was canceled.

So a few of us, milling around--a motley crew of fifteen or so, most of the others young, all of us concerned but confused about the state of the world—made our way to an open field, to do something about it. We kicked around a few ideas, not much of consequence. When another thirty or so people joined, we had a critical mass, all ready to go—but where? Since it was my dream, I took charge, suggesting that, wherever we go, whatever we do, it has to be...

targeted. We should be going after some low-hanging outrage, directly, decisively. Not sitting on Wall Street so much as standing up to some obscenity behind one of its doors. Not the women of America marching on the streets to protest the election of an appalling president so much as the women of Paraguay pelting the house of a corrupt politician with eggs. (He resigned.) Whatever it is, we need to coalesce, to correct some behavior that is truly…

intolerable. We have to fix what can no longer be tolerated (if it ever should have been)—like all the sugar in our diets, or the offensive pricing of pharmaceuticals that allows people to die for want of medicines that could be affordable and adequately profitable. Some outrage that even well-intentioned governments are not fixing, like climate change. (Read about Greta in Sweden.) With this kind of inaction so common, some motley crews at some non-events in some obscure fields will have to act. But let’s be sure it is…

legal, at least morally so, like Mahatma Gandhi’s salt march in India, or Rosa Parks holding her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Both set off groundswells that restored some decency to an indecent world. But, especially, these actions will have to be…

clever, unexpected.   Once upon a time, a big bully was toppled with a slingshot. More recently, in San Antonio, Texas, a big phone company was brought down by a penny. People fed up with it paid their bills plus 1¢. This drove the company crazy and its resistance toppled. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as president of the United States, was asked to act on a social issue, he had a great answer: “I agree with you…make me go out and do it.” This requires what can be called communityship. (If you want to see what it looks like, watch the groundswell that develops from some nut dancing in an open field, thanks to a leadership that follows.)

I dreamt these points, but not their details. These have been on my mind for some time; it was the points that came together that night. But we need no Freud to interpret this dream. The message is clear enough: if you are concerned but confused about the state of the world, forget about finding the answer at some top—nothing doing there these days—and skip the staged events. Find some motley crew in some open field and coalesce to create your own event, on the ground. Target some morally intolerable outrage—there is no shortage of them these days—and correct it: cleverly, decisively, morally, almost legally. Stop dreaming and start acting.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 18 May 2019. For my daydreaming beyond these night dreams, see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

From Ebola to Imbalance

30 April 2019

Co-authored with Joanne Liu

Ebola

When Joanne was an emergency room physician in the Ste. Justine children’s hospital in Montreal, and a frequent volunteer with Doctors Without Borders (MSF, as it is known by its French initials), she enrolled in McGill University’s International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), founded by Henry. During the program, she decided to run for the international presidency of MSF. Several members of the class formed her campaign committee, and Joanne was elected in 2013.

Co-authored with Joanne Liu

Ebola

When Joanne was an emergency room physician in the Ste. Justine children’s hospital in Montreal, and a frequent volunteer with Doctors Without Borders (MSF, as it is known by its French initials), she enrolled in McGill University’s International Masters for Health Leadership (imhl.org), founded by Henry. During the program, she decided to run for the international presidency of MSF. Several members of the class formed her campaign committee, and Joanne was elected in 2013.

Soon after, MSF was facing a looming crisis: an Ebola outbreak was spreading in villages in West Africa. MSF was on the ground there, and realized the potential severity: cases confirmed from locations kilometers apart, at the junction of three countries—Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone—where the populations were mobile.

MSF shared its concerns with the U.N. agency, the World Health Organization (WHO), but to no avail. Meanwhile, MSF teams in the field were warning that the number of cases was growing, and that its own facilities were over capacity. By June of 2014, when one of its epidemiologists claimed that “the epidemic is out of control”, MSF realized that it has to pull the alarm, imperatively. The only tool it had was to speak up—issue an urgent wake-up call. Joanne arranged a meeting with Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, to convince her to declare this a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)  With overwhelming evidence of the epidemic in West Africa, and growing hysteria from the Global North, mostly related to the evacuation of infected care-givers outside the region, Dr. Chan did so, on 8 August 2014.

Joanne was invited to brief the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 2 September 2014.  The Under General Secretary stated that only MSF could brief on the situation, not the usual UN agency, because MSF was one of the rare organizations deployed to care for Ebola patients.

Imbalance

For some years, Henry had been struggling with another concern, the imbalance that he believes is pervading much of today’s world, in favor of private sector forces over public sector needs and plural sector concerns. In 2015, he published a book about this, entitled Rebalancing Society:…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center. Since then, he has been pursuing possible solutions for redressing the balance.

Many people expect government to do so. After all, it is the ultimate authority, representing “the will of the people” in democratic societies. Unfortunately, many  governments are failing in some of their basic responsibilities. Thus, an increasing number of concerned people now expect business to fix society’s problem of imbalance.  But Henry questions this: can private sector forces fix a problem significantly of their own making? He looks, instead, to the plural sector to begin the process of radical renewal.

What is this plural sector? It comprises those associations, many of them rooted in communities, that are owned neither by the state nor by private investors. Some, such as cooperatives, are owned by members, while others are owned by no one. Think of all the foundations, clubs, religions, charities, many of the world’s renowned universities, and non-government organizations (NGOs), including Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and, of course, MSF.

Enter the NGOs

Why not carry the message of the MSF experience to this concern? From Ebola to imbalance. Acting together, prominent NGOs could draw attention to this crisis of imbalance, by issuing a wake-up call, to get plural sector communities and public sector authorities as well as responsible businesses in the private sector working together for balance. For example, what if a group of prominent NGOs published a compelling manifesto about what needs to be done to restore balance in society?

Who better than the NGOs on the ground, beyond the formal conferences in the fancy facilities—as was MSF, experiencing the consequences of Ebola firsthand? Do not the characteristics of many NGOs make them suitable for doing this, especially those not dependent on government or corporate funding? (MSF, for example, gets 94% of its funding from private donors.) Moreover, many NGOs have the capacity, and the legitimacy, to carry their messages far and wide. Their voices are global, yet they are organized locally, in communities that are networked around the world. And being committed to a cause, they can generate the altruism, the energy, the courage, and the flexibility necessary to act decisively.

Common Cause

But why would any NGO want to do this? Because while each has its own cause, together they have common cause: the imbalance that creates, or at least exacerbates, the very problems with which they have to deal. This imbalance is causing the degradation of our environments, which is the concern of Greenpeace, the demise of our democracies, which is addressed by Amnesty International , and the degradation of ourselves, which MSF faces most literally in war zones. Imbalance is the meta-issue behind many of the NGO’s own issues.

To do this, however, the NGOs will have to get their collective act together, which they can be reluctant to do.  Well, private sector businesses do this quite effectively—it is a major factor behind their power. (Compare the conferences of the World Economic Forum with those of the World Social Forum: one super-organized and highly-reported, the other disorderly and  obscure.)  Businesses may compete with each other in the marketplace, but when they want something broader, such as reduced taxes, they know how to work together, for example by using their chambers of commerce. Why not the NGOs?

Back to Balance

The centuries-old divide between right and left, namely private sector interests versus public sector controls, has obscured the pivotal role that the plural sector can play in dealing with major social problems. A stable society, like a stable stool, has to sit on three legs—public. private, and plural sectors—not two (public and private), let alone one (public communism, private capitalism, or community populism). This will happen only when the plural sector takes its place alongside those called private and public (hence this label plural sector, instead of “civil society” or “not-for-profits, etc.).

Nobody can expect any NGO to forgo its specific cause for common cause.  But the future of our progeny and our planet surely merits greater attention to common cause—from the NGOs and the rest of us. Together we face challenges from warming, weapons, and the skewed distribution of wealth. This is our looming crisis, vast and multi-faceted. Thanks to the vast and multi-faceted efforts that were eventually mobilized, Ebola was contained. Our imbalance needs to be.

© Henry Mintzberg and Joanne Liu 2019. Joanne is completing her second term as International President of Doctors Without Borders.

The next step Greta…

23 March 2019

Dear Greta

Good for you. Thanks to your spirit, over a million youth have just marched for the sake of our future. What’s the next step?

You are 16, and concerned about climate change. I am 79, and concerned about it too, as well as the imbalance that fuels it. You sit in and give speeches about the problem. I write books and give speeches about the imbalance. You spoke bluntly at Davos, to “tepid” applause. No kidding! Years ago I spoke in the same forum and concluded that Davos is the place where many of the people who spend 51 weeks a year creating the problem spend the 52nd pretending to solve it. You are fed up with the inaction of your elders. I am fed up with the inaction of my youngers, who are the same people. For decades I have watched the problem growing steadily worse.

Dear Greta

Good for you. Thanks to your spirit, over a million youth have just marched for the sake of our future. What’s the next step?

You are 16, and concerned about climate change. I am 79, and concerned about it too, as well as the imbalance that fuels it. You sit in and give speeches about the problem. I write books and give speeches about the imbalance. You spoke bluntly at Davos, to “tepid” applause. No kidding! Years ago I spoke in the same forum and concluded that Davos is the place where many of the people who spend 51 weeks a year creating the problem spend the 52nd pretending to solve it. You are fed up with the inaction of your elders. I am fed up with the inaction of my youngers, who are the same people. For decades I have watched the problem growing steadily worse.

Our world is dangerously out of balance in favor of private sector interests that dominate our governments and our communities. These interests feed on the prevailing dogma of economics—that greed is good, markets are sacred, and governments are suspect—to bring us more production for more consumption with more waste and more warming.

Sit-ins and marches wake up people who are concerned but have not been active. But do they wake up the people most responsible for the problem? Was Donald Trump woken up by the massive marches after his election? If anything, he was amused. Were the financial sharks of Wall Street woken up by the occupation of their street? Mostly, I imagine, they were inconvenienced. In the white houses and behind the front streets are the backrooms where greed continues to reign supreme. And the problem goes well beyond this. The beneficiaries of this globalized world are doing very well the way things are, thank you, and that includes most of the people I know, and probably many that you know too. The icecaps may be melting, but the homes on the hills are safe from flooding—for now, at least.

What, then, has to happen—what’s the next step? You have been blunt; let me be likewise in my answer, quoting two lines from a song by Tom Lehrer about the Spanish civil war: “Though [Franco] may have won all the battles, we had all the good songs!” I like good songs too, but we had better start winning some battles.

We will have to do so by challenging specific behaviors that can no longer be tolerated—let’s call them the low-hanging outrages. They have to be targeted with clever campaigns that have teeth. Here’s a simple illustration. Some years ago, in San Antonio, Texas, people who were fed up with their utility company overpaid their bills by 1¢. That simple cent, multiplied many times over, tied this bureaucracy in knots. It backed off. From the local schoolyard to the global marketplace, it is amazing how an unexpected tactic can bring down a big bully. Just as David brought down Goliath.

There is no shortage of low-hanging outrages from which to pick. They just have to be picked carefully, to avoid, not only what could become violent, but also what can be seen as self-serving (such as university students protesting university fees).  The campaigns have to be lawful, altruistic, and, above all, clever—like that 1¢ one. There is as much imagination in the world as there are indecencies that need to be confronted by it.

Saul Alinsky wrote remarkable books about how, while liberals talk, radicals act: they rally around common cause. You sat down in front of the Swedish parliament. Good. Now surround it with thousands of you and don’t leave until you get action on those emissions. The people who pitched their tents on Wall Street can go after specific shenanigans taking place inside the buildings on that street; these are a veritable goldmine of outrages, not least, the appropriation of so much of wealth. In my own country, Canada, we can stop coddling the producers of some of the dirtiest oil on earth. And how about those of us on the consumption side of this problem, who do things like turn up the heat instead of putting on a sweater? We, too, are the exploiters, by appropriating too much of the world’s energy.

Does this mean civil disobedience? Not at all: it is civil and it is obedient.  Today’s civil disobedience comes from the people who violate human decency, those responsible for the legal corruption that has become so rampant.

So: you want people to “feel the power”? That you have already demonstrated. You claim “that the people will rise to the challenge.” This is the next step that needs to be demonstrated—by you youngers and we elders together.

Sköt om dig

Henry
(mintzberg.org)

Nailing Corporate Reformation to the Door

2 October 2018

Co-authored with Frederick Bird

In the sixteenth century, there were calls for reforms of the Christian Church, which was then the largest, wealthiest, and most global institution in the world. Some critics engaged in protests, others offered advice or called for a gathering of leaders. But what eventually sparked action was a poster nailed to the door of the All Saints Church, Wittenberg, in the fall of 1517, by Martin Luther, a monk and professor. He posted 95 theses about fundamental issues to be addressed. Thus began the Reformation.

Photo credit: Martin Luther [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Co-authored with Frederick Bird

In the sixteenth century, there were calls for reforms of the Christian Church, which was then the largest, wealthiest, and most global institution in the world. Some critics engaged in protests, others offered advice or called for a gathering of leaders. But what eventually sparked action was a poster nailed to the door of the All Saints Church, Wittenberg, in the fall of 1517, by Martin Luther, a monk and professor. He posted 95 theses about fundamental issues to be addressed. Thus began the Reformation.

Photo credit: Martin Luther [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At a meeting last November at the Drucker Forum in Vienna, Charles Handy called for a reformation of our time, concerning the business corporation.  David Hurst and Nick Hixson, both Drucker Associates, responded by asking a number of management thinkers to reflect, in the manner of Luther’s 95 theses, on ills and remedies concerning the corporation today.

As management professors, one of us trained in religious studies, we have taken up this call, rather literally. We propose 9.5. theses (Luther’s were highly repetitive!), directed at fostering reform of an institution whose influence today is arguably comparable to that of the Christian Church at the time of Luther.

These 9.5  theses are not meant to be comprehensive, only, like those of Luther, a possible starting point for reformation. One thesis is taken straight from Luther, and all but one of the others have been modified from, and inspired by, Luther’s own words. (An # designates the number of Luther’s original thesis, with our modifications of his original in italic.) Like Luther, we state these theses without comment: they should speak for themselves.

1. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory. (#27)

2. Those who believe they can be certain of their salvation because they have achieved higher share value will be eternally damned, together with their consultants. (#32)

3. Why do so many corporations, whose combined wealth is today greater than the wealth of most nations, build their one basilica of globalization for their own benefit rather than for everyone? (#86)

4. Away with all those economists who say to the people “more, more, more” when the people need better, better, better. (#92)

5. … for the souls in purgatory, fear by downsizing should necessarily decrease and distribution of wealth increase. (#17)

6. Leadership indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to the good works of communityship. (#41)

7. The true treasure of business is to add value to society. (#62)

8. Because love grows by works of love, businesses become better when they engage in love of the people and the planet. (#44)

9. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the corporations and their CEOs to the ridicule of their enemies and to make citizens unhappy. (#90)

9.5. Blasphemous is the dogma that greed is godly and markets are sacred.

We believe that this dogma has taken our world out of balance, in favor of self-interest over collective needs and the common good. As a consequence, tyrants are being elected, only to undermine further the very democracies that put them into office. With no countervailing power to stop them—no serious global government, no reliable superpower—these tyrants threaten peace on earth. Faith will have to be restored in our institutions, including a reframing of corporate social responsibility, to favor balance in society.

© Frederick Bird and Henry Mintzberg 2018. For more on balance, see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Please welcome CSR 2.0

7 December 2017

I address this especially to business executives, but as citizens of their societies and neighbors in their communities.

Why do we focus on the conditions of our problems instead of addressing their root causes? Medicine, for example, gives far greater attention to treating diseases than to preventing what caused them in the first place. Jonas Salk provided a telling exception: instead of treating polio, he created a vaccine to eradicate it.

0.0, 1.0, 2.0

I address this especially to business executives, but as citizens of their societies and neighbors in their communities.

Why do we focus on the conditions of our problems instead of addressing their root causes? Medicine, for example, gives far greater attention to treating diseases than to preventing what caused them in the first place. Jonas Salk provided a telling exception: instead of treating polio, he created a vaccine to eradicate it.

0.0, 1.0, 2.0

Much the same can be said about corporate social responsibility, or CSR. A corporation is considered responsible when it attends to the evident conditions of some social or environmental problem. But imagine how much more responsible it would be to address the underlying cause of that problem? Finding a new way to recycle waste may be good, but helping to reduce the generation of that waste is better. Not good, however, is Coca-Cola’s promotion of exercise programs for obese children, because its own products are a significant cause of that obesity. This, like greenwashing—pretending to be environmentally friendly—borders on what we can call Corporate Social Irresponsibility, or CSI.

We are inundated with CSI these days, some of it verging on the criminal—for example, banks that register customers for accounts they never requested or automobile companies that cheat on emission controls. And how about the massive private funding of American election campaigns This is a form of legal corruption tantamount to bribery.

Let’s label the irresponsible activities, CSI 0.0; the responsible attention to conditions, CSR 1.0; and the substantial addressing of cause, CSR 2.0. While we should be appreciating CSR 1.0 for its damage control, we should be welcoming CSR 2.0 for helping to reverse the damage. We need as much serious corporate social responsibility as we can get.

Imbalance as the root cause

I see imbalance in society as the root cause of many of our major problems, including global warming and income disparities. In my book Rebalancing Society, I trace the tipping point toward the current imbalance back to 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, signaling the end of the communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

Western pundits at the time declared that capitalism had triumphed, over communism. They were mistaken. Balance had triumphed, over imbalance. A healthy country balances the market forces of the private sector with the democratic needs of the public sector and the community concerns of the plural sector (“civil society”).  Those regimes of Eastern Europe were severely out of balance, on the side of their public sectors, while the successful countries of the West were better balanced across their three sectors.

Since 1989, however, there has been a marked decline in the health of many countries, most notably the United States. The country now faces alarmingly high rates of incarceration, obesity, income disparities, and drug taking, accompanied by, of all things, a sharp decline in social mobility (particularly the chances of poor children moving up the social ladder). All of this reflects the escalating imbalance in American society.

The mistaken belief that capitalism triumphed in 1989 has enabled capitalism to triumph since then, tilting the country toward the private sector. Think about the lop-sided lobbying that now overwhelms Congress, as a result of that legal bribery—most of it in favor of business interests. How ironic that the very problem of imbalance that brought down communism is now bringing down democracy.

In much of this, corporate America has hardly been an innocent bystander. This is most evident in the congressional lobbying, but also in the intensification of global warming by the promotion of fossil fuels as well as by the stock markets’ relentless demand for MORE. Likewise have income disparities been widened by the shift to contract work that has diminished workers’ wages while weakening their protections. And at the root of this has been the investor obsession with Shareholder Value, as if no other stakeholders, let alone basic human values, matter.

The business fix? 

Most of our major problems reduce to a single foreboding one: how to reverse the imbalance before it’s too late? There is widespread belief In America that if the country has a problem, business will have to fix it. Proponents of this fix point to private (so called win-win) ventures for example, that bring down the cost of windmills and solar panels. No doubt ”doing well by doing good” is beneficial. Not beneficial, however, are the many companies that do well by doing bad, or else do well by doing nothing. There is no win-win wonderland out there.

Now we see a whole spate of proposals for what can be called adjectival capitalism: Sustainable Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Regenerative Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, Democratic Capitalism (this one with democracy as the adjective and capitalism as the noun!). All of this indicates the problem more than the solution.

Capitalism certainly needs fixing, especially the frenetic stock markets and the deplorable pursuit of Shareholder Value. But that will happen, not by capitalism getting itself right so much as by society getting capitalism into its rightful place, namely the marketplace. How did a word coined to describe the funding of private enterprises become the be all and end all of human existence? It is the balance in society that we need to get right, and that will not be done by business alone, or, for that matter, by government or community action alone.

Responsible Responses

What, then, can responsible businesses do? They can start by recognizing the role they may have played in creating these problems—if not deliberately, then as a byproduct of their economic activity—so that they can address their causes. Moreover, decent businesses will have to challenge the indecencies of other businesses, not least by supporting legislation intended to correct these indecencies.  Above all is the need for responsible businesses to engage in more collaboration with government organizations and community associations. Consequential solutions, especially for the problem of imbalance itself, will have to come from consolidating the capabilities of the major institutions of all three sectors: communities engage, governments legitimize, businesses invest.

Is the private sector prepared to recognize that it has too much power? Are many of us ready to temper our self-serving individualism for the sake of our collective and communal needs in society? Will international businesses and the international agencies so beholden to economic dogma acknowledge the social, political, and environmental downsides of globalization (to be discussed in a forthcoming TWOG)? History offers scant evidence of centers of power voluntarily relinquishing power. But these are no ordinary times, with the looming threat of global warming and the prevalence of nuclear weapons in a world of so many thugs in high office.

So, please, enough of business as usual, especially in the form of CSI 0.0. Beyond CSR 1.0, it is time for CSR 2.0—time for the citizens and neighbors who work in business to get serious about corporate social responsibility.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. For more on this issue, see Part V (“Who Should Control the Corporation?”) of my book Power In and Around Organizations (out of print, but available for downloading at no cost, also in a summary article). This lays 8 positions around a horseshoe, from state control to full autonomy, with the CSR position in the middle (Chapter 20).

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

Brexit and the rest: it all adds up

6 July 2016

I have written frequently in these TWOGs on the need for rebalancing society, but I feel that recent events have made the message more compelling. I will keep conveying it until that message gets through, or I can no longer write. So if you agree with it, please circulate this so that I can move on!

Question: What might explain the following? Brexit. Trump. Sanders. Democracies in retreat. Thugs in presidential palaces. Backlash against globalization. Add to these: climate change and corruption in America (worse than Brazil). Answer: Imbalance in society.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and that set off our relentless march to imbalance. The wall fell on us, thanks to our misunderstanding of what brought it down

I have written frequently in these TWOGs on the need for rebalancing society, but I feel that recent events have made the message more compelling. I will keep conveying it until that message gets through, or I can no longer write. So if you agree with it, please circulate this so that I can move on!

Question: What might explain the following? Brexit. Trump. Sanders. Democracies in retreat. Thugs in presidential palaces. Backlash against globalization. Add to these: climate change and corruption in America (worse than Brazil). Answer: Imbalance in society.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and that set off our relentless march to imbalance. The wall fell on us, thanks to our misunderstanding of what brought it down

It was claimed in 1989 that capitalism had triumphed. This was dangerously wrong. Balance had triumphed. While the communist states of Eastern Europe were severely out of balance, with so much power concentrated in their public sectors, the successful nations of the West balanced their power more effectively across their public, private, and plural (civil society) sectors. But a failure to understand this has been throwing the world out of balance ever since, with power increasingly concentrated in the private sectors, in favor of the forces of economics and individualism. Since 1989, capitalism has indeed been triumphing, globally and domestically.

Now consider these happenings in light of this imbalance.

Brexit. Was there dissatisfaction with the European Union? Of course. Was there xenophobia? No doubt. But these evident explanations do not justify the knee-jerk reactions of an establishment press to the pro-Brexit vote: “stupidity”, “lies”, “cynical politicians”, “dumb down”, “hucksters”—to quote from two recent columns in the New York Times, by Roger Cohen and Thomas Freidman. It’s too easy to dismiss the lashing out of disadvantaged and disoriented people instead of probing into the source of their angst, especially when that questions the globalization dogma that these two writers have promoted blindly for years.

Beneath this vote lies the social imbalance When people have lost their way, while their established leadership offers no viable alternative, they find somewhere to go. And this can cause them to act no less stupidly than their leaders. The prevailing paradigm, the American dream, has become a nightmare for too many people around the world. (Especially in America, where social mobility—the odds of getting ahead when born into a poor family—has dropped startlingly.) One inconvenient truth behind the Brexit vote is the anger felt about globalization, in this country directed at the powerful elites of the London financial establishment.

Trump and Sanders. Take your pick—rednecks or liberals, manifesting their frustration as anger or angst. Again we find the same social imbalance, here directed more explicitly at the brazen power of Wall Street.

Democracies in retreat.  Not long ago, democracies were in ascension, all over the world. No longer. Thanks again to the imbalance, they are in retreat, left and right, with the unimpeded rise of elected thugs in presidential palaces (Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, etc.), or through the bribing of elected politicians by private interests. In Brazil this corruption is criminal, and at least is being prosecuted. In the United States this corruption is legal, and so it continues to fester.

Global Warming. Is there excess use of carbon energy? Of course there is. But behind this is the imbalance inherent in the domination of economic interests over social need: the obsessive drive for quantity over quality—for more and more GDP and Shareholder Value instead of better and better lives. We and our planet are being consumed by consumption.

Exaggerated individualism and rampant globalization. These are two sides of the same coin. Instead of balancing individual needs with collective and communal needs, we allow one to dominate the other two. And who are the prime beneficiaries of this? The wealthiest individuals, many of whom are the greediest—and the ones behind a globalization movement that allows an unelected economic autocracy to undermine national sovereignties and social communities. No wonder so many disrupted people vote Brexit, Trump, Sanders, Le Pen, et al. Who else acknowledges their concerns?

And how about terrorist attacks?  Angry at the established forces and unimpeded by a balanced alternative to the prevailing paradigm, some people lash out in horrific ways, with indiscriminate killing. They express no concern for the consequences of their actions. (Does the 1% express concern for the consequences of their particular actions—less horrendous but more widespread?) After the latest carnage in U.S., we have the spectacle of the National Rifle Association giving elected representatives permission to legislate against assault weapons.

Need I go on? Need we go on? There is another way. It’s called balance, across the sectors: respected governments and responsible businesses with robust communities. Constrained greed. Concern for the disadvantaged. The Western democracies were closer to all this in the four decades following World War II. (Recall the welfare programs of the Johnson administration in the U.S. and the higher levels of taxation in many of the developed countries.) The world needs to restore its balance, and reject the oxymoronic “democratic capitalism.” (Notice which is the noun and which the adjective.)

Once we understand what has been going on, we can appreciate that the conventional solutions will not work. The problem will not be fixed in or by the private sector. Capitalism certainly needs fixing, but this will require rebalancing across all the sectors—which means putting capitalism in its place, namely in the provision of goods and service. Period. Nor can we expect public sector governments to take the lead, because most have become too coopted by private interests domestically and overwhelmed by corporate forces globally.

This leaves the plural sector, comprising those associations that are neither private nor public, most of them community-based: our clubs and groups, NGOs, not-for profits, cooperatives, social initiatives and social movements. This sector is massive, yet it has been lost in the great debates over public versus private, namely the linear politics of left versus right.

Please understand that the plural sector is not them; it is you and I, in our everyday lives. Some of us may work in the private sector and most of us may vote in the public sector but all of us live in the plural sector. We need to recognize that it is here, on the ground, that the restoration of balance will have to begin.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Please see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center for a full rendition of this message. For earlier comments on this theme, please see the TWOGs under Rebalancing Society (This TWOG was delayed pending the appearance of a related version on the Huffington PostFollow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we now also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn.

Rescuing Capitalism from Itself

16 December 2015

I’m still recovering from bypass surgery. The third TWOG on managing health care is intended to appear next week. In the meantime, I post here a piece that was originally published on HBR.org last week and is adapted from my book Rebalancing Society…Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right, and Center (Berret Koehler, 2015). Ive TWOGed several times on this, but I feel that this version says it best.

I’m still recovering from bypass surgery. The third TWOG on managing health care is intended to appear next week. In the meantime, I post here a piece that was originally published on HBR.org last week and is adapted from my book Rebalancing Society…Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right, and Center (Berret Koehler, 2015). Ive TWOGed several times on this, but I feel that this version says it best.

In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell alongside communism in Eastern Europe, pundits in the West proclaimed the triumph of capitalism. The American historian Francis Fukuyama even declared “the end of history,” writing in National Interest‘s summer 1989 issue that he saw “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

It has not worked out that way. Since 1989, the United States has experienced some alarming changes, for example the massive infiltration of corporate money into public elections, disquieting levels of corruption in business, rising income disparities, and the decline, of all things in this country, of social mobility. America is having a tea party all right. It’s for large corporations, under the slogan “No taxation with representation.”

Meanwhile problems across the globe continue to fester, with turmoil in the Middle East and numerous democracies on the wane after years of being on the rise. And then there’s global warming.

Of course, many people recognize these problems. In the United States, the inclination has been to fix capitalism, mainly with proposals for what I call adjectival capitalism: Sustainable Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, and others. The assumption seems to be that if only we get capitalism right, all will be well with the world. Fukuyama’s end of history will finally be realized.

No doubt capitalism needs fixing, and we can certainly do with greater corporate social responsibility. But let me ask this question: how did a word coined to describe the funding of private enterprises become the be-all and end-all of human existence?

The Problem With a Two-Legged Stool

What I believe needs fixing is our perception of society. In a sense, we have been seeing it as sitting on a two-legged stool. One leg represents public sector governments and the services they provide for the common good, such as education, defense, and a transport infrastructure. The other leg represents private sector businesses and the resources they mobilize for the provision of our commercial goods and services.

But no stool can balance itself on two legs, let alone one, whether public or private. Even the democratic countries are experiencing increasing political dysfunction: either pendulum politics, namely the fruitless swinging between left and right, or else paralysis in the political center. Both abet the current imbalance.

Society needs a third leg for balance. I call it the Plural Sector. You may know it as “civil society,” or the third sector, or the home of NGOs and not-for-profit organizations. But if it is to take its place alongside the other two sectors, it requires a label that fits with theirs: public, private, plural.

The plural sector comprises all those associations, many community-based, that are owned neither by private investors nor by the state itself. Some are owned by members, others by no-one.

Consider all the member-owned cooperatives. The U.S. alone, with 320 million people, has 350 million cooperative memberships. As for non-owned, consider the Red Cross, or Greenpeace, or any of America’s most respected hospitals and universities.

Also prominent in this sector are social movements, for example the Salt March that eventually led to Indian independence, and the social initiatives that are driving so many constructive changes these days, from the Grameen Bank for the micro-financing of the poor to the Khan Academy for the extension of free education. It is quite remarkable how inclined people are to organize voluntarily, in order to share their common interests and pursue their common dreams.

The Plural Sector

The concept of the Plural Sector has an interesting pedigree. In the early 19thCentury, Alexis de Tocqueville, the perceptive European observer of the emerging United States, described the propensity of Americans to band together in what he then called associations, both formal and informal. He believed that these associations were a key element in the emerging democratic nation: “if men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must improve.”

Has it? It has certainly grown: today the plural sector is huge, and probably prominent in your own life. How many of its associations have you interacted with in the past week alone: shopping at a local co-op, driving the kids to a “private” school, playing on a local sports team or joining a group to bring in a refugee family?

Yet this sector gets lost amidst the great debates over left versus right: private sector markets versus public sector governments. This has to change for the sake of balance in society.

In a healthy society, each of the three sectors cooperates with the other two while helping to keep them in check. When one sector dominates, society suffers. Too much power in the public sector results in state despotism, where public officials constrain private freedoms. Communism tried to sit on this one leg, and collapsed. An unfettered private sector results in the kind of income disparities and corporate social irresponsibilities that we are now seeing in the United States and other countries. And an overly powerful plural sector can create a populist tyranny where one community group overpowers all others.

The United States long balanced itself on all three legs: this has been central to its remarkable success. Indeed, the major progress in the four decades following World War Two — social and political as well as economic — was accompanied by significant welfare programs, high personal taxes, and a rather egalitarian distribution of income.

Then the Berlin Wall fell, and America has been going steadily out of balance ever since. You see, capitalism didn’t triumph in 1989: balance did. The Eastern European countries were utterly out of balance, on the side of their public sectors, while the U.S. was relatively balanced. But a failure to understand this has been throwing the county out of balance ever since, on the side of its private sector. Capitalism may not have triumphed in 1989, but it has been triumphing ever since.

Finding Our Balance

How then to restore balance, in the U.S. and so many other countries that have followed suit? Certainly necessary is restored respect for the role of government in society, not least from its own elected officials, as well as greater corporate social responsibility. But these alone will not do it.

I believe that in a world with private sector forces so influential, especially in the global arena, and with so many governments overwhelmed by this, the plural sector has to play the central role in the restoration of balance. It has to push governments and corporations to act dutifully while waking all of us up to the dangerous realities that we face: the degradation of our environments, the demise of our democracies, and the denigration of ourselves.

We have hardly lost our propensity to associate: consider all the community-based social initiatives that we see around us right now. And then there are all those formal associations that have the autonomy, the energy, and the inclination to drive necessary changes: GreenpeaceAmnesty International, Doctors Without Borders.

Yet Robert Putnam has characterized contemporary American society as tending to “bowl alone.” And that, arguably, includes the associations of the plural sector. Greenpeace concerns itself with the environment, Amnesty International with human rights, and Doctors Without Borders with health care. In this respect, like businesses, they differentiate themselves into many missions.

When it comes to common cause, however, businesses get their collective act together. For example, they use their chambers of commerce to lobby for tax cuts. Associations of the plural sector are less inclined to do so. Compare the influence of the World Economic Forum with that of the World Social Forum. (Have you ever even heard of it?) Or compare the international cooperation in 1987 that generated the Montreal Protocol to address the ozone layer with the lack of progress on global warming in recent years.

And so, despite all the good that some of these associations do, society continues its dangerous march toward imbalance. These plural sector associations do have common cause: to challenge the imbalance that is at the root of many of the problems that they address. What they need now is common organization. But that too will not suffice.

What, then, can we do about this? This is the right question, because the plural sector is not “them.” It is you, and me — each of us and all of us. More to the point, it is we — as engaged actors, not passive subjects. We “human resources” have the capacity to act as resourceful human beings.

We may work in the private sector and vote in the public sector but much of our lives are lived in the communities and associations of the plural sector. Grand global conferences may play a role, but real change will have to begin at home, and from there, thanks to the new social media, spread across the globe, to mobilize our efforts for the sake of our planet and our progeny.

In his 1776 pamphlet “Common Sense,” Thomas Paine declared to the people of the American colonies that “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” Paine was right then. Can we be right again now? Can we afford not to be?

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg

VW: The syndrome behind the scandal

23 September 2015

"What were they thinking?" This is the question an editor of the Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada asked me to address, in a commentary about the Volkswagen scandal. They published it on Wednesday, in a slightly different form.

"What was Volkswagen thinking?" This question makes a big assumption: that the Volkswagen people were thinking, about anything beyond their greed. About decency, about our environment, about their progeny.

OK, so you will not be buying a Volkswagen. A Chevrolet instead? Watch out for the ignition. Or how about a Toyota? Just duck as the airbag comes your way. Do you, by any chance, see a pattern? Have we been thinking?

"What were they thinking?" This is the question an editor of the Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada asked me to address, in a commentary about the Volkswagen scandal. They published it on Wednesday, in a slightly different form.

"What was Volkswagen thinking?" This question makes a big assumption: that the Volkswagen people were thinking, about anything beyond their greed. About decency, about our environment, about their progeny.

OK, so you will not be buying a Volkswagen. A Chevrolet instead? Watch out for the ignition. Or how about a Toyota? Just duck as the airbag comes your way. Do you, by any chance, see a pattern? Have we been thinking?

In Europe, the U.S., Japan, and most everywhere else, something is going on. There is a level of sheer corruption that transcends the automobile industry. How about banking in the U.S. and Europe? How about politics, most everywhere? Now Brazil is receiving a lot of attention, while the utter corruption of U.S. politics—private money in public elections, a level of lobbying out of control—carries merrily along.

A good deal of the corruption is criminal, and so can be prosecuted. So why don’t we prosecute corporate criminals and not just corporate crimes? And why don’t we set the fines to indicate that corporate crime doesn’t pay? If you wish to steal, don’t grab somebody’s iPhone. The government will throw the book at you. Devise some financial manoeuver—a little more clever than a Ponzi scheme—to defraud many people of much money. If you wish to get away with manslaughter, don’t do it as the driver of a car; do it as the designer of the car. Executives and engineers in General Motors knew that people were dying as a result of their inaction on those ignition switches, yet they have walked off scot-free.

Far more insidious, however, is the legal corruption, because it is so prevalent. Goldman Sachs allegedly manipulated the market for recycled aluminum so that it could siphon off $5 billion by moving ingot from one warehouse to another. What were they thinking? That’s easy: five billion dollars.

The company claimed to have broken no law. That is precisely the problem. Our societies are being destroyed by this legal corruption. University professors are in cahoots with pharmaceutical companies that think nothing of charging hundreds of thousands of dollars for life and death products that cost them hundreds. And economists who cannot see past markets support such nonsense. Are they thinking at all? Some markets! This is actually the exploitation of monopolies called patents whose prices are not being regulated. And these are not just any old monopolies: people have to die for want of these products, for the sake of obscene profiteering. What kind of a society tolerates this?

Are you seeing the pattern? It’s not a scandal; it’s a syndrome. Shocking as it may be, the Volkswagen affair is just a blatant case of an accelerating trend. Expect it to get worse, because right now we are living in a world where predatory capitalism is triumphing.

In 1989, pundits declared that capitalism had triumphed. Wrong. Balance triumphed. The developed countries of the West were balanced back then. Think of the United States post-war—higher levels of taxation, fairer distribution of wealth, generous welfare programs—and with all that, remarkable development, political and social as well as economic. The communist states of Eastern Europe collapsed because they were utterly out of balance, with so much power concentrated in their public sectors.

It turns out that the Berlin Wall fell on us: predatory capitalism has been triumphing since 1989, throwing much of the world out of balance, on the side of private sectors. They are dominating government and much of society, with the consequences described above.

What were they thinking at Volkswagen? Very likely that governments are impotent, or coopted, or lack the staff to regulate and prosecute. OK, so this particular company was particularly dumb. But how many others are close behind, just a bit smarter, to keep out of the spotlight?

Remember “The End of History”,  the widely accepted claim in 1989 that human society had reached perfection, thanks to our relentless greed? Well, watch out: unless we get our act together, here it comes.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015. See Rebalancing Society for more on this. See also critique of the Fukuyama claim in "The end of thinking?"

UPDATED: Sept. 24, 2015 2:25pm

Social Enterprises and the Social Economy: Ownership Matters

17 September 2015

co-authored with Nancy Neamtan

Walmart is not Greenpeace. It may do its bit for greening, just as Greenpeace has promoted a product call Greenfreeze (for refrigerators). But Walmart is a business, in the private sector, while Greenpeace is an NGO, in the plural sector (civil society). Shareholders own Walmart; nobody owns Greenpeace. That matters.

This seems clear enough. But these days, in between these two examples, we find all sorts of organizations pushing the line between business enterprises and social associations: businesses that engage in social activities and associations that engage in economic activities. Does that mean this line no longer matters? Some people believe so. We do not. We believe that ownership matters.

co-authored with Nancy Neamtan

Walmart is not Greenpeace. It may do its bit for greening, just as Greenpeace has promoted a product call Greenfreeze (for refrigerators). But Walmart is a business, in the private sector, while Greenpeace is an NGO, in the plural sector (civil society). Shareholders own Walmart; nobody owns Greenpeace. That matters.

This seems clear enough. But these days, in between these two examples, we find all sorts of organizations pushing the line between business enterprises and social associations: businesses that engage in social activities and associations that engage in economic activities. Does that mean this line no longer matters? Some people believe so. We do not. We believe that ownership matters.

As individuals, it is easy enough to balance our time between the economic and the social: for example, doing business in our working hours and volunteering for social activities in our private time. But how about organizations? True, every one has multiple intentions, some financial, others social. Greenpeace has to meet its budgets while focussing on protection of the environment, and Walmart wants to be seen as socially responsible while focussing on returns for its shareholders. But can organizations balance economic imperatives with social needs so that neither dominates?

At the extremes are corporations that concentrate on the profit-maximizing “Shareholder Value” (restricting their social activities to keeping within the letter of the law) and NGOs that concentrate exclusively on their social missions. In between, we list below five forms of organizing that seek some combination of the social with the economic, two with a priority for private profit, three with a priority for social impact.

Socially Responsible Companies   

Here we refer to companies, big and small, that act in socially responsible ways, beyond any claims of CSR. Their intentions are clearly profit driven, but they acknowledge a belief in acting beyond the letter of the law.

In fact, a popular mantra these days is that “it pays to be good”, or, if you like, that companies “do well by doing good” (which suggests that the social is pursued for purposes of the economic). Some companies do succeed at this, but are these more numerous than the ones that do well by doing bad—whether by being criminally or legally corrupt? There is no win-win wonderland out there,  any more than there is justification for the opposite, popularized dogmatically by Milton Friedman, that a business has no business attending to anything but its business.

Benefit Corporations    

B Corps and other new legal structures such as Community Interest Companies (CICs) have a double bottom line: social alongside economic. In effect they seek to have their social cake while eating the financial profits. In the USA, B corps are certified—as one such company put it, “to provide a ‘general public benefit’, which ‘means a material positive impact on society and the environment, taken as a whole,” subject to an annual assessment. This particular company does note that the B Corp law in its U.S. State (California) “does not require any particular score on such assessments…” Indeed, shareholders have the  “dissenters’ rights” to cancel this status.

Hence the forms above do not quite balance the social with the economic. Both fall on one side of the line, operating in what can be called the Investor Economy. We can describe them as economic enterprises with social concerns beyond CSR. But their intentions are ultimately profit-driven. Their good social intentions notwithstanding, when push comes to shove shareholder ownership does matter. On the other side of the line is the true Social Economy, where organizations tilt the other way.

Cooperatives    

Cooperatives are businesses too, but with a major difference. They are owned by their workers, by their customers, or by individual producers (as in farmer cooperatives)—not as investors, but as members, each with a single share that cannot be sold to anyone else. In cooperatives, it is the members who matter, first and foremost. Recognizing the primacy of people over capital, it is one person, one vote. A new form of co-op, called solidarity, with multi-stakeholder membership and a non-profit status, is emerging as one of the fastest growing sectors of the social economy.

This is not to deny that some cooperatives lose their way, for example by becoming obsessed with profit. But that can be true of all these forms of ownership, as when a management pursues its own social agenda beyond what the shareholders are prepared to accept.

Community Enterprises  

Here we enter the realm of what could be considered intrinsically social enterprises. These too are businesses, but owned by no-one—they are often referred to as “not-for-profit.” Of course, they had better make surpluses to sustain themselves. But social needs, for example to serve the constituencies that gave rise to them (e.g., creating local employment or responding to some cultural need), are paramount.

It is not an accident that cooperatives as well as community enterprises average longer lives than privately-owned businesses. While businesses are usually started by individual entrepreneurs for personal gain, social enterprises usually arise in response to collective needs, often in identifiable communities. Because of a resulting “collective heritage”, their potential to offer a more sustainable model of economic development merits careful attention.

NGOs with Economic Activities  

Here we return to the Greenpeace example, or the Kenya Red Cross that has built hotels to help fund its more basic social missions. In effect, this form can be seen as the mirror-opposite of the socially responsible corporation: these are fundamentally social organizations, but with commercial activities. They operate in the Social Economy, not the Investor Economy, so that when push comes to shove, it is the social intentions that matter.



Can we have our social cake and eat the economic results too?   

Every one of the positions above has its own legitimacy—in its appropriate context. But we must be careful not to mix them up. Just as we require businesses to run primarily as businesses, to supply us with certain types of goods and services, so too do we need social economy enterprises that serve social and environmental needs while, for instance, creating jobs in the economy.

But what about some new hybrids that are appearing, such as companies with limits on return to investors or wage gaps, and joint ventures between cooperatives, non-profits, and private businesses? It is too soon to tell how these will fare, but we do need to experiment as much as possible, given that the traditional, publicly-traded corporation is running into so many problems.

We also need to introduce one word of caution here. The Balanced Scorecard—an effort to include multiple performance measures, social and economic, on the bottom line—cannot be balanced because, as discussed in last week’s TWOG, things economic are inevitably easier to measure than things social.

The differences at the margin between the economic and the social can be subtle, but for many of our most important human endeavors, subtle can be significant. Pursuing a profit is not the same as meeting a budget; respecting the environment is not the same as marching against global warming. (Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, didn't think so when she picketed a Shell station. When she sold out her company to l’Oréal, she claimed that the company would respect her values. We have yet to see any l’Oreal executive picketing a Shell station.)

As one of us has argued in a book called Rebalancing Society as well as in a number of these TWOGs, the plural sector is key to achieving balance in societies that have tilted far out of balance, in favour of profit-driven forces. We need to reinforce the influence of this sector, and that will not happen so long as it is encouraged to play in a game whose dice are loaded, or worse, allowing commercial enterprises to take over its space. In fact, with a dire need to rethink economic development, these forms of organizing found in the plural sector—collective and community—can help point the way.

Since ownership matters, let us celebrate all of its forms—investor-owned, member-owned, and non-owned—but with each in its appropriate place within the economy. So choose your priority—and respect the other!

© Henry Mintzberg and Nancy Neamtan 2015. Nancy Neamtan is strategic advisor and former CEO (1996-2015) of the Chantier de l’économie sociale, an organisation dedicated to the promotion and development  of the social economy in Quebec.

Demise of Democracy

27 August 2015

There was a time, not long ago, when democracies were on the rise. Hope was in the air as country after country held its first rather free election. How far we have regressed since then. Democracy is under threat almost everywhere now.

I refer not just to the persistence of autocratic regimes, as in China and Zimbabwe, nor even to elected leaders who have become thugs in presidential palaces, as in Russia and Turkey. Many of the established “democracies” have succumbed to paralyzed or pendulum politics. In the United States, it is paralysis, as a Democratic President battles with a Republican Congress. In countries such as France, there is fruitless swinging between left and right. Where governments have become ineffectual, private forces act with impunity.1 (I have discussed this at length in my book Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left right and center, as well as in a number of these TWOGS.)

Of late, the problem in my own country, Canada, may seem different, but the consequences have also been much the same. Here the domination of the political process has been on behalf of private interests, while many of the government services that are not economic—social, environmental, research, and so on—have been emasculated.

The nature of our parliamentary system can enable one party with a minority of the votes to form a majority government. That has not been so bad when the party elected is moderate, with public sentiments on various sides of it. What we have now is a party well over to one side—rather dogmatically neo-conservative—that upon election proceeded to ignore the 61% of the population that voted for something else. We don’t have a thug in a presidential palace in Canada, not quite. We have a bully in a prime ministerial office, who has been damaging our democratic institutions.

Canada is in an election now, and this week I published a commentary in the Globe and Mail, a major newspaper in the country. My original title was “Let’s hear it from the silenced majority”. If you are Canadian, I urge you to read it, and look at votetogether.ca. If you are not Canadian, you may wish to read it anyway, if not because your own country is in a similar situation, or could be, then just to hear about what has happened to good old decent, balanced Canada. (Have a look at the comments too in this traditionally conservative newspaper, especially the many early, spontaneous ones before the big guns shot back.) Your own country could be next.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015

--------------------------

1 Nearly two hundred years ago, in his monumental work Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville asked, “Can it be believed that the democracy which has overthrown the feudal system and vanquished kings will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists?” Now he has his answer: Yes.

 

A Manifesto for Planet and Progeny

6 August 2015

Marx and Engels wrote in their Communist Manifesto of 1848 that “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism”, which “the Powers of old Europe” were determined to “exorcise”. This dogma was exorcised in Eastern Europe in 1989, only to be replaced by another one. Today the world is haunted by the spectre of an “economic man” and his form of capitalism, seen as the be all and end all of human existence. We shall have to stop the be all before it becomes the end all—of our planet and our progeny.

Read the full post in Issue 132 of Change This at http://changethis.com/manifesto/132.04.RebalancingSociety/pdf/132.04.Reb...

Marx and Engels wrote in their Communist Manifesto of 1848 that “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism”, which “the Powers of old Europe” were determined to “exorcise”. This dogma was exorcised in Eastern Europe in 1989, only to be replaced by another one. Today the world is haunted by the spectre of an “economic man” and his form of capitalism, seen as the be all and end all of human existence. We shall have to stop the be all before it becomes the end all—of our planet and our progeny.

Read the full post in Issue 132 of Change This at http://changethis.com/manifesto/132.04.RebalancingSociety/pdf/132.04.Reb...

Can the World Economic Forum deal with the world’s social problems?

22 January 2015

It’s Davos time again, where many of the world’s most influential people get together for the World Economic Forum. Most are from business, but others come from politics and NGOs. Accordingly, the conference is significantly about doing business, especially in the halls and the hotels, but also about dealing with the world’s problems (such as income disparities and global warming), at least on the stages of the conference. Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess.

Quite clear, however, is that these problems have been getting steadily worse, although this can hardly be blamed on Davos. But is there something about a conference of this type that may be more the problem than the solution—by deflecting our attention away from the real causes of these problems?

It’s Davos time again, where many of the world’s most influential people get together for the World Economic Forum. Most are from business, but others come from politics and NGOs. Accordingly, the conference is significantly about doing business, especially in the halls and the hotels, but also about dealing with the world’s problems (such as income disparities and global warming), at least on the stages of the conference. Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess.

Quite clear, however, is that these problems have been getting steadily worse, although this can hardly be blamed on Davos. But is there something about a conference of this type that may be more the problem than the solution—by deflecting our attention away from the real causes of these problems?

Davos sits at the interface of the two most powerful forces in the world today: global corporations and a worldview from economics that justifies their private power. In its most dogmatic version, yet decidedly mainstream, this asserts that greed is good, property is sacred, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect. Somehow corporate social responsibility is supposed to temper the worst effects of this. But will the lofty ideals of CSR conveyed on those stages compensate for the lowly deals concocted in back rooms around the world?

One time at Davos, in 2006, I attended a session entitled “Global Business: Savior or Scapegoat.” Some choice! The title revealed a bias apparently not recognized by those who ran the conference. In this session, one panel member, the chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase, went on about the few “bad apples” who were damaging the reputation of big business. On September 1 of 2013, after a string of scandals, the New York Times published an editorial entitled “Chasing J.P. Morgan Chase”, about its “sheer size, and scope and complexity…encourag[ing] speculative and bad behavior.” Subsequently the company agreed to a $13 billion settlement concerning its mortgage activities. These were ongoing at the time of the conference.

As noted in the TWOGs that preceded this one, our problems stem from a world that is seriously out of balance, tilted in favor of private forces and the economic dogma that supports them. This imbalance is what has to be addressed. But can it be in an economic forum intended for the very people who benefit most from this imbalance? How much success have the NGO people had in getting their messages past the public panels of Davos, into the behaviors of their intended audience? Indeed, to what extent have their own behaviors been instead altered by their attendance at these conferences—for example, toward running their NGOs like businesses.

I have been to the World Economic Forum three times, to do my thing and listen to other people doing theirs.1 In my more cynical moments, Davos struck me as the place where the people who spend 51 weeks a year creating the problems spend the 52nd pretending to solve them. Now this is not true—there are plenty of well-meaning people at Davos, from business and elsewhere—but I’ll bet it’s at least half true.

The problems of this world will not be resolved by the people who have been running this world—especially not in a fancy ski resort in the Swiss Alps.2 “Leadership” and “CSR” will not do it. As I have been railing on these past few weeks (this is the last of them, I promise), it is behaviors on the ground that will have to change, en mass—in businesses to be sure, but also in what the 99%, namely all we other bad apples, do in 52 weeks of the year: how we live and how aggressively we engage ourselves in righting what is so obviously wrong.


1. From one of these presentations, see my 1996 article “Musings on Management” about my reaction to the time constraints.

2. At least Davos runs for a few days. On May 27, 2014, Prince Charles, Bill Clinton, a Lady de Rothschild, and dozens of other movers and shakers of this world got together for a whole day on “Inclusive Capitalism”—another one of those adjectival fixes (see the TWOG on 17 October).

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg

Guest TWOG: John Breitner on The John Question

20 January 2015

In last weekend’s TWOG, I introduced The John Question, as part of how we can win-win for the radical renewal of our troubled world. John Breitner, an American friend and researcher who is now with the McGill University Faculty of Medicine, sent me an email in response to a draft of that TWOG. I reproduce it here, with minor changes, not only to give his take on the question coined in his name, but also because of how well he expresses the personal engagement necessary for that renewal.

In last weekend’s TWOG, I introduced The John Question, as part of how we can win-win for the radical renewal of our troubled world. John Breitner, an American friend and researcher who is now with the McGill University Faculty of Medicine, sent me an email in response to a draft of that TWOG. I reproduce it here, with minor changes, not only to give his take on the question coined in his name, but also because of how well he expresses the personal engagement necessary for that renewal.

“The John Question", as I have understood it, is not "how can we get the Johns of this world to become interested in the rebalancing issue" (as you put it in your TWOG).  It's "how is it that America, with so many idealistic, morally conscious people, can be leading the world into a downward spiral of predatory practices, legalized corruption, and growing alienation between the haves and have-nots (think of the ‘occupy’ movement) in matters of economics and the administration of justice?”

Read the idealistic, near-utopian words of the early settlers and the founding fathers!  What have they in common with Gordon Gekko (greedy lead character in the movie Wall Street)? Answer: "nearly nothing". What has changed?  Answer:  business used to be an individual matter conducted among men and women, among purveyors of goods and services and the customers who wanted or needed them, among people.

People have consciences. From the beginnings of civilization, human beings have struggled with the boundary between mutually beneficial business relationships and exploitation. For example, the laws of several of the world’s major religions have, in various ways, prohibited charging interest on loaned money. That probably went too far, but it shows the essence of the struggle.

What has changed is that, starting in the mid-19th century, corporations increasingly replaced individuals as principals in commercial transactions.  People have consciences and are held responsible (liable) for their deeds and misdeeds.  Corporations, by definition, do not and are not.  Instead, their predatory practices are held in check by the network of laws that governments have created as an artificial construct to embody the principles of morality.

The advances of technology and globalization have given ever-greater advantages to corporations in their unrestrained efforts to outwit and "game" the constraints put upon them by the law.  Thus we have ever-more complex and burdensome laws; yet, the corporations still manage to stay one step ahead.  In reaction, the law and the body politic become ever-more convoluted and paralyzed — hence the "gridlock" of contemporary American politics.

Is it an accident that the proportion of lawyers in the new congress exceeds that of their constituents by 60-fold? I think not. In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney said "corporations are people," echoing a Supreme Court judgment acknowledging this principle.  Mitt Romney is said to be a moral and principled individual. Because corporations are institutions, and not human beings, they can make no such claim. The struggle between the public sector, with its countless laws and regulations, and the private sector (now in the form of ever-globalizing corporations that "personify" greed) has led to a devastating decline in the quality of our social fabric.

The answer to this dilemma cannot come from the Public Sector (more laws, overbearing state institutions, etc.), and it cannot come from the Private Sector (now represented mostly by the corporations themselves).  It must instead arise from the sense of outrage at the violation of common human decency and morality that lives in us as Individuals.

How can we empower ourselves to create such positive change? Certainly, we can start by organizing into civic groups — indeed, (as you suggest in your book) starting with "you, me and we". But that won't get us very far.  We need a way to empower "us" as a coherent force representing the dictates of our individual consciences and desire for the common good.  How to do that, as you note, is "the Big Question".

To Win-Win in a Balanced World: Ask John. Ask Irene. Ask the BIG question.

16 January 2015

The last three TWOGs have presented various aspects of Rebalancing Society, my new book.1 Last week it was about “Lose-lose in the global world.” This week’s TWOG, my final one in this sequence, draws these together in five points that consider how we can shift toward win-win in a world of balance.

First: We need radical renewal, to get past the pendulum politics of left and right as well as paralyzed politics in the center, toward a world that balances engaging democracy, responsible enterprise, and widespread inclusion. (See the diagrams below.) This is no longer a battle between liberals and conservatives: well-meaning people of all stripes want to conserve what is precious in this world and replace what is dragging it down.

Diagram showing Left and Right as two poles

The last three TWOGs have presented various aspects of Rebalancing Society, my new book.1 Last week it was about “Lose-lose in the global world.” This week’s TWOG, my final one in this sequence, draws these together in five points that consider how we can shift toward win-win in a world of balance.

First: We need radical renewal, to get past the pendulum politics of left and right as well as paralyzed politics in the center, toward a world that balances engaging democracy, responsible enterprise, and widespread inclusion. (See the diagrams below.) This is no longer a battle between liberals and conservatives: well-meaning people of all stripes want to conserve what is precious in this world and replace what is dragging it down.

Diagram showing Left and Right as two poles

 1. Public Sector (Engaging Democracy); 2. Private Sector (Responsible Enterprise); 3. Plural Sector (Widespread Inclusion)

John is a friend, an American physician-researcher who sees himself as moderately conservative. He would not likely have read Rebalancing Society had I not asked him for comments. He has since become an enthusiastic proponent of many of its ideas. In an email, he referred to the many good folks of America who are “being bamboozled by corrupt politicians and fat cats who are ruining the country.”

So much for left and right. Is this a conservative position? You bet it is. A liberal position? Sure.2 So here is The John Question, as I see it: How to reach people like John who might not normally be exposed to “radical” ideas that they may well find reasonable? (Mid-week I intend to post a Guest TWOG by John, who has just written with his take on the John Question, including some salient comments about personal engagement in radical renewal.)

Second: Radical renewal will have to begin in the plural sector, so that necessary reforms can follow in the public and private sectors. As noted in a previous TWOG, many governments today are overwhelmed by the entitlements of private interests, and, in the private sector, corporate social responsibility will not compensate for all the corporate social irresponsibility we see around us. This leaves the plural sector as the place to begin the serious rebalancing of society.

What is this plural sector? Each of us and all of us. While many of us work in the private sector and vote in the public sector, but we are the plural sector—in our personal lives and our social affiliations. There are renowned institutions in this sector too, owned neither by governments nor private investors, that are doing wonderful things: Greenpeace, Doctors Without Borders, the Grameen Bank, and many more. Yet, as institutions, they will never be able to do enough. This renewal has to be about us as people, in communities, beyond the institutions that may or may not be representing us.

Irene is a Canadian finance manager who has worked in the private and plural sectors. She is married to Joe, who helped me on the book. So she read it too. Her reaction: “I did know what’s been going on . . . but not the extent to which it’s embedded in the laws that I thought protect us, the companies that ‘serve us’ and the governments that are powerless to help…. I’d like to do something; I just don’t know where to start.”

I call this The Irene Question: What can I do? More and more of us will have to be asking it, to take back control of our societies. We vote, to preserve democracy, knowing that our individual vote will not matter: rarely is any election determined by one vote. What matters is that we all vote. Well, today, with voting mattering less, acting matters more, but again, only if we all act—through social movements and social initiatives.

Third: We don’t need occupation movements, directed at some general “them”, so much as slingshot movements, targeted at specifically corrupt practices. David didn’t picket Goliath; he leveraged the power of a clever blow to the head of this malevolent giant. We have many such giants around these days.

In the late 1960s, in San Antonio, Texas, people who were fed up with their utility company overpaid their bills by 1¢. This simple cent, multiplied many times over, tied the bureaucracy in knots. It got the message.3 And these “activists” didn’t even need to leave their homes!

We certainly need better prosecution of white-collar criminal activity. But far more insidious is the legal corruption so rampant in our economies. (Read about it in the daily newspapers, for example what Goldman Sachs did with recycled aluminum.4)

Fourth: The world has maybe a million social initiatives that are doing great things for people on the ground5; it needs millions more. Confronting unacceptable practices is important; circumventing them by developing better practices is more important. We can spend our energies picketing gas stations. Or building windmills. Danes of all stripes have been making remarkable progress in developing sustainable forms of energy in their country; Bangladesh was the starting point for the micro financing of village women; In Chile and Peru volunteers go into schools on Saturday mornings to supplement the education of poor children. On it goes—and should go on.

Fifth: No matter how many social movements and social initiatives we have, the relentless march to imbalance will continue until the plural sector get its collective act together. There is a growing divide between all the micro good being done by many people and all the macro destruction ensuing for the benefit of a few. This has to be reversed, but isolated efforts, no matter how numerous, will not do it.

Business has become a powerful force in the world today because when it comes to common cause—for example, lobbying for tax breaks—businesses that normally compete with each other are able to speak with one voice, in their chambers of commerce and other institutions. The plural sector may be about cooperation, yet it rarely gets its act together with such effect.

This is what I call The BIG Question: How to consolidate the disparate efforts of the plural sector into a movement for radical renewal? Don’t think that I am looking for some leader, or lead institution. To repeat, the plural sector is us, beyond our institutions and our leadership. By internalizing a compelling set of beliefs, we will be able to act naturally and vigorously for the radical renewal of this troubled world.

As noted, John’s comments on this TWOG will be posted here mid-week.

1. The book can be accessed at

2. In 2011, a prominent American made a speech with the following points: “(1) that the United States is now governed by a ‘permanent political class’ drawn from both parties, which is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people; (2) that these Republicans and Democrats have allied with big business to mutual advantage to create…’corporate crony capitalism’; (3) that the real political divide in the United States may no longer be between friends and foes of big government, but between friends and foes of vast, remote, unaccountable institutions (both public and private). [The speaker] went on to condemn corporate lobbyists, special interests, and ‘the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest…’” These words came, not from any left wing radical, but from Sarah Palin, darling of the U.S. Tea Party Movement. (in Giridharadas, A. 2011, September 9. “Some of Sarah Palin’s ideas across the political divide.” New York Times. www.nytimes.com/2011/09/10/us/10iht-currents10.html)

3. Gutierrez, J. A. 1998. The making of a Chicano militant: Lessons from Cristal. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

4. Kocieniewski, D. 2013a, July 22. Moving piles of aluminum is a bonanza for Wall St. International Herald Tribune. (Also: A shuffle of aluminum, but to banks, pure gold, New York Times, July 20, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/business/a-shuffleof-aluminum-but-to-banks-pure-gold.html)

5. Hawken, P. 2007. Blessed unrest: How the largest movement in the world came into being, and why no one saw it coming. New York: Viking Penguin, p. 3. An appendix of over 100 pages lists many of these activities.

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg

Lose-Lose in the Global Game

9 January 2015

This week’s TWOG is a story that I constructed for my Rebalancing Society book out of various components—an advertisement, a couple of phone calls, some articles in the Finnish press, and statistics on cuts in Canadian taxes and public spending. It all comes together in the global arena, to give an idea of what is happening in this world: there is no organized conspiracy going on, just the effect of one. In next week’s TWOG, I hope to address a few questions about where we can go from here. (Last week I promised to revisit mirrors in this week’s TWOG. That will be delayed.)

In December of 1999, I read a Nokia advertisement in a Canadian magazine. It showed the screen of one of its mobile phones, with the inscription “At Revenue Canada your call is important. Please hold.” Below the phone were the words “long battery life.”

Cute. Would Nokia have found cute an equivalently demeaning advertisement by the Canadian tax department?

This week’s TWOG is a story that I constructed for my Rebalancing Society book out of various components—an advertisement, a couple of phone calls, some articles in the Finnish press, and statistics on cuts in Canadian taxes and public spending. It all comes together in the global arena, to give an idea of what is happening in this world: there is no organized conspiracy going on, just the effect of one. In next week’s TWOG, I hope to address a few questions about where we can go from here. (Last week I promised to revisit mirrors in this week’s TWOG. That will be delayed.)

In December of 1999, I read a Nokia advertisement in a Canadian magazine. It showed the screen of one of its mobile phones, with the inscription “At Revenue Canada your call is important. Please hold.” Below the phone were the words “long battery life.”

Cute. Would Nokia have found cute an equivalently demeaning advertisement by the Canadian tax department?

Shortly after, on a weekday morning at 10, I called the Nokia number listed in the ad. In those days, people answered the phone (or didn’t). I listened to a “Please hold” voice until a real person answered—after 2 minutes and 55 seconds. Then I called the Revenue Canada number listed in the Montreal phone book. No voice said “Please hold”; a real person answered in 12 seconds.

One example is enough to make the point. Why do we tolerate such knee-jerk put-downs of government, in this case by a prominent corporation that did not even have its own act together, at least on that morning?

Later I contacted a friend in Finland, where Nokia is headquartered, with a question: had the company, or its senior management, lobbied for lower taxes in that country? The answer came back as four articles and a speech by or about Jorma Ollila, Nokia’s chief executive. He told one newspaper, “High taxation is untenable in the long run,” with a thinly veiled threat to move Nokia’sheadquarters out of the country (Helsingin Sanomat , April 27, 2001). “According to Ollila, [the] decision [of the government, to raise corporate taxes by 1%] will cause problems for Finland because many European countries are strongly bringing down their corporate tax percentages.”

Ollila claimed that lower taxes could actually give “a growth injection to the whole national economy” (Helsingin Sanomat , January 27, 2002) and thereby “create a possibility to finance services of the society” (in a speech to the Finnish Chamber of Commerce, June 4, 2002).

This suggests the following sequence: denying the government such revenue is good because it grows the economy, which in turn provides a base for more taxes, so that the government ends up with more revenue, and thus the citizens in need get better services. Win-win all around. Or is this lie-lie all around—a race to the bottom for the benefit of the rich?

Imagine if other countries followed suit. Indeed, there is no need to imagine. In Canada, when that ad appeared in 1999, the federal corporate tax rate was 28 percent. When I first drafted this piece in January 2012, the Conservative government had just lowered it from 16.5 percent to 15 percent. Three months later, this government was introducing 10 percent budget cuts across much of the federal public service, dismembering many social, regulatory, and environmental programs. The government, you see, was short of money, and this was going to save it $5.2 billion per year.

That 1.5 percent corporate tax cut was going to cost the government $3 billion a year. The cumulative corporate tax cuts since the Conservative Party came to power in 2006 were costing the government a total of $13 billion per year.1 In other words, there had been a significant transfer of public services into private profits. Most of the Canadian 99% is still waiting to win-win.

So the actual sequence turns out to be closer to this little closed loop: put government down, to gain popular support for reducing taxes, which starves public services, so that government appears incompetent after all, thus enabling more of these services to be shifted to the private sector, which reinforces its supremacy. Or to express this more bluntly: blame the government for not answering the phone so that the government can’t answer the phone.

Of course, that ad appeared in Canada while Ollila sought to reduce taxes in Finland. But here is where globalization comes in. He was aware of lower taxes in other countries—that was his justification for lowering taxes in Finland. If the ad did its bit to lower taxes in Canada, then the Ollilas of the global world had more ammunition to lobby for the lowering of taxes. in their own countries. This could even have become a never-ending spiral—imagine that.

There is nothing extraordinary about this story, which is precisely what makes it extraordinary. Nokia and Ollila were simply playing the globalization game: divide the sovereign nations to enhance the power of entitled corporations. As a consequence, the planet is warming and societies are boiling so that the rich can get exponentially richer. This we call progress.

1. Macdonald, D. and A. Jackson. What did Corporate Tax Cuts Deliver? Background Report for Corporate Tax Freedom Day 2012. Retrieved from http://www.canadianlabour.ca/sites/default/files/what-did-corporate-tax-cuts-deliver-2012-01-12-en.pdf

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg

New Year, Thinking Anew?

2 January 2015

How’s the new year going so far?

We ended last year with a summary of my new book Rebalancing Society. Since we live in times of great continuity (as indicated in the TWOG of November 11), we begin this year by juxtaposing pairs of passages from the book, to give a livelier sense of what’s wrong and how to think about making it right.

How’s the new year going so far?

We ended last year with a summary of my new book Rebalancing Society. Since we live in times of great continuity (as indicated in the TWOG of November 11), we begin this year by juxtaposing pairs of passages from the book, to give a livelier sense of what’s wrong and how to think about making it right.

America did not invent democracy so much as give impetus to a particularly individualistic form of it…. In the name of liberty, we are now suffering from individualism: every person and every institution striving to get the most for him-, her-, or itself, over the needs of society and a threatened planet.
… a democratic society balances individual needs for consumption, collective needs for protection, , and communal needs for affiliation, attending to each adequately but none excessively.
There’s a tea party going on all right, for big business, under the slogan “No taxation with representation.”
So why not complete the American Revolution by establishing renewed checks on the private sector—globally and locally--for the sake of balance across all the sectors?
This book challenges the dogma that sees all of us driven to compete, collect, and consume our way to neurotic oblivion…. Dig beneath two foundations of economic theory—our right to consume whatever we can afford and to slough off the externalities—and have a look at the behaviors that are crawling underneath.
So let’s try to do what we haven’t yet done, by looking forward socially instead of backward economically.
Community figures hardly at all in a prevailing dogma that favors economic scale, no matter what the social consequences….
In a robust economy, growth is judged by the qualities enhanced, not just measured by the quantities produced. Such an economy does not merely expand; it develops, qualitatively and socially.
Communism taught us that a society with hardly any private property cannot function effectively. Capitalism is teaching us that a society with hardly anything but private property is not much better.
Common property is making a comeback. Good thing, because it can allow common knowledge to replace the patent nonsense associated with much of “intellectual property.”
“A despot easily forgives his subjects for not loving him, provided they do not love one another.” (de Tocqueville, 1840)
…let’s make room for collaborative communityship in the space between individual leadership and collective citizenship.
How can we bring lofty ideals to bear on the lowly deals?
We need more than occupation movements; we need slingshot movements, to challenge on three fronts: the practices that are plainly destructive, the entitlements that lie behind these practices, and the dogma used to justify these practices.
We have an enemy in common, and that is our problem: the enemy is us—specifically, our own individuality, self-interest fatefully misunderstood.
Hence the place to start confronting the exploiters of this world is in front of our own mirrors.

Back to mirrors in next week’s TWOG, but in a very different way.

© Henry Mintzberg 2015. Rebalancing Society can be ordered on Berrett-Koehler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, also can be accessed after January 5 on the home page of this site (mintzberg.org).

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg

Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center

26 December 2014

Looking for a New Years’ Resolution? Here’s one. If you already have one, consider changing it. Our future could well depend on how many of us care to rebalance society. Notice the apostrophe in years’: this is a resolution for many years ahead...if we are to have many years ahead.

My new book about rebalancing society is coming out in early January--23 years in the making. It is written for all our children and grandchildren, in the hope that they will be smarter than we have been. In next week’s TWOG, I hope to present some of the book’s more provocative lines, and in the one after that, a few of its more compelling stories. The TWOG this week presents an overview, from the book’s opening pages, entitled

The Basic Point

Enough!

Enough of the imbalance that is destroying our democracies, our planet, and ourselves.

Looking for a New Years’ Resolution? Here’s one. If you already have one, consider changing it. Our future could well depend on how many of us care to rebalance society. Notice the apostrophe in years’: this is a resolution for many years ahead...if we are to have many years ahead.

My new book about rebalancing society is coming out in early January--23 years in the making. It is written for all our children and grandchildren, in the hope that they will be smarter than we have been. In next week’s TWOG, I hope to present some of the book’s more provocative lines, and in the one after that, a few of its more compelling stories. The TWOG this week presents an overview, from the book’s opening pages, entitled

The Basic Point

Enough!

Enough of the imbalance that is destroying our democracies, our planet, and ourselves.

Enough of the pendulum politics of left and right, as well as the paralysis in the political center. Enough of the visible claw of lobbying in place of the invisible hand of competing. Enough of the economic globalization that undermines sovereign states and local communities. Have we not had enough exploiting of the world’s resources, including ourselves as “human resources”?

Many more people are concerned about these problems than have taken to the streets. The will of people is there; an appreciation of what is happening, and how to deal with it, is not. We are inundated with conflicting explanations and contradictory solutions. The world we live in needs a form of radical renewal unprecedented in the human experience. This book presents an integrative framework to suggest a comprehensive way forward.

The Triumph of Imbalance

When the communist regimes of Eastern Europe began to collapse in 1989, pundits in the West had a ready explanation: capitalism had triumphed. They were dead wrong, and the consequences are now proving fateful.

It was balance that triumphed in 1989. While those communist regimes were severely out of balance, with so much power concentrated in their public sectors, the successful countries of the West maintained sufficient balance across their public, private, and what can be called plural sectors. But a failure to understand this point has been throwing many countries out of balance ever since, in favor of their private sectors.

Welcome to the Plural Sector

There are three consequential sectors in society, not two. The one least understood is known by a variety of inadequate labels, including the “not-for-profit sector,” the “third sector,” and “civil society.” Calling it “plural” can help it take its place alongside the ones called public and private, while indicating that it is made up of a wide variety of human associations.

