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Change or die!

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Obviously, the modern economy is half mathematics/statistics and half psychology (maybe even psychiatry). At the same time, modern politics is just a touch of rationality, combined with the abundance of emotion, populism and irrational stuff like (unreasonable or unjustified) fear, and hatred. Therefore, if we want to initiate economic (and political) changes, the most efficient way is to start up an intellectual revolution. It means a change in values and norms, an attempt to develop new and improved global, national, organizational and individual culture.

As far as economics is concerned, we need a new interdisciplinary paradigm relying not just on numbers and models, but on history, psychology, sociology and political theory. Instead of quantitative economics, some authors offer a concept of participatory economics (“Parecon”), a democratic and harmonious search for a balance of interests between government, employers and workers. The first key word is participation of all stakeholders in setting goals, as well as in making sure they are attained. The second key word is harmony. We need an economy and society able to overcome the conflict-based and anarchic nature of capitalism, and shift its focus from competition, growth and profit towards well-being and happiness for all.

Risking an oversimplification, I offer you a cute example from the colonial past. An African tribe was just taught to play football by a group of British soldiers. The first game they ever played last until dark. The Brits told them they should finish and go home. We cannot, answer the Africans; it is not a tie game yet. No one deserves to leave the football field unhappy. Can you imagine the world being run by such happiness-for-all value system?

Changes are, obviously, necessary and should start as soon as possible. But are individuals, corporations, countries, political parties and power elites ready to accept changes and replace the existing economic and political model with a new one?

In his book titled “Change or Die” Alan Deutschman presents the results of an interesting medical study. Suppose there are six individuals whose health, even life, depend on a drastic change of bad habits (e.g., Alcohol or drug addiction, smoking, bad nutrition, lack of physical activities). Suppose the doctor advises them to “change” (behavior and habits) or they are most likely dead within a year. How many succeed in drastically altering their lifestyle in order to survive? The study proves that only one in six finds strength and determination to change. Two people decide to give it a try but, sooner or later, they give up, and return to the old habits and the suicidal lifestyle. The remaining three never even try to change and thus destine themselves to a deadly outcome.

Isn’t that kind of sad? Even under the most drastic pressure, only one in six people can, voluntarily, alter his behavior. The other five choose to resist change despite the fact that it’s, literally, a matter of life and death.

This example shows us a clear light on the human capacity to change. One in six people is for it, two support him, but soon give up, and three are against it from the very start, mostly because they distrust their own ability to change. Ironically, typical human behavior could be epitomized by the following statement: I am for changes, but please, change someone else, not me!

Yes, it is so difficult to change habits, behavior, values, political and economic system, or the way we approach and solve problems. So, if we really want to initiate, manage, lead and successfully complete the process of paradigm change we need different people than those who dominate the actual political and business environments throughout the world. As Tom Peters cruelly pointed out “if you want a paradigm shift, it is not enough for the old professors to retire. They must die!”

It is truly difficult to change. Fighting for a new paradigm is like rowing a boat upstream. If you stop for just a moment, you start sliding back, and you get farther from your goal, losing momentum. It is always easier to go with the flow and let the water carry you, instead of fighting your way upstream. That’s why most people just observe the signs of crisis, try to avoid the outcomes, hope for the best, rely on destiny and let the river of trouble to carry them away. In the end, they get drowned by the currents of recession and crisis, because they did nothing to prevent it. As pointed out by Ancient Roman philosopher Seneca: “No man has become great without hard work, the virtue should be learned.” The flaw in human nature is that, in principle, we are easily spoiled. We turn bad automatically; we turn good only with a lot of effort.

Be it as it may, the more we delay the reforms and changes, the higher will be the human and social cost. Some philosophers suggest there is an analogy between the actual state of the world and the demise of monarchism. One after another the kingdoms disappeared and, from the mainstream idea, the monarchy gradually became a marginal concept. Something similar could happen to modern capitalism and the way it runs the economy and society. The best case scenario is a well-planned refolution, a set of reforms with a revolutionary goal to build “new capitalism,” a system which is not a master of economy, politics and individual freedom but a slave, ready to serve them. The worst case scenarios involve varying degrees of massive violence.

The capitalism as a global system is not likely to disappear before a clear alternative emerges. Similar to the concepts of market or democracy, it is deficient and sometimes even ridiculous, but still better than other options

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