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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Capitalism is a half-developed structure" - Muhammad Yunus

With the crisis happening now, the words from Muhammad Yunus "capitalism is a half-developed structure" come back to mind.

And what he develops in the first chapter of his book "Creating a world without poverty - social business and the future of capitalism" resonate even more deeply:
"Capitalism takes a narrow view of human nature, assuming that people are one-dimensional beings concerned only with the pursuit of maximum profit. The concept of the free market, as generally understood, is based on this one-dimensional human being. Mainstream free-market theory postulates that you are contributing to the society and the world in the best possible manner if you just concentrate on getting the most for yourself."

The result is supposed to be a system that self adapts to situations and self corrects because people are dedicated to that one mission of maximizing profit.
The problem is that it does not work, as we can witness now on the financial markets.
Instead of self adjustments we get regular market failures, not exactly what the intent was.

What I see happening really is that creative mathematicians have invented financial products that generate big multiples out of nowhere and purely from speculation, allowing them to rip huge profit out off businesses or real estate properties regardless of the value they truly represent. Bubbles that end up blowing up.

If we are going to fix this system, I would like to follow Muhammad Yunus train of thoughts:
"The presence of our multi-dimensional personalities means that not every business should be bound to serve the single objective of profit maximization"

This is also what Bo Burlingham puts forward when he presents "Small Giants - companies that choose to be great instead of big".

When the sun goes down somewhere, it goes up somewhere else. This crisis is an opportunity, let's hope we learn to come back to the basics of what business should be about: adding real value on the ground, rather than maximizing financial ratios.