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The Business Roundtable, The Most Powerful CEOs and the Legacy of Milton Friedman

Six years ago I ruffled some feathers at a conference organized by the friends of Milton Freidman of the Chicago School of Economics. Friedman is the father of Monetarism, an economic ideology that has taken the world by storm. It has elevated neo-liberal economics and politics to the stratosphere and is now responsible for most of the instability that world economies are grappling with: Record government and private sector debt, bubble economies everywhere, and dangerously high balance sheets of the world’s top central banks. It delegitimized the very function of central banking and contributed to social instability and the greatest wealth gap in modern US history.

If you live in capitalist society, the best way to understand Friedman’s philosophy is by substituting the words “only money matters” for everything that ails you personally. If your wife leaves you, only money matters, you get a better-looking trophy wife right out of a catalog. If your dog dies, only money matters, you buy a more expensive dog. If government takes too much of your paycheck, only money matters, you kill government institutions, or you buy its politicians.  Focusing solely on the power of money and the overuse of monetary policy as prescribed by Freidman -as foolish as it seemed- became the dominant thinking in the world’s leading universities and at its most valued corporation.

The controversy at that conference started when I criticized Freidman for leading corporate America to believe that the sole purpose of a publically traded corporation is to serve the stockholder. Repeat after me, only money matters. Several people walked out of the room when I introduced the stakeholder model that’s at the heart of the MEMEnomics Corporate Sustainability Platform. You can call it Other Things Matter More. This is a model that serves the 5 P’s for Sustainability in the MEMEnomics-Spiral Dynamics framework: Purpose, Profit, People, Planet, and Process. A modified version of Don Beck’s original conception has been adopted by the Conscious Capitalism Movement, which continues to be informed by the Spiral Dynamics model till this day.

Friedman’s ideas represented a legitimate way for businesses to abandon all other virtues that fall under corporate social responsibility and pursue the sole goal of making money. So much so, that in 1978 the Business Roundtable which is made up of the most powerful CEOs on the planet, adopted Friedman’s guidelines as its end-all be-all source for corporate governance. So, why is this relevant today? In 40 plus years, the Business Roundtable has rarely deviated from supporting what they call shareholder primacy – until a few days ago.

On August 19, 2019 the Business Roundtable, in a major shift in focus announced that it’s moving away from the stockholder model and embracing a commitment to stakeholders such as employees and suppliers. The signatories to this statement are the who’s who of the most powerful corporations in the world, from Apple’s Tim Cook, to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and heads of every Pharmaceutical and Oil Company on the planet and everything in between. (Click here to read the full statement and see the list of signatories)

Does this new statement of corporate purpose reverse the damage that monetarism has caused over the last 4 decades? Since 1978, nothing has been more important for the American corporation than preserving shareholder value. Capitalism became a simple mathematical equation. On one side was management hiding behind this fallacy of efficiency for the sake of the shareholder and on the other was the worker fighting the uphill battle to keep his job. The working class that built American cities and factories and those who supplied them became a variable in an equation that needed to be reduced to as close to zero as possible.

Fighting for the shareholder became a blood sport. This wasn’t a fiduciary responsibility like it’s supposed to be. To attract this rare industrial butcher talent, CEOs were offered a generous amount stock and their compensation was tied directly to the price of that stock. The brightest Friedman clones had taken over corporate America and its financial markets and they immediately went to work. They increased the price of the economic pie instead of creating a bigger pie because only money mattered. Jobs were outsourced, streamlined and offshored because only money mattered. Businesses, large and small were securitized, monetized, and downsized, because only money mattered. Jobs, unions and workers disappeared and you guessed it because only money mattered. Then as this whole house of cards was crashing down in 2008, instead of seeing the fallacy of an economy based on Monetarism our clueless politicians finished the job of debauching whatever value was left of our currency by making money available at 6 times the normal liquidity.

The Business Roundtable’s new declaration from a few days ago is like a statement made by a habitual criminal in court proclaiming innocence and vowing to change his ways. It reminds me of the movie series The Purge where, in a dystopian America, mayhem, anarchy, and murder are condoned for one night out of a year and where reality looks a lot different the morning after.  Well, corporate America has been purging its stakeholders for four decades in favor of those who became the 1%. They have systemically murdered any sense of loyalty they have for Main Street America. Now, They are realizing that the purging is reaching an ugly end and that a new and threatening dawn is on the horizon.

These powerful CEOs are looking to mitigate the damage caused by the rise of a new economic era that doesn’t fit their narrative for business as usual. It’s driven by those who haven’t drunk the shareholder Kool-Aid. They see the anger of the Millennials who witnessed their parents’ jobs being downsized then outsourced to places where slave labor increased shareholder value. They don’t understand why this new generation would rather “share” than “own.” They spend billions on consumer research but they won’t bother to look inward to examine their own conscious and sense of patriotic duty. What they do see is a new breed of politicians who are ready to put an end to the fallacy of an economy based entirely on money and stockholder value.

When only money matters, unending greed becomes the only virtue. When that virtue defines corporate values and culture for over four decades, the behavior becomes the norm. Jeff Bezos is a man who’s company put tens of thousands of stakeholder mom and pop shops out of business. When he says he supports the new stakeholder model, I have my doubt about corporate America being in touch with the stakeholder. If my work with evolutionary values over the last two decades tells me anything, it’s this: corporate America has become the habitual criminal in the court of public opinion, and with all it’s arrogance and desperation it’s asking us to believe that it’s ready to voluntarily go on the straight and narrow path. What it hasn’t noticed is that the judge and jury have changed. The pendulum is swinging the other way. It’s empowered by a culture with higher values and a new breed of politicians who see the deep damage that Milton Friedman has caused to the cultural fabric of America and the world.

 

 

 

 

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Paradise Lost, The Sequel: Nature’s Tipping Point

This article was published Spring 2019 in Kosmos Quarterly 

John Milton’s epic poem about the fall of Man from heaven and his ultimate expulsion from the Garden of Eden has so many parallels to the story we seem to be writing for ourselves. His is of a biblical nature that chronicles the frailty and temptation of mankind, while ours is about us blindly destroying; piece-by-piece the heaven on earth Mother Nature has given us. Our paradise is an era which started about 11,000 years ago called the Holocene which has enabled life on earth to thrive the way it has for as long as it has. Click here to read the original piece .

You can download a PDF version here

 

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Economic Policy and Global Value Systems (10th Anniversary Edition)

 

By Said E. Dawlabani, Published in Integral Leadership Review Summer 2009. The piece that launched the MEMEnomics Framework  

Introduction

The 2008 financial crisis has humbled the field of economics as a science for its systemic failure to foresee the global danger signs. Even the best and the brightest in President Obama’s elite and highly credentialed team of experts are quickly finding that the largest economic stimulus in history will not be enough to avert an economic disaster. There’s no question that the global economy remains in the eye of the storm awaiting a paradigm shift that will reset it on a course of sustainability and self renewal. No global challenge of this magnitude shall pass without a thorough examination of the thinking that pioneered the institutions that formulate economic policy.

The purpose of this article is not to compete with prevailing schools of thought on economics and various development theories, but rather to provide an invitation to thought leaders to consider the study of the  value systems framework as an integral part of future policy setting. This emerging science of value systems through developmental theories like Spiral Dynamics and the subsequent work of its co-author Dr. Don E. Beck give the objective observer the tools to identify the reasons for failed policies and the dynamics of the clash of cultural value systems leading to their failure. For many years I have worked with Dr. Beck who is a senior advisor for the Center for Human Emergence Mideast and have used Spiral Dynamics and the principles of Natural Design extensively in my business practices. For a detailed description of Spiral Dynamics, Natural Design, their history and field applications you can visit the CHE-Mideast website on the following link: www.humanemergencemiddleeast.org

The History of Current Economic Development Models and What’s Missing

We have all heard the expression “to the victor belong the spoils”. Well, to the victors of WWII belonged the greatest spoils modern humanity had ever experienced; the undisputed mandate to set up a single economic model for the world to insure that human potential is put into productive peaceful pursuits. It was an Anglo-Saxon victory like no other. Thus, the world was divided into 3 camps; the capitalists, the communists and the third world. Based on the ideals of the British father of capitalism Adam Smith, it was strongly believed that a developed world where private ownership of resources with the least amount of regulation and the pursuit of free market ideals will surely make our planet a better and safer place. Europe and Japan were quickly rebuilt with economies based on what England and the US thought were best suited for their own cultural value systems. Communism was left to its own devices as the model and its effect on societal emergence had shown earlier flaws that eventually brought about its own demise. To attract less developed countries into the capitalist camp and away from communism, England and the US created the charter for institutions like the IMF and the World Bank through the Bretton Woods System of Monetary Management to help poor and emerging countries finance this Utopian but arduous journey.

