The Investment Economy: Schlemiel Schlimazel

For me, the greatest documentary on systems gone bad is the 24 hour French film Schoa...  interviews with the survivors on all sides of a concentration camp. Tough stuff, but real. I remember one fellow in particular, a Pole or German, who tried to save lives but realized that all he was doing was trading places, that, in his words as I remember them, the system had built up its own momentum to the point that no matter what you did the system won.

If we accept this, then even the managers are willing workers trapped within a system designed to create exactly the outcome that happens, unless it is rife with special causes.

So to the question of management responsibility, accountability and blame, it depends. In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, or woman...  If people are systems blind it is easy to focus our anger on them, but how will that affect change? It may make us feel good, but it hardens their resistance.

When my son used to get angry, yelling back made him angrier, giving him a hug made him melt. Perhaps nurturing, caring, listening, even active love would be a more effective approach. Ya know, the person who really changed things without violence was Ghandi, and he apologized to the stuck up a...hole who was running the colony for all the trouble he was causing him, but stuck to the truth.

It takes great courage to embrace our enemies and humanize them, but it is more likely to work than demonizing. No human being likes to have their faults paraded in public, and if managers are working in a publicly held corporation it is not true they have the power to change the system. That power lies above the C suites, with the Board and the owners and investors, and now we are stepping out of an individual company and its system into a much larger system of the investment economy, which has become a tumor, growing rapidly, out of balance with the real economy of goods and services.

We need friends, not enemies, as the fight goes deep into the mistaken assumption that the purpose of business is to profit for the shareholders only, and that the purpose of investment is to maximize ROI. Mistaken 19th century assumptions driven by the failed religion of cost accounting. The purpose of investment, or stock, as designed by the Jews in the shtetls of eastern europe in the middle ages, was to allow their neighbor to create a business to be able to support their family and grow the wealth of the community overall. People would pool their money so a house painter could buy what they needed and survive until they had enough cash flow. There would be a return on investment, but the ROI was secondary to building the foundations of a real economy.

Nowadays, the US makes very little, and many people make their money on sub optimization through maximizing returns on short term investment. Managers trapped in those kinds of businesses have no real power, and the illusion of it only if they tow the line. If we want to change the system fundamentally, to generate other, healthier outcomes, we have our work set out for us, and we need every ally we can get.

In the vibrant Yiddish tradition, they spoke of the schlemiel and the schlimazel. They came in pairs, one picking on the other, the point being that they both were victims of much larger forces. We need a new system, that puts the investment economy and accounting on the back pages of the news, in support of the real economy, rather than the other way around.

About the Author

Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.

Leave a Reply 0 comments