7. CAPITAL MAKES TALENT DANCE
So I was writing this week’s piece and decided to take a break and catch a movie in Rosebank where I bump into a mate of mine, Itumeleng who tells me about this book he’s reading called, wait for it, “Funky Business” by two Swedish business academics. It’s subtitled, “Talent Makes Capital Dance”. Hmmm….
So the following day, I rush out to the bookshop and pick up a copy (damn! R233 and it was marked down cos it was dirty). Itumeleng had fired my interest because he told me that these two guys keep telling the reader that Karl Marx was right so I had to find out why. I read the book the same day and decided to put aside the piece I was working on and put this together instead. These two vox poppers from the cold, dark north needed to be answered, as I’m sure all the Sandton whizzkids will be quoting euphorically from this book over the next few weeks and its thesis needs to be addressed, especially in the context of South Africa and the rest of the developing world.
Perhaps some quotes from this learned tome will give you a sense of where the book is coming from. Okay, here’s one:
“Organizations with lousy infostructures will look like 65-year-olds competing in the Olympic marathon wearing high heels and evening gowns”.
Or, and this is a good one:
“Technology is the rhythm section of funky business”
And then the bit about Karl Marx, and Ho Ch-Minh and Mao Zedong, and a bunch other revos, they were all right:
“They were right because they subscribed to the Marxist view that the workers should own the major assets of society, the critical means of production. We do now. And, perhaps, we did all along but we just didn’t have the insight to realize it.
“Workers control the principal means of production. The Revolution Part 1 is over.”
In fact, old Karl did get it. I can’t remember the exact words but it went something like, “The chains that bind the workers are like silken threads”. In other words, society keeps going largely because we all agree to believe in it, the minute we don’t, you have breakdown, or revolution. But the writers have conflated two quite different issues. One is about the nature of production and the other is about how we live our lives. The implication in “funky Business” is that the IT revolution completes the one triggered by Comrade Karl and it’s going to be crazy free-for-all.
More telling examples from the book, inadvertently reveal another side to “Funky Business”. One big transnational, I think it was Sony, turns out a new product every 2 hours. In Japan, in one year, a 1000 ‘new’ soft drinks hit the market but by the end of the year only 10 are left. Is this progress? This is capitalism gone mad. To keep this kind of runaway production going, means eating up our entire planet and its resources.
An example that’s not in the book is the wholesale destruction of forests in Indonesia and what for? Just to make the cardboard boxes that consumer electronics are packed in!
The central thesis of the book is really quite simple, the IT revolution has changed everything and everything is changing faster than we can keep up with it and that “1.3 kilograms of brain holds the key to all our futures”.
I needn’t have bought the book as this quote comes off the back cover. So, I spent R233 to be told that the key to my own future and my personal liberation is my own brain. Wow! Now, everyone is competing with everyone else and its global.
Intellectual capital now holds sway in the creation of wealth in the developed world ie, “Some 70% of the value of a new car lie in the intangibles”. However, what they don’t mention is where does the steel, aluminium, tungsten, gold, platinum, oil etc, that the car is made of, come from? Not Stockholm that’s for sure.
Quite early on in the book, it states that by the year 2003, 510 million people will be part of this new, global market that is consuming most of the crap (sorry, new products) it’s producing. That’s about 1/6th of the world’s population of 6000 million. Not a very commendable figure from where I’m sitting in Troyeville, Jozi with guys knocking on my front door every few hours hitting me up for a couple of rand for some Witblitz.
As I plowed through page after page of aphorisms and rip-offs (sorry, quotes) of other peoples’ ideas (including some of my own, although I’d never claim that they’re my ideas alone), I kept coming back to the fact that there are some 5 1/2 billion people not included in the book’s vision of the future. And I’m sure they’re not the ones in high heels and evening gowns either.
In other words, this book is about the haves and not the have nots, as there’s no room for have nots in their vision, indeed, they’re not mentioned, even in passing. These two, “crazy baldheads” to quote Peter Tosh, have grabbed only half the equation and conveniently dumped the bit they can’t deal with namely, the vast majority of the planet’s population that don’t fit into this vision of 1.3 kilograms of grey matter being put in charge of events. I wish!
This is not to say that their ideas aren’t worthwhile, because they are, in their context. Sure, it’s all knowledge and the knowledge business and sure, Intellectual Capital rules the world, Okay. So what else is new? But a vision of the future? Nah, this is the present extended into the future, where it’s still business as usual (only faster), at least for the 1/6th of the world’s population lucky enough to have been born in the right place at the right time, only now, to quote from the book one more time,
“During the 1960s, US fathers on average talked some 45 minutes per day with their kids. Today, the equivalent figure is six minutes.”
Go figure. Is this where it’s all headed and is this what it’s all about? The really difficult problems are mentioned but never tackled. Perhaps they need to get their own 1.3 kilograms of brain into top gear and think about the fact that development is not simply about getting a decent standard of living, for me that’s the starting point for a bunch of more interesting stuff. And technology is a means to an end not an end in itself. Yeah sure, it is the “rhythm section” of business and all that. But for the writers, it’s about survival in a world that’s moving just too fast for most us to keep to up with. It also seems to scare the pants of them, not to mention all their hair.
Well I suppose there are some people who have to be told that this is what the New Economy is all about and told about in this kind of way. Maybe to me it’s all obvious and that’s why I find the book, irritating, jokey and somewhat smug in its approach. Maybe it’s because I’m living in Africa and see the other side of the equation. Nevertheless, this book is worth reading, see if you can get your local library (if you’ve got one) to order it for you. Oh yeah, there’s a website address: www.business-minds.com
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