More than sixty years into this experiment and the results are a mixed bag. On one end of the spectrum the free market economy concept worked well for nations that were already developed and had the institutional capacities in place to make the transition to highly industrialized consumer-based economies. The ideals of communism proved detrimental to innovation and human advancement as the world associated central planning and ownership of resources by governments as primary causes of inefficiency and the stifling of individual and institutional relevance. Communist countries under the Soviet umbrella experienced a noticeable downshift in their standard of living, which from a cultural development perspective should have caused the system to either break or cause noticeable social dissonance as it forced human emergence back in time. It is worth noting that although communism contributed to many social ills and wide-spread poverty in Eastern Europe, the region never descended to anarchy or civil war which symbolize the modern struggles of tribal and third world cultures. The belief in the institutions of the state and their ability to reject false value Memes through the existing system was an imbedded belief in the fabric of the Eastern Europe culture. Now that the communist ideals proved unsustainable, formerly communist nations have commenced their cultural emergence from where they left off and find institutions like the IMF and the World Bank ready to help in reviving their human and industrial capacities.

At the other end of the spectrum however, the story is quite different. Lacking the intuitions that have defined cultures for centuries, the less developed world has gotten further behind and is struggling to feed millions of its own people. So, what went wrong? How did the brightest Western minds with hundreds of years of quantifiable scientific measures fail to anticipate the challenges facing the Third World? The answers lie in the developed world’s inability to identify barriers to development from a cultural values perspective.

How Current Economic Policies Arrest the Evolution of Value Systems

At the end of the colonial era imperial powers carved up tribal lands into arbitrary countries with the hope that tribes will be forced to dismiss thousands of years of rivalries for a cause called “Nation”. The promise of industrial prosperity was the carrot at the end of the stick; A concept that worked so well for Europe and Japan but has remained foreign to most places in Africa, the Middle East and many poor places till this day. What the framers of the Bretton Woods architecture ignored was that places that are primarily tribal in nature must build their own indigenous capacities that would eventually transcend tribal existence and propel them into their own unique expression of cultural prosperity. The US, Europe (East and West), Russia, Japan and China have been at this level of social development within their own cultures for centuries. In the case of third world nations which have remained a loose band of tribes, only tribal leaders can find and identify these capacities and the West can help only in the development of what was identified. This calls for a substantial shift from the current UN model which sends its own experts whose thinking is steeped in the egalitarian value system who super-impose  Western development model.

In Beck’s developmental theory, before a tribe can embrace industrial age values, it has to go through an egocentric stage where an individual’s values are imposed over those that make up the collective values of the tribe. Europe went through this evolution over hundreds of years and the results were many bloody wars. The US went through it during the war of independence and the civil war at a cost of millions of lives to get to a stage to say “never again”. The conquest of this egocentric stage should never be underestimated or it will manifest in pathologies that create organizations like Al-Qaeda and the endless number of failed states. The phenomena of failed states has become more common because the post WWII  model for development cannot be substituted for an indigenously designed model that first and foremost takes into account the developmental stages that a country is in. Instead of recognizing the natural evolutionary stages of social emergence and designing to accommodate for the next stage, the Western model imposed a one-solution-fits-all answer designed in the ivory towers of academia and Western think tanks. This rush to move the third world to a world of enterprise without systemic awareness to its consequences caused the rise of power lords to leadership positions who in turn exploited their countries’ resources and oppressed their own people in efforts to protect their power thus halting the natural emergence to the next stage.

Seeing the (indigenous) Trees before the (Western) Forest

What policy makers should have been aware of is that this egocentric stage of social development wouldn’t need to take on the form of bloody warfare. According to the Spiral Dynamics theory and Beck’s own work in South Africa and the West Bank, each cultural value system has a healthy and an unhealthy expression. The unhealthy expression in tribal transition is warfare and the rise of the power lords. The healthy expression, which should be the focus of the UN, is designing for economic prosperity at the tribal level which will blunt any unhealthy desires to start wars with the neighboring tribes. This type of policy setting would have required intimate knowledge of the indigenous life conditions of those tribes and the challenges they face. Based on information gathered from these places, a better informed UN can create the basis for what I call “Stratified Economic Policy”. The concept of micro loans created by Muhammad Yunus is a great example of such highly functional solutions for Bangladesh and places of similar indigenous challenges. Indigenous sustainability in the mind of the locals and in accordance to their relative standards of living ought to be the ultimate goal of any stratified economic policy. The imposition of anything of higher complexity will result in exploitation by the few like the case is often with many UN sponsored programs.

To bring this down to the individual level, one should start by asking (through a local indigenous leader, and never through a Western aid worker) these questions: What will make you happy? What kind of work can you do or hope to learn to help you become happy? All economic policy would focus on then is teaching individuals and cultures the skills to become well adjusted into their relative value system and not that of the West. The key to human emergence is to acknowledge where people and cultures are on the value-systems scale and make sure that much of the resources and efforts are focused on making the expression of that value system healthy. Contrary to much of the prevailing Western thought, it is not that we don’t give people in poor places enough food to eat, it’s that we don’t teach them how to create the habitats based on their own life conditions to create their own indigenous prosperity.

Without the interference of Western designed development programs, the third world would have very likely developed along these lines: In order to move to more advanced developmental stages, capital accumulation earned from hard work within a tribe’s indigenously healthy value system must be applied towards what evolves next and naturally for that tribe. To some it could be acquisition of farm land. To others it could mean sending their first born to a good school, or buying more cattle like the case is with most Central African tribes. Tribal life might be centered on these healthy value systems for centuries before a natural transition takes place to the next stage of emergence which requires the building of national institutions on which  entrepreneurial and strategic values are built. These normal transitions to healthy manifestations of a culture’s uniqueness were halted by the appearances of two phenomena that were the byproducts of the Anglo-Saxon model for development: The West’s insatiable appetite for natural resources and the creation of the IMF.

Into a Tribal World Enter OPEC

After WWII the industrialized world shifted its focus to a consumer-based industrial economy, which required a tremendous amount of resources and raw material. And lo and behold, as if the Gods were testing the West’s true intentions in claiming to help the rest of humanity, most of these raw material were found in third world countries; OPEC for oil and Africa and South America for the rest of the raw material needed for modern day consumption. From Beck’s macro development theory perspective, these non-industrialized countries had never experienced a systemic enforcement of the rule of law at a national level nor had the resources or the complexity to understand the meaning of most of the institutions that the West takes for granted. In describing the reason for the arrested development stage of these countries, a renowned social scientist specializing in South and Central America said these arbitrary nations were formed by colonizing powers and never had the chance to rebel. The discovery of natural resources in tribal cultures had, in essence halted the normal stages of human development within them. Left to their own devices, without having the West extracting their natural resources from the ground, these cultures would have maintained a natural evolutionary process and formed healthier and more cooperative tribes tested and tried by the passage of time to smooth out tribal differences before the idea of “Nation” could crystallize. Life conditions at the time of discovery of oil were such that egocentric warriors had to rise to leadership positions without ever being exposed to concepts such as nationalism, the importance of state institutions, and a real understanding of wealth management. To protect their new-found “loot”, these leaders used tribal warfare tactics in making sure their own tribe prevails. Till this day, if you’re a developer wishing to get a Billion dollar project approved in Saudi Arabia, or Dubai, a poem written just for the occasion that praises the generosity and the greatness of the Sheikh, will improved your odds of success tremendously over someone who’s done extensive research about the market viability of the project and its associated costs.

The cultural pathologies caused by OPEC in a place like Venezuela have taken on a slightly different twist. Populist economic policy has been the tool of choice for tribal leaders in South America. While Western media shows Chavez as a rebel paying lip service to the poor and giving them small stipends for food and sidelining most national institutions, they fail to mention that the rate of poverty in Venezuela has been cut in half since he came to power. This is no endorsement of Chavez who’s known to have stolen billion in oil revenues and set Venezuela back a few decades on its road to progress, it is however an indictment of third world economies that followed the Anglo-Saxon model for development without giving much attention to their own country’s value systems composition and center of gravity. While the entrepreneurial value system flourished in Caracas and other small pockets, the majority of Venezuela remained in the tribal agricultural value system just as it has been for centuries. According to Beck’s theory, the rise of Chavez to power is a natural response to prevalent life conditions as they counteract the unnatural pull created in “skipping” a developmental stage.

Into a World of Poverty and Power Lords Enter the IMF

The story with the IMF is slightly different in the sense that it catered to the same pathologies of exploitation through loans instead of oil revenue. Without ever knowing what Africa needs like Dr. Yunus knew what Bangladesh needs, the IMF, by ignoring the role that value systems play in the development of a culture, is responsible for more death and corruption than any other post WWII institution. One only needs to look at which countries borrow from the IMF. Over 97% of debtor countries prior to the 2008 global financial crisis were ruled by dictators with the blood of thousands of their countrymen on their hands. Rulers like Mugabe and Assad (the father) are on the top of the list. In the absence of a ruthless dictator who would squander most IMF loans and force member countries to renegotiate the debt, the IMF would declare the misuse of funds by a week leader and send in World Bank experts who would force the “privatization” of things like power plants. Such moves ignore the life conditions that required the public ownership of such symbols of progress. These were cultures in transition from tribal existence to early stages of nation formation. When the resources and institutions that are intended to help in that transition are snatched from a development program and given to private power lords , or Western conglomerates represented by local power lords, social and cultural development to the next stage (or to a healthy manifestation of the existing stage) is halted.

A full discussion of IMF policies would require many volumes to expose its shortcomings. Parts of the institution’s initial charter is slowly becoming more aligned with its practices not because of profound changes in its policies toward the developing world, but because the value systems of countries that now need its services (Iceland and Poland are good examples). These counties are more aligned with the value systems of the thinking that created it. As for their dealings with the Third World, their thinking has fallen further behind as they refuse to heed the indigenous needs of these countries. For many Third World counties that continue to struggle to make interest payments on their loans, the IMF is now advocating bankruptcy; a Western tool of mass destruction that will perpetuate the Third World’s dependence on the industrialized world and drive them further away from establishing any indigenous capacities. Meanwhile, IMF and World Bank economists are patting themselves on the back for continuing to perpetuate a culture of debt in their own world thumbing their noses at a collapsing world economy brought to its knees by the same policies of debt financing they’re now advocating for Third World countries.

The road to this Utopian dream that was hatched by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in Bretton Woods, NH has turned out to be the road to Perdition for third world countries rich and poor. If the Group of the 20 richest countries in the world wants to seriously address the causes of poverty and the stalled development of so many regions in the world they first and foremost have to acknowledge the failures of their models for third world development. At the G-20 meeting this past spring, instead of holding a healthy debate about the dangers of what happens when global institutions ignore the need for stratified economic policies informed by local experts, world leaders instead voted to triple the resources of the IMF without implementing meaningful change. Renegotiated Third World debt with higher principal balances is precisely the invitation that the industrialized world needs to fully own the natural resources of these counties, and without developing the habitats for emergence, it will be just a matter of time before they default again.

On the other hand, much of the “Nouveau Riche” countries whose wealth was created by the sudden discovery of natural resources will have to transition from “wealthy tribal cultures” that ignore the needs of the many to “nations with sustainable wealth and faith in institutions” that include the many or face a fate similar to that of Venezuela. The earliest culture to overthrow the Post WWII Western model for development was Iran. The power lords that took power after the fall of the Shah have thumbed their nose at Western development models. They run the country as a theocracy which is now threatening the world with nuclear weapons and continue to demonize Western hegemony. Making Iran, Venezuela and other potential OPEC nations such pariahs could have been prevented if the West had the tools to identify these countries’ unique value systems and the needs for cultural emergence instead of exploiting them for their natural resources.

The flood of oil revenues from industrialized countries and loans with little accountability from the IMF have corrupted tribal values forever and created a pathology that has become very difficult to undo. When oil revenues disappear, most OPEC countries will wake up and realize that in order to prevent future abuse of power and to cater to the welfare of all the citizens in their country, it’s not enough to choose a good tribal leader to lead. Rather, it becomes paramount to establish societal institutions and the rule of law as the absolute base for a sustainable culture that thrives on economic diversity and the value of self reliance. That stage of development came to Europe, the US and Japan after hundreds of years of bloody warfare. To the third world, it would have to come from a perspective of “Stratified Economic Policies” that build capacities commensurate with and informed by the indigenous life conditions on the ground and not by some Western think tank with Ivy League credentials relying on a CIA country profile or an out of touch UN with a dossier of IMF and World Bank reports claiming to know what ails a world at lower stages of development.

 

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Uncovering the Values of a Regenerative Future