Celebrating Capitalism's Death? Not so Fast...

Just because you stop something old that is bad, doesn't mean you will automatically start something new that's good.
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Welcome to our brave new post-Capitalistic world.

Today our leaders in Washington announced (all the details to come later) that the Federal Government is going to rescue the financial system from total collapse.

You can read the story as reported by The New York Times here and, of course, more details of this plan will come out in the hours and days ahead. But I want to address the very first part of The New York Times' report: the reaction of the markets around the world...

Stocks shot wildly upward Friday morning after the federal government moved to try to restore confidence in the financial markets.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose more than 400 points only moments after the opening, and later settled up more than 300 points. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 was up nearly 3.5 percent. Markets in Europe and Asia also traded significantly higher, with stocks in London and Paris up more than 8 percent.

There is a celebration going on. This doesn't surprise me. But I'd like to raise the following point from the world of Systems Thinking:

Just because you stop something old that is bad, doesn't mean you will automatically start something new that's good.

Our government has stopped something it considers to be bad. It saw the collapse of the economic system coming. The action it has taken has -- and this is me talking, not our government, of course -- ended Capitalism here in America.

Actually, its not just me talking. Here's a report from The New York Times on what financial leaders in the rest of the world think about what we are doing here. They know America is no longer a Capitalistic society either. From this September 18th report...

"I fear the government has passed the point of no return," said Ron Chernow, a leading American financial historian. "We have the irony of a free-market administration doing things that the most liberal Democratic administration would never have been doing in its wildest dreams."

The bailout package for A.I.G., on top of earlier government support for Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has stunned even European policy makers accustomed to government intervention -- even as they acknowledge the shock of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

"For opponents of free markets in Europe and elsewhere, this is a wonderful opportunity to invoke the American example," said Mario Monti, the former antitrust chief at the European Commission. "They will say that even the standard-bearer of the market economy, the United States, negates its fundamental principles in its behavior."

Mr. Monti said that past financial crises in Asia, Russia and Mexico brought government to the fore, "but this is the first time it's in the heart of capitalism, which is enormously more damaging in terms of the credibility of the market economy."

We no longer have a "market economy" here in America. Capitalism is dead.

But what are the people on Wall Street and other financial centers celebrating? The end of something bad. But -- I assert -- not the start of something new that is good.

Our government literally sees that the Titanic is sinking. And it is using its extraordinary power to raise the Titanic out of the ocean, shake all the water out of it (literally bailing it out), and place it back in the ocean hoping it will then sail on.

But the Titanic cannot sail on.

That's because the Titanic that is our global economic system is fundamentally flawed. It is based on a belief that we are still sailing in a zero-sum world, a world of scarcity, a world where there will always be too many people chasing too few resources. The sustainability scientists... and those schooled in advance social and managerial sciences as well... know this is no longer true. They know an abundance-based world is what we live in now, from an objective reality point of view. They know that the only thing in the way of that becoming the reality we all live in is the design of our political-economic system.. because it is still a scarcity-based design.

The American government's effort is very impressive in scope... but not in sophistication. It is an 800 pound gorilla approach, involving a huge willingness to throw money at the problem. But, intellectually speaking, it is "the blind leading the blind". It is "experts in the past" attempting to solve a problem whose root cause they cannot see. None of them has ever even heard of - as best I can tell - that scarcity is an objectively obsolete way to view the world. None of them has ever seen what is at the foundation of the work of people such as William McDonough, Amory Lovins, or the late Buckminster Fuller.

It is a tragedy in the making, because they are missing a huge opportunity to truly do the right thing... to take a sophisticated -- rather than 800 pound gorilla -- approach to this crisis.

A sophisticated approach.... one led by people who know how to work with the fact that the present is different from the past -- i.e. designers -- would address the fundamental fact that our economy is based on a zero-sum mental model in a global reality that is actually an abundance-based world waiting to be born.

As a designer myself, I saw this situation when there was a smaller -- but still very visible -- challenge to the stability of the global economic system. This was in October of 1998. At that time, BusinessWeek published an editorial called "The Age of Uncertainty". In that October 26, 1998 editorial, BusinessWeek said:

In the blink of a summer's eye, the psychology in America has changed totally. People suddenly don't know what to think about the economy, their investments, or their future. Before July, the U.S. had economic nirvana. Now confusion reigns. Volatility dominates markets. Hedge funds blow up. Deflation looms. The Asian contagion spreads. Russia defaults. The dollar plummets. CEOs worry. And Washington fiddles with impeachment. Yet the economy still feels pretty strong. So what is really going on out there?

In response to that editorial, I wrote a letter which BusinessWeek published on November 16, 1998. Here's what I wrote back then:


"So, what is really going on out there?'' you ask, in ''The Age of Uncertainty'' (Editorials, Oct. 26). For a more complete answer, look to the principles of systems thinking. A ''confluence of events'' is not the only thing masking the true fundamentals of the global economy, creating this ''fog'' you refer to. The ''fog'' is being created by the tendency to see globalization from a perspective grounded in our history of living in a world of separate, independent nations. The world's economy has become one interdependent system, yet we continue to view it through independent eyes.

What's really going on, from a systems perspective, is that a new, single, global system is struggling to be seen for what it is -- a system that can prosper only if all of its parts prosper. It is a single system, one that innately knows that either all of it will make it or none of it will. That's the way healthy systems work. The business world will prosper beyond its wildest imagination once it cuts through this fog and stops viewing the future through ''past-focused eyes.''

I still believe everything I wrote almost ten years ago.

The business world will prosper beyond its wildest imagination once it sees the future for what it can be. Some businesses will have to change more than others to take advantage of this new opportunity, but that's what the best businesses do, right? (Weapons manufacturers will have to change the most, as war is finally seen as the obsolete "international development tool" that it is. But that's okay. The skills of those corporations can easily be used to study, analyze, and produce constructive solutions -- especially highly scientific ones -- to our sustainable development challenges.)

This business world mindset is why the business strategy book Blue Ocean Strategy has been a global best seller since its release in 2005... because business leaders are always looking for the "blue ocean" of "no competition"... the economic landscape where they can operate first.. offering new products and services that do and offer things that no other business is selling.

Well, there is a huge blue ocean available to all the world's businesses now. It is the post-scarcity, post-zero sum Capitalism world that is waiting out there.... just waiting for us to reach out for it.

I hope at least some of our business and political leaders are in enough of a shock that they will look for new ideas and new answers such as those I am talking about here.

We don't have to settle for 800 pound gorilla thinking. We can innovate our way out of this crisis, with our eyes completely open to the true nature of the challenge we face... open to understanding the root cause of the challenge we face. And by understanding the root cause of the crisis we are in - that we literally see fighting as the "first principle" of living when cooperation and collaboration should be the first principle -- we can design our way to a better future... to an economic system that will provide all businesses -- and all the people on Earth - with more prosperity than they ever believed possible.

We must not just stop something old that is bad. We must start something good that is new.

Addendum: Saturday the 20th, 8:45am

To give people hope that society can continue to evolve (mature), I invite you to watch the opening of this landmark TV series "The Day the Universe Changed", hosted by James Burke, which first ran in the late 1980's on PBS. Mr. Burke went on to host the similar series about this history of human progress, "Connections", "Connections2" and "Connections3". Mr. Burke's current work can be found here.

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