Friday, 20 February 2015

Why Business Is Beautiful

(From the archives: May 3rd, 2004)

As a software consultant and system designer, I am in a good position to appreciate the beauty of business. For a company's computer system is like a microcosm of the company itself. From my vantage point, I can see the business as a whole, as few can.

The company, whose system is in my domain right now, is entrepreneurial in the true sense of the word. What they do is take travel services from many different suppliers in different countries, and build them all together into a package for their client. They serve mainly the upper end of the market. They've been doing it for over 20 years. And they're good at what they do. The best in Europe, in fact.

In their computer system, I can see everything they do, from front end to back. Finding out what the client wants, and costing it up. Pulling together all the services from their many suppliers into a practical itinerary. Producing high-quality documentation to tell the client what he's getting. Making sure everything, that should be booked, is booked. Producing invoices. Banking their receipts. Paying their suppliers what they are owed. Sorting things out when they go wrong. Right through to the bean-counting at the end of the financial year, and the collection of statistics on what worked and what didn't.

Of course, not everything is perfect. People are people, for one. And, as in any enterprise, things occasionally fall through cracks. But, when I look at the big picture, the message comes through clearly: Business is beautiful. It is peaceful. It is purposeful. It is energetic. It is honest. It benefits everyone involved. For it serves the interests of the client, while bringing earned rewards to the directors and employees.

There can be no starker contrast with the good and beauty of honest business, than the ugliness and evil of political governments. Wars, genocides, persecutions, witch-hunts. Lies, spin and propaganda campaigns. The institutionalized theft, that is called taxation. Wasteful, poor-quality services that aren't what people want. Bad laws and senseless regulations. Bullying bureaucrats and police. Violations of human rights.

Politics and business are diametrically opposed ways of dealing with others. Politics is about controlling people; business is about serving people. Politics is founded on what I call the three deadly sins: violent aggression, theft and mental manipulation. Business, on the other hand, needs none of the three. Business is founded on peace, value to others and honesty.

Anyone who believes that business is morally bad has either taken leave of their senses, or has a nasty agenda. And yet, many people – too many – seem to have been suckered into having reservations about the goodness of business. Why should this be?

One skein of worry seems to be the idea that business causes inequality. Those who get good rewards through business, say the success-haters, do not really deserve them. Such arguments are persuasive in certain quarters. For example, to the lazy, or to those who have not yet learned the skill of making themselves useful to others.

But there are two easy and strong rejoinders. First, politics causes inequality too. In fact, it causes far more inequality than business has ever done. However disguised by claptrap about democracy, the nature of politics is clear. Politics is the art of persecuting people, while making out that the persecutions are legitimate. It's a system by which some claim for themselves a right to rule over others.

Second, what is actually so wrong with inequality? It is injustice that is wrong, not inequality. And injustice and inequality are plain different things. Injustice comes when people are treated worse than they deserve, worse than they treat others. Injustice comes when people suffer assaults and persecutions. Inequality, on the other hand, arises naturally because different people have different degrees of talent, application and energy.

I have no problem with the idea that the people at the top of a company deserve to earn more – often far more – than those lower down. As a rule of thumb, I have found that when the responsibility multiplies by ten, the pay tends roughly to double or treble. I don't object to that. Nor do I mind seeing exceptional people, who develop their skills and use their energies, get exceptional rewards. In fact, I am actively in favour – that's what I do myself.

As to the mediocre, they deserve what they are worth. And monkeys deserve to be paid peanuts.

A second cause of concern is that not all businesses are honest, peaceful and good value. The bigger the business, the less honest it is likely to be. Some, for example armaments makers, fuel violent aggression. Other businesses are grasping. They try to suck out of their clients as much money as they possibly can, and to give them as little as they can in return.

There is merit in some of these concerns. Making bombs and guns to kill innocent people, for example, is hardly a benevolent way to earn a living. Yet consider, who are the customers for this armoury? The buyers of all large armaments (except a few that go to terrorists) are political governments. If there were no political governments, there would be no market for large-scale armaments.

Some big businesses, too, are like blood-suckers. Insurance companies are particularly bad. They will happily accept your estimate of the value of an item, and charge accordingly; but when time comes to claim for it, they will put on it their own, lower value. Or they will try to take advantage of your need to get a claim settled quickly, to evade paying altogether. By doing so, they are in essence guilty of theft, as well as dishonesty.

Then there are those, including insurance company bosses, that like to run to governments to get laws passed to favour themselves or to hamstring their competitors. They do not seem to realize that, by lobbying for bad laws, they are guilty of violent aggression by proxy.

Then there is Microsoft. As a former user of WordPerfect, and a user of Borland's software development products, I know that Microsoft's products are usually technically inferior to their competitors.’ How, then, can Microsoft be so successful? How has it managed to acquire such a dominance? Something doesn't add up here. Which is why Microsoft-bashing is something of an art form among my friends, not to mention the US government and the European Union.

However, let's keep perspective. This paper would not have been possible without Microsoft or something like it. And, at least to my knowledge, Microsoft doesn't kill innocent Iraqis.

Then there is McDonald's. Now, I personally can't stand their product. My idea of a burger is simply a ground steak in a bun. I can do without the relishes and the other stuff, thank you. Yet McDonald's has a supreme beauty, in one sense. It is the beauty of the free market. If I don't like their product, I don't have to buy it. The people at McDonald's, unlike Tony Blair and its ilk, don't force me to pay for what I don't want.

Then there is the legion of small businesses, right down to the one-man company like me. Small businesses don't have much opportunity for violent aggression, theft or mental manipulation. They would go bankrupt quickly if they did these things. They don't have the fat that enables the unscrupulous in larger businesses to build bureaucratic empires or to formulate underhanded agendas. And so, small businesses tend to be more beautiful than large ones. Of course, there is the occasional rogue trader; but they are rare.

There is a pattern in all this. The further away they are from politics, the more honest and value-giving businesses tend to be. The closer they are to politics and government, the lazier they are, and the more prone they are to the three deadly sins. Concerns about dishonesty or bad value in business, reduced to their essentials, are really concerns about people in business not behaving in a business way, but in a political way.

I must make one thing clear. Those who work for government, or for businesses that have dishonest bosses, are not necessarily bad people. If they honestly serve those who pay for their services, and they don't commit or sanction any of the three deadly sins, they're OK.

A third strand of concern is that business and industry harm the environment. But it all depends what you mean by "environment.” For honest business doesn't harm the human environment. In fact, business, and the trade which goes with it, bring great benefits to human beings. They help bring peace, prosperity, human progress and happiness. Political governments, on the other hand, cause wars, poverty, stagnation and alienation. Politics is today the biggest source of damage to the human environment.

But this cuts no ice with the politicals. For it is characteristic of those, that want to control others, to set up idols. They put something up on a pedestal, then demand that it be worshipped. And this is what they do with "the environment.” It sounds oh so wonderful, doesn't it, that we should love and worship the environment? That we should be forced to make huge sacrifices for the sake of preserving it unchanged? That we should stop using natural resources, and taking control of our planet? That we should put the interests of wildlife (sob) ahead of those horrible, nasty things called human beings? And that we should hate, most of all, the evil, greedy capitalists that do business and make profits?

All this enviro-worship is fully as much crap as it sounds. For it follows squarely in the tradition of earlier idols; for example, the religious god, or king and country. (Or, if you come from outside Europe, president and country). Forward-thinking people today have, for the most part, seen through the first of these. And many are coming to see through the second. Few, so far, have seen the enviro idol for what it is; but we are increasing.

When someone tells you that business harms the environment, what they are really saying is that they hate business. Why should they hate business? Why is it that, for decades, the voices of those that hate business and industry have been so shrill and insistent?

Recall what business is based on: peace, value to others and honesty. Business is about treating others with the respect due to human beings. Politics, on the other hand, is about controlling people. It is based on the three deadly sins; violent aggression, theft and mental manipulation. Honest business people are better human beings than the politicals. And the politicals know it. That is why they hate business, and business people, with such intensity. They are like school bullies, that pick on the bright children in the class. They hate us for our virtues.

There has been, in recent years, a new attempt by lovers of freedom to lighten and brighten people's view of business. To concentrate on positives, not negatives. To celebrate the benefits of business and free trade, and in particular to celebrate the capitalist system which supports them. I think this emphasis on positives is good. But I am not sure that capitalism, with its rather 19th-century feel, is actually the right thing to be celebrating.

I myself am coming to the view that what we should be celebrating is the moral beauty of business. We should be celebrating the peace, purpose, energy, honesty and value of business as virtues in themselves. We should be helping honest business people to realize that they are morally far superior to the political scum that want to rule over them. And we should be promoting and celebrating the common-sense justice, which brings rewards and pleasures to those who earn them, and contempt to those that deserve it.

Yes, business is beautiful. We just need to help people understand that fact.

No comments: