Wednesday, January 4, 2006


Just a great piece at Rich Karlgaard's monthly column in Forbes
. I read it on my flight back from Chicago, so I wanted to post it up here (most of it). Love the reference to C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters (great book).

It's not cancer or AIDS or avian flu; it's a monstrously flawed idea. The sickest thinking--and the source of most of human misery throughout the ages--is based on the following beliefs:

• The Earth is running out of resources;

• People consume more than they contribute;

• Wealth is a zero-sum distribution game.

History overwhelmingly refutes these ideas; otherwise, humankind would still be living in caves, sharpening spears for the hunt. Our lives would be brutal and short, lasting on average about 30 years. We'd enjoy no books, movies or iPods; we'd drive no cars to visit grandma over the holidays; we'd savor none of her gooseberry pie if the economic pie hadn't been growing all along.

Yet most politicians, economists and journalists act as if growth were a mirage and wealth a zero-sum game. What else accounts for last November's headlines yelling about GM's cut of some 30,000 jobs? Does the creation of 30,000 jobs get equal treatment? Why not? That's about how many jobs are born in the U.S. every six days.

Origins of the Virus

Why do so many opinion makers promote the zero-sum view? I think that politicians, even the best and brightest, become zero-sum thinkers because they occupy a zero-sum world. Only one person can be President of this country; only 50 can be governors; only 100 can be senators. The most creative entrepreneur in the world can't change these parameters. Politicians live in a world in which one person's gain is another's loss.

It's no surprise that the top business thinker of the last 50 years, the late Peter Drucker, operated outside of the university system. Drucker, who had escaped Germany in 1933, was no Pollyanna and no stranger to evil. But he saw that evil had its roots in a belief system of limits. The Nazis believed there was room on the planet for only one ideology and one race.

(I love this example.)

Journalists at mainstream media organizations wallow in a zero-sum world: There can be only one evening television anchor and one top editor at a newspaper. All others are beta dogs. Thus from the MSM we get a staple of alarming stories about job losses, trade and fiscal deficits, global warming, the price of oil rising to $100 a barrel and so on. Zero-sum nonsense, all of it. Why does the mainstream media love environmentalists? Both groups share a zero-sum view of the world.

Meanwhile, much of the better journalism and commentary has been migrating to blogs. No surprise here. Anybody who creates a blog is: (a) an entrepreneur and, thus, probably NOT a zero-sum thinker; and (b) a producer first and a consumer second. These two attributes alone guarantee that the blogger has a clearer view of how the world really works than does the zero-sum thinker toiling away at his mainstream media position.

Screwtape Letters for Business
Now that C.S. Lewis is back in vogue, one is reminded of a great Lewis book, The Screwtape Letters. In the book a senior devil, Screwtape, writes letters to his young nephew, Wormwood. Screwtape tells Wormwood how to tempt a client away from God.

Thought experiment: Let's suppose we have a Business Screwtape in our midst. How might this BS turn young souls away from enterprise and destroy hopes? Why not bombard clients with zero-sum thinking. Clients then could only:

• Get their news from the mainstream media. Thus, the war in Iraq might be seen as a fight for a fixed pot of oil, not a struggle for a better future.

• Get business ideas from newspapers and television. The emphasis would be on job losses and trade deficits … and on businessmen as greedy polluters.

• Get economic lessons from Ivy League economists. Clients would then learn about the horrible consequences of tax cuts.

• Get history from books that portray Americans as victimizers, not as inventors and entrepreneurs.

A majority of Americans think the economy is performing poorly, and 40% think a recession is under way. Is there a Business Screwtape in our midst? Could be. He's doing a hell of a job.

No comments: