Taking horses to the water
Gives no guarantee they’ll drink;
Equine modes of misbehaviour
May be wiser than we think.
Take the white-hot revolutions
Humans seem to hanker for;
‘Chips with everything,’ for instance,
Just to change the metaphor.
Micro-chips were what the future
Most of all depended on;
Unimagined dawns were breaking
In the Vales of Silicon.
Every future was a function
Of the messages we cram,
As with saints upon a needle,
On to each successive Ram….
From ‘Let Them Eat Chips’
The Bottom Line.
© Ralph Windle 1985.
‘Change’ and ‘innovation’ are words of incontrovertible virtue in the business hymnal; and, at what the commentators now call ‘the cutting edge’ of managerial thinking, can be stretched to include not only products and technologies but also the shapes and structures of organisations.
Which is maybe why John Harris was getting excited in the Guardian recently (“The chameleons of new age capitalism own the future”, 8 December 2017) about the book “Capitalism Without Capital” by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake .The book has many interesting things to say, but the title misleads.
The shift in the balance between ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ assets, and their internal distributions in economies such as the USA and UK, is – as Harris concedes – the mere sharpening of a process started long ago in the Seventies; and the human skill sets needed to drive this supposed revolution (“product management, business development, design engineering, marketing, etc”) are precisely as they were – for myself and many others – working in the hybrid multinationals of the 1970! The fetish for branding and building market place identities were focussed precisely on creating a sustainable positive balance between the tangible and intangible assets involved. Whether both species of assets were held within or between enterprises was, and remains, a function of overall corporate strategy, developing and changing through time as market conditions demanded. In this respect at least, things remain much as they always were, and Capitalism Without Capital seems a curiously unconvincing and irrelevant promise.
More importantly, however, the Harris commentary takes the opportunity to remind us of a much more relevant but forgotten truth – albeit from the now unfashionable pens of Marx and Engels.
“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones… all that is solid melts into air…”.
I applaud Harris’s conclusion that… “the Marx/Engels vision of our ceaselessly changing economies and societies seems just as pertinent now as it did 169 years ago”. The persistent relegation of the ‘people’ factor to the after-thoughts of the latest corporate fad or structural ‘innovation’ has done little to cure this long-term blight on the real producers of wealth in our societies.
Eat the chips, spew out the people,
That’s the economic law,
Feed ‘em integrated circuits,
Stop ‘em asking what it’s for!
All aboard the next invention!
Mount the magic Kangaroo!
One more mighty leap for science
Up the unemployment queue!
Even at the fount of knowledge,
Wise men have been known to pause,
Breathalyse their technoholics,
Till they emulate the horse.
So our more urgent problems remain the off-shoring and financial down-grading of manufacturing; and, whatever our asset structures, the dire consequences of our persistently undermined corporate tax regimes; alongside the now-known, socially unsustainable, inequalities of income and opportunity.
Where are these on our all-absorbing Brexit agendas? Better not to hold the breath! But as we stumble into a new year, and maybe nearer to an election which could, at last, give the needed coup de grace to the austerity nightmare, let’s stay cheerfully confident that we are capable of much better things… and think what joy there would be at a likely Trump implosion!
All we have to fear is fear itself – as someone once said!
“Please, where can I get a copy of ‘Chips With Everything‘ read by Bertie Ramsbottom on the BBC’s ‘In Business’ Programme. It was delicious!”