Consider all those associations that are neither public nor private—owned neither by the state nor by private investors—such as foundations, places of worship, unions, cooperatives, Greenpeace, the Red Cross, and many renowned universities and hospitals. Some are owned by their members; most are owned by no one. Included here, too, are social movements that arise to protest what some people find unacceptable (as we have seen recently in the Middle East) and social initiatives, usually started by small community groups, to bring about some change they feel is necessary (for example, in renewable energy).

Despite the prominence of all this activity, the plural sector remains surprisingly obscure, having been ignored for so long in the great debates over left versus right. This sector cannot be found between the other two, as if on some straight line. It is a different place, as different from the private and public sectors as these two are from each other.

So picture instead a balanced society as sitting on a stool with three sturdy legs: a public sector of respected governments, to provide many of our protections (such as policing and regulating); a private sector of responsible businesses, to supply many of our goods and services; and a plural sector of robust communities, wherein we find many of our social affiliations.

Regaining Balance

How do we regain balance in our societies? Some people believe that the answer lies in the private sector—specifically, with greater corporate social responsibility. We certainly need more of this, but anyone who believes that corporate social responsibility will compensate for corporate social irresponsibility is living in a win-win wonderland.

Other people expect democratic governments to act vigorously. This they must do, but they will not so long as public states continue to be dominated by private entitlements, domestic and global.

This leaves but one sector, the plural, which is not made up of “them” but of you, and me, and we, acting together. We shall have to engage in many more social movements and social initiatives, to challenge destructive practices and replace them with constructive ones. We need to cease being human resources, in the service of imbalance, and instead tap our resourcefulness as human beings, in the service of our progeny and our planet.


To order the book—93 pages of text--click on Berrett-Koehler, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk. If you are unable to order it, because you live on some remote beach (with internet access??) or have been impoverished by all this, then thanks to a publisher that practices what this book preaches, the full text will be accessible after the 5 January publication date on the home page of this site (mintzberg.org). It will appear alongside the original e-pamphlet version that was posted here on 28 February 2014.

© 2015 Henry Mintzberg

There is no Nobel Prize in Economics … and why that matters

14 November 2014

Alfred Nobel was long dead when the Bank of Sweden created “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.” Even if the bank did not mean it to be confused with the real Nobel Prizes, a sloppy press has done just that (not to mention most of the recent recipients on their own websites, despite having been chosen for the care and honesty of their scholarship).  

The New York Times, for example, has gone back and forth over the years between “Nobel Prize” and “Nobel Memorial Prize” (as if adding “Memorial” makes it less Nobel). In the past few years the Times has reverted to just Nobel, although in two recent articles, a few days apart, one used Nobel Memorial and the other Nobel. (Had psychologists created such a prize for themselves, would anyone be calling it “Nobel”?) 

Alfred Nobel was long dead when the Bank of Sweden created “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.” Even if the bank did not mean it to be confused with the real Nobel Prizes, a sloppy press has done just that (not to mention most of the recent recipients on their own websites, despite having been chosen for the care and honesty of their scholarship).  

The New York Times, for example, has gone back and forth over the years between “Nobel Prize” and “Nobel Memorial Prize” (as if adding “Memorial” makes it less Nobel). In the past few years the Times has reverted to just Nobel, although in two recent articles, a few days apart, one used Nobel Memorial and the other Nobel. (Had psychologists created such a prize for themselves, would anyone be calling it “Nobel”?) 

Even Nobelprize.org, the official site, seems to be confused. It revised its site recently, deleting from the home page a long-standing list of the five real prizes, labelled “Nobel Prize in Chemistry”, “Nobel Prize in Medicine”, etc., followed by “Prize in Economics.” Now they’re all Prizes.

Why does this matter? Because we and our planet are being destroyed by a dogma centering on “economic man” for whom greed is good, property is sacred, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect. As one view of human society, this makes some sense; as the view of human society, it is nonsense. But it prevails nonetheless, in good part because it has provided justification for the private sector forces that, as discussed in my TWOG last week, have been throwing this world out of balance. How many of us now realize the extent to which we have become the victims of our own economic structures?  

Each of the social sciences focuses on one or two key concepts—for example, culture in anthropology, markets in economics, cognition and behaviour in psychology. Considered together, they provide a broad view of society. But considering any one of them alone leaves us with a distorted view of society. Imagine, for example, seeing human behaviour exclusively through a lens of stimulus-response, as did much of psychology years ago. Well, economists have succeeded in getting many of us to see the world exclusively through a lens of markets. 

It is telling the extent to which economic vocabulary has infiltrated our everyday speech. Are you a human resource? a human asset? human capital? I am a human being. I do not “maximize value”, whatever that means. (Trying to maximize anything is perverse.) I have no intention of competing, collecting, and consuming my way to neurotic oblivion. And if I am not cooperative alongside being competitive, selfless alongside being selfish, I am nothing. 

What can we do about this?  Our economically developed world is in dire need of social redevelopment. This can start by putting economics in its place—which is alongside the other social sciences. How about if we challenge the misuse of the label Nobel every time we hear it about an economist. Let’s all strike a blow for balance! 

See more on these issues in my forthcoming book Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg

Has the Berlin Wall fallen on us?

7 November 2014

Now for something a little more serious, in fact quite serious. We are in deep trouble, thanks to the degradation of our environments, the demise of our democracies, and the denigration of ourselves, with greed having been raised to some sort of high calling. For many years, I have been working on an “electronic pamphlet” entitled Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center. An initial version was posted on this site (Mintzberg.org) last February, and will appear, revised as a book as well as on this site, in January.

Now for something a little more serious, in fact quite serious. We are in deep trouble, thanks to the degradation of our environments, the demise of our democracies, and the denigration of ourselves, with greed having been raised to some sort of high calling. For many years, I have been working on an “electronic pamphlet” entitled Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center. An initial version was posted on this site (Mintzberg.org) last February, and will appear, revised as a book as well as on this site, in January.

The Berlin Wall fell exactly 25 years ago. This weekend we will be hearing a good deal about it. We will not, however, be hearing much about the adverse impact this has been having on so many lives ever since. While the collapse of the wall freed the East Berliners of the shackles of communism, vast numbers of people around the world have since been shackled by another dogma, thanks to a misunderstanding of what brought that wall down. In a sense, the Berlin Wall has fallen on us.

In 1989, Frances Fukuyama published a prominent article (later a book) about “the end of history”—as I see it, that we had reached perfection as a species thanks to our relentless greed. He revisited that article earlier this year, and I responded with a piece that got lost in a version of the Huffington Post. I link to it in this week’s TWOG because it serves as a good introduction to a book that I hope will not get lost because I believe it is my most important one. This TWOG exceeds my promised page or 2, but I feel that some attention to the survival of our planet and our progeny deserves an extra minute or 2.

This TWOG continues on The End of Thinking?

Rebalancing Society as a book will be up on www.mintzberg.org or can be ordered from Berrett Koehler.

For all these TWOGS (from tweet2blog, @mintzberg141) since 2 September 2014, please see www.mintzberg.org/blog. To receive regular notifications of new ones, please write to henry.mintzberg@mcgll.ca with “blog” in the subject.

 

References

Fukuyama, F. (1989, Summer). The End of History? The National Interest, 3-18.

Fukuyama, F. (1992). The End of History and the Last Man. Free Press.

Fukuyama, F. (2014, June 6). At the ‘End of History’ Still Stands Democracy. Wall Street Journal.

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg

Getting Past the Adjectival Capitalism Fix

17 October 2014

Proposals for adjectival capitalism are springing up like mushrooms: we have Sustainable Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Breakthrough Capitalism, Democratic Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, Regenerative Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism—and I have probably missed a few. Democratic Capitalism probably tells it best: capitalism is the noun, democracy is just the adjective.

The assumption seems to be that If only we can get capitalism right, all will be well with the world. No doubt capitalism needs some fixing: the short-term pressures of stock markets are encouraging mercenary behaviors that are doing great harm to our democracies, our planet, and ourselves. (Predatory capitalism is, of course, adjectival too.) A broken world needs to get past the adjectival capitalism fix.

Proposals for adjectival capitalism are springing up like mushrooms: we have Sustainable Capitalism, Caring Capitalism, Breakthrough Capitalism, Democratic Capitalism, Conscious Capitalism, Regenerative Capitalism, Inclusive Capitalism—and I have probably missed a few. Democratic Capitalism probably tells it best: capitalism is the noun, democracy is just the adjective.

The assumption seems to be that If only we can get capitalism right, all will be well with the world. No doubt capitalism needs some fixing: the short-term pressures of stock markets are encouraging mercenary behaviors that are doing great harm to our democracies, our planet, and ourselves. (Predatory capitalism is, of course, adjectival too.) A broken world needs to get past the adjectival capitalism fix.

How did the word capitalism, coined to describe the creation and funding of private enterprises, themselves intended to supply us with commercial goods and services, come to be seen as the be-all and end-all of human existence? Is capitalism any way to run public services or judge their effectiveness, any way to understand the needs of education and health care, any way to organize our social lives and express our values as human beings?

Fixing this world will require less inclusive capitalism. To any corporate chief executive who truly cares about social responsibility, I say: start by getting your company out of our government. Claiming that government must not meddle in the affairs of business while business meddles in the affairs of government is a hypocrisy that distorts our societies and degrades our democracies. As citizens, you and I have every right to make our wishes known. But no citizen, let alone any corporation, has a moral right to use private wealth to influence public policies, at least not in any country that wishes to call itself democratic. Democracy is about one person-one vote, not one $-one vote.

What we need is better balance across the three sectors of society—public, private, and plural (civil society). To achieve this, capitalism will have to be put in its place. That is within the private sector, where its activities are beneficial, and away from the lobbying and bribing (political donations) that have been co-opting the public sector. We know that capitalism needs reform; we need to realize that this will not happen until power is better balance across the sectors.

So please, enough of the adjectives. Let’s get on instead with fixing our societies, and our thinking. As Pope Francis put it: “Money must serve, not rule.”

To be continued… Next weekend’s TWOG: an unsent letter from the CEO to the board about executive bonuses. More on Shareholder Value and short-term thinking in later TWOGs. Meanwhile, the above has been adapted from Rebalancing Society—radical renewal beyond left, right, and center, an electronic pamphlet posted on www.mintzberg.org and coming out revised in book form in January (Berrett-Koehler, or from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca, etc.). Order it while they last (hopefully a decade or two).

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg