Society and Business: What’s Good for the Goose…
Societies go through cycles. Businesses also go through cycles. Right now, judging from posts on LinkedIn, businesses are operating in progressive mode. Although books about business have always been popular, the number of business-related books is exploding and so is the market for these books. This is motivated in part by a desire to accumulate personal wealth, to join the ranks of successful enterprises, to go virile, to be a brand on everyone’s radar. It is also motivated by the ravages of the COVID pandemic, which took away some certainties, such as pre-pandemic successes in the restaurant business. Restaurants were deeply challenged during the pandemic and are currently reevaluating every aspect of how they operate. We can expect some interesting dining innovations in the near future. Many businesses can expect the same.
Climate change is another factor challenging businesses. It will take invention, creativity and innovation to try to halt global warming, avoid climate migrations, and find fuel programs that are net zero carbon emitters, since using energy that produces excess carbon (beyond what is ordinarily present in our earth, water, and air) is what is driving the warming of the globe. This fact, once considered a hypothetical, has offered up enough evidence to be considered the valid cause of the global warming which is pushing climate change. Data suggests that since the actions of people caused the globe to warm, reversing those actions could slow or even reduce global warming. This is forcing businesses to look at the ways they can reduce their “carbon footprint.” This is another area where innovation and invention are priorities. Who will come up with storage batteries that are equal to the world’s electrical needs? Will someone find a newer, cleaner, more abundant power source than fossil fuels now that we understand the huge role they have played in climate change?
These driving forces are making businesses more progressive. The recent ‘Great Resignation’ movement or the ‘Great Reassessment’ adjustments of workers are adding more urgency, Employers find that they need to understand how to attract and keep workers, how to meet the needs of workers so they will not be distracted from the work they need them to do, how to be better leaders, how to pay workers enough to live while keeping an eye on their bottom line, their profits, and their stockholder’s profits, if operating publicly. Employers are willing to consider progressive options, although possibly not large corporations which have a more difficult time being agile.
At a time when businesses are considering progressive options, you would think that the larger society would be doing the same. Government, along with the economy, determines the rules by which society operates at any given time. Government is similar to a large corporation in that it does not adjust quickly to changes that it does not initiate. Challenges that bubble up from real life situations call for a government that can react quickly to meet the moment and inspire invention and innovation from private citizens, policies that will turn the moment of crisis into the moment of progress. But governments get concretized, petrification sets in and stymies action that might offer solutions. A “concretized” government harangued by a gaggle of “concretized” corporations is doubly problematic.
This is where America stands right now, and where much of the world stands. Innovation has not arrived at the crucial moment when change needs to happen. Invention happens but not at the scale that is needed. America has a divided government, half holding back innovation and change, half trying to jumpstart it. Republicans are desperately hanging on to power and trying to hold the changes that are already here in abeyance, denying what needs to be done, not allowing anyone in government to move forward, just to keep looking to the past (this is what reactionaries do, this is what conservatives do). They know the old rules for how governments and corporations deal with each other. They don’t want to learn any new rules. They will not allow any progressive initiatives even though this might be the moment when these initiatives are called for. They insist that they are the wise ones, that they will stop change by being the sticks in the spokes of the wheel of change.
The same thing is happening in Europe where authoritarian governments are winning and making sure the rules of operation stay fixed in a world that is changing, a world that needs movement and invention, a world that needs new rules. The new rules in some cases will not be that different from the old rules; in others, as in the energy sector the changes may be radical. Not only do heads of state and those in power want the rules to stay the same, they want the money train to stay the same. They think that hoarding money will save them and they just can’t get enough. This could certainly explain why the Republican Party is moving towards authoritarian government. They are adding more concrete to the rules and to the pathways of power, and they are preserving the infrastructure of the money train.
Change will come, but it will come from the bottom up, because the current forces of change are organic and strong, they will not allow the status quo to have the last word, unless that word is the destruction of life as we know it. Just as gas and oil replaced steam, some new energy will have to take the place of fossil fuels. Perhaps we will have to limp along with a multiple approach to fueling factories and houses and transportation until a newer energy breakthrough occurs. Perhaps there is no new energy to be discovered and societies will have to dial back industry and lifestyles. When you think of all we have learned about atoms it would seem that some new driving force will come from physics. It will probably happen whether governments subsidize experimentation or not. We can stay mired in concrete or we can accept that this is a moment when conservative messaging is counterproductive; this is a moment that asks us to take a leap and be progressive.