Category Archives: Current Affairs

Infographic: Women in Business

Thanks to Balboa Capital for this infographic today with a summary of statistics on women-owned businesses.  This all looks like good information to me. With limits. For example, I chronically question the research on factors considered important because I think these surveys are politically motivated and set up to serve political agendas. So in this one, I don’t believe business owners are really concerned about macro economics or tax rates. They are concerned about increasing sales, hiring people or now, and cash flow. But that’s just my opinion.

I also note that according to this, women-owned businesses are financed the old fashioned way, not by high profile angel investors or venture capital. And that the playing field is not level by any means, even after 50 years of attention to gender equality. Women still have a tougher time, in general, building their businesses.

By the way, I recommend Women on Business, the website and blog, as my favorite source for women in business and writing about business. That site has no relation to this infographic.

infographic women in business

Data, Politics, Poets and Truth

Sheep on grassIn the good old days – I turned teenager in 1961, and 18 in 1966 – we had a generally accepted process for establishing truth. First, we generally distinguished opinion from fact. Second, when fact was in doubt, we turned to evidence.  And evidence, once presented, was accepted. Evidence ended arguments. But data killed that, politics killed data, and now poets predict politics.

Data undermined simple truth

The decline of truth started with data. Huge masses of overwhelming and conflicting data forced us to choose truth from streams of incoherent evidence. For example: Is margarine is good for you? Eggs? Coffee? Those are just three simple cases, regarding food. We have ample streams of evidence on either side. We can find data to support any answer. And those are just easy food and health arguments, not nearly as controversial as, say when ISIS started, who supported what war and when. Evidence doesn’t end the argument because we’re overwhelmed with conflicting evidence.

Talking points undermined evidence

And then came talking points. First, the overabundance of conflicting data undermined the weight of evidence. After that, political strategists discovered that repetition of well-packaged spin, half truth, and lies could be taken as truth. And now we accept political talking points as truth, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Millions of people firmly believe absurdities in the face of clear and unambiguous evidence to the contrary.

We’re left with truth in poetry

Truth and LiesSomewhere around 1790 William Blake wrote The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. That lengthy and sometimes bewildering work includes a section called the proverbs of hell, which includes the following:

Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth

No I’m not suggesting Blake foresaw or forewarned us. But what he says there does fit today’s reality. Right? We’ve got wide ranges of diverse and discordant images of truth. Of course, Blake included that in the section framed as proverbs of hell, not heaven, so maybe he mistrusted its direct meaning. But in the poem, he likes hell, so who knows. I suggest it here as food for thought, nothing more.

And then there is this, written 100 years ago by William Butler Yeats in a short poem called The Second Coming.  It seems disturbingly like what we see around the world today:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

That’s towards the opening of the poem. It gets even darker as it closes. Sadly, that too sounds a lot like mainstream politics today. Did you watch that debate on Monday?

 

 

TED talk: A Growing Threat to Democracy

About a third of the way into this talk from last year’s TED global the speaker says:

Have you wondered why politicians are not what they used to be? It’s not because their DNA has degenerated. It is rather because one can be in government today and not in power, because power has migrated from the political to the economic sphere.

The audience laughs at the DNA joke, but then falls silent. The speaker, Yanis Varoufakis, who was Greece’s finance minister during last year’s Greek financial crisis, has a very serious point.

Over the last three months, in the United States, in Britain and in the Eurozone, we have invested, collectively, 3.4 trillion dollars on all the wealth-producing goods — things like industrial plants, machinery, office blocks, schools, roads, railways, machinery, and so on and so forth. $3.4 trillion sounds like a lot of money until you compare it to the $5.1 trillion that has been slushing around in the same countries, in our financial institutions, doing absolutely nothing during the same period except inflating stock exchanges and bidding up house prices.

So a mountain of debt and a mountain of idle cash form twin peaks, failing to cancel each other out through the normal operation of the markets. The result is stagnant wages, more than a quarter of 25- to 54-year-olds in America, in Japan and in Europe out of work. And consequently, low aggregate demand, which in a never-ending cycle, reinforces the pessimism of the investors, who, fearing low demand, reproduce it by not investing.

the economic sphere has been colonizing and cannibalizing the political sphere to such an extent that it is undermining itself, causing economic crisis. Corporate power is increasing, political goods are devaluing, inequality is rising, aggregate demand is falling and CEOs of corporations are too scared to invest the cash of their corporations.

So the more capitalism succeeds in taking the demos out of democracy, the taller the twin peaks and the greater the waste of human resources and humanity’s wealth.

I’ve been a fan of TED for years now because it tends to highlight a combination of truth, concern, science, arts, and of course it’s namesake acronym, Technology, Education, and Design (TED).  I like talks that shake me up a big and make me think. This one does that.

The source of this is at the following link: Yanis Varoufakis: Capitalism will eat democracy — unless we speak up.

A Physicist’s Deep-Dive into Who Controls the World Economy

ownership-networks-smallIn this TED talk, physicist James B. Glattfelder looks at who controls the world economy, focusing first on ownership as a complex system. He says, in his introduction:

“We spend billions of dollars trying to understand the origins of the universe while we still don’t understand the conditions for a stable society, a functioning economy, or peace.”

Network Analysis of Economics as a Complex System

He uses analytic techniques from science to look at the ownership of global corporations and control of the economy.

So we started with a database containing 13 million ownership relations from 2007. This is a lot of data, and because we wanted to find out who rules the world, we decided to focus on transnational corporations, or TNCs for short. These are companies that operate in more than one country, and we found 43,000. In the next step, we built the network around these companies, so we took all the TNCs’ shareholders, and the shareholders’ shareholders, etc., all the way upstream, and we did the same downstream, and ended up with a network containing 600,000 nodes and one million links. This is the TNC network which we analyzed.

So he goes from there to control. How much control is how concentrated?

Disturbing data with disturbing conclusions

The talk is from 2012. It looks at the phenomenon of the great recession, the 2008 world financial crisis. But he goes into the underlying structure, and the enormous problems related to concentrated ownership and control in a very few hands.

If you want to compute the flow in an ownership network, this is what you have to do. It’s actually not that hard to understand. Let me explain by giving you this analogy. So think about water flowing in pipes where the pipes have different thickness. So similarly, the control is flowing in the ownership networks and is accumulating at the nodes. So what did we find after computing all this network control? Well, it turns out that the 737 top shareholders have the potential to collectively control 80 percent of the TNCs’ value. Now remember, we started out with 600,000 nodes, so these 737 top players make up a bit more than 0.1 percent. They’re mostly financial institutions in the U.S. and the U.K. And it gets even more extreme. There are 146 top players in the core, and they together have the potential to collectively control 40 percent of the TNCs’ value.

And what does that mean for the long-term stability, and peace, in the world? You decide. First, watch this 13-minute video. And by the way, the original is on the TED site as Who Controls the World.

Truth: Politicians and Small Business

Once again we have elections and the useless self-serving rhetoric of politicians and small business. talk about Damn, elections are heating up again. All politicians claim to speak for “small business.” As if anybody could speak for small business, given that just about the only thing business owners have in common with each other is that we have nothing in common with each other. And all candidates promise to create jobs, or to bring them back to the U.S. from other countries.

Do politicians create jobs?

Ask yourself: How does a president create jobs? How does a senator create jobs? How does congress create jobs? Think for a second about startups, entrepreneurship, and small business. Tax rates, safety rules, employee law, and of course health care affect existing small business, yes. But startup founders don’t look at tax rates and health care costs before starting – they look at the market, what they want to do, the team, the feasibility, and so forth.

So every politician claims to support small business. Have you ever heard one say no to that? Is it anything different from the American flag, apple pie, and motherhood? Damn!

And what does that mean?  They pause just a second, and then go straight into how supporting small business means voting for them. Every candidate speaks for the supposed little guy. Right? And every candidate promises to create jobs.

What bugs me a lot about politics and small business, particularly around election time, is how many people claim to speak for small business when, in fact, really, nobody does. And the numbers they spout, along with the self righteousness of it all.

What politician really speaks for small business?

Business owners don’t fit into categories and generalizations. We are as unlike, one from the other, as any other random group of people pulled together for the common factor of owning a business. We don’t have the same opinions, and we don’t need or want the same things.

Think about what we have in common: jumping off the path, maybe, doing things differently, doing our own wheels instead of being cogs in bigger wheels. Does it make sense to assume we’re all in favor of one thing or the other? I don’t think so.

And politicians don’t create jobs. People create jobs.

(Image credit: The flag, apple pie, and motherhood. From Truback, Mindstorm, and Boris Ryaposov, respectively, on Shutterstock)

Charter for Compassion

Friday video today is a pitch for compassion worldwide. The Charter for Compassion organization is rooted in the idea that compassion is at the heart of all religion, a core concept that brings humans together. Think about it: What do all organized religions have in common?

I’ve been a member since I first heard about it. Check it out at www.charterforcompassion.org. Isn’t this something every person with a conscience agrees on? A good goal?

Charter for Compassion Vision

We believe that a compassionate world is a peaceful world.

We believe that a compassionate world is possible when every man, woman and child treats others as they wish to be treated–with dignity, equity and respect.

We believe that all human beings are born with the capacity for compassion, and that it must be cultivated for human beings to survive and thrive. Join to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Embrace the compassion revolution.

Charter for Compassion Overview

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Check it out please. Good for all humanity.

 

 

 

Why All Business Has to be More Social

Are trends favoring social businesses over classic “greed is good” businesses? Is all business social business? Or, every day, more business is social? I think so. I hope so.Define_Social_Entrepreneurship

I first heard the term “social venture” in the late 1990s. Back then, social ventures were the odd exception to the norm, making money while making things better for their employees, their community and rest of the world. They sold devices to sanitize drinking water in the developing world for small profits. They sold technology to develop clean energy. They sold goods that protected the health of the less privileged in the developing world.

It’s been about two years since Harvard Business Review published “Every Business Is (or Should be) Social,” an article by Deborah Mills-Scofield. She wrote:

All businesses are social. All companies have people as customers, employees and suppliers. At some point in deciding which supplier to use, in engaging your workforce, and in getting your product into users’ hands, relationships with people matter. Improving their experiences always improves the outcome for your company.

It’s not just random change. It’s progress.

It’s not that people running businesses are more ethical or moral than they used to be. It’s because of changes in rewards and penalties for good or bad behavior. Social and technological changes are real factors.
The big change started with the Internet in the 1990s. Websites gave businesses a new and different way to reach the world. Before the World Wide Web, businesses had essentially only two ways to reach out to get people to know, like and trust them. They could pay for advertising. Or they could go through the media with public relations, events, articles, speaking opportunities and the like.

The second option depended on getting through gatekeepers: editors, event managers, producers and so forth. By the middle-to-late 1990s, businesses could generate their own website and online options to attract people and help them get to know, like and trust them.

Then came blogging. Millions of people started their own blogs. Experts established their expertise by writing and publishing blog posts and articles. The gatekeepers ceded power to the general public, the readers, search engines and the quality of content. Authors, consultants and assorted business experts established themselves independently of gatekeepers.

The finishing touch was social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social sites offered publishing for the masses, billions of opinions expressed as likes, follows and comments.

The result of these trends is what we call transparency.

In his book “The Age of the Customer,” small business advocate Jim Blasingame suggests that we’ve passed a tipping point. “You don’t control your brand,” he says, “your customers do.” And that is a shift in centuries of business reality, he adds.

And it’s because of the accumulated power of the customer as publisher in millions of tweets and updates.

Transparency means bad business behavior is more likely to result in damage to the brand. Big corporations still want to spin information toward their favor, but it’s more difficult to do.

United Airlines took a huge hit in brand image when a customer posted a video on YouTube complaining about treatment of a guitar. Clothing brand Kenneth Cole took a huge hit when its founder tweeted that riots in Cairo were caused by his firm’s new spring fashion line. When Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests, the world knew. When General Motors misplayed product recalls, the world knew.

Transparency also means that good business behavior matters more, too.

Markets care about business stories. A new local business is more effectively able to compete against big national brands because buyers know the local firm’s story and care about it. Clean energy businesses are finding buyers willing to pay more for renewable energy than fossil fuel energy. People pay more for healthy food than mass-produced food. People care about genetically modified foods, and local foods. Some customers prefer local coffee shops to Starbucks. Chain restaurants are less attractive to some than local restaurants.

As we look at business today and trends, shouldn’t all businesses be conscious of their impact on employees, customers, the environment, the economy and the world?

Isn’t it a sign of progress that when so many businesses have a social conscience that we drop the distinction between social business and just plain business? Shouldn’t good behavior be a business advantage?

I’m happy to report that I think it’s happening. Slowly and in stops and starts, progress is being made. All business should be social business.

(Note: republished with permission from my monthly column in the Eugene Register Guard Blue Chip magazine.) 

Fifty Years of Progress

Fifty years ago, a generation of college kids thought we had the power to change the world. The age of aquarius, the greening of America, the global revolution. How did we do?

Fifty years ago, back in the sixties, farsighted people started warning us all about the damage humans were doing to earth. and it happened pretty much as they warned. Climate change, species going extinct, air and water fouled. All major cities near water are planning for sea levels raising. Warnings Unheeded

Fifty years ago, back in the sixties, farsighted people started warning us that the difference between “haves” and “have-nots” was the biggest threat to the worldwide long-term peace.  Since then, we’ve made it worse. In the U.S. we changed laws, changed the tax code, and even changed politics to exaggerate the wealth of a few. Worldwide, the difference between wealthy and poor, developed and underdeveloped, got steadily worse. And technology made it visible. Is terrorism just religious extremism? Would Jihadism been able to take roots in prosperous societies with jobs for all?

Fifty years ago, back in the sixties, laws and courts changed to outlaw blatant racism. Institutional racism became illegal with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related legislation. The courts and the presidents desegregated the schools. And yes, of course things got better. We don’t have institutional racism like we did. We elected a black president. But don’t we also have a serious relapse of open racism, now called, simply, “not politically correct?”

Fifty years ago, back in the sixties, women’s liberation became a movement. Women demanded equal opportunity. Yes, of course things are better now, but how much? There’s still a salary gap and a glass ceiling. Fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Fewer than 20% of US legislators are women. 7 percent of investing partners at the top 100 venture and micro-venture firms are women.

Conclusion: Generation X, Millennials, take the baton. And good luck.

(Image: Shutterstock)

 

 

Rant: The Insidious Power of Political Code Phrases

Angry MobWe all use language as weapons and we’re victims of political code phrases that manipulate and distort. One classic example is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist. Or the battle of pro-life vs. pro-choice. What does “Wall Street” mean these days? We speak in codes and use words as weapons.  And I ask you to step back for a brief pause, and consider some new code. The power of language matters.

Jihadist vs. Muslim or Islam

Take this test: Take the more aggressive anti-Muslim or anti-Islamic statements in national politics over the last few months, and substitute the world “jihadist” for either “Muslim” or “Islamic.” See what happens to the statement. Doesn’t it improve the discussion notably?

If you use the word “jihadist,” you are talking about people who are deadly enemies to us an billions of other people, most nations, and most societies in the world.

If, on the other hand, you use the words “Muslim” or “Islamic” instead, then you make 1.6 billion people your enemy, and you are making their faith the delimiter. Then you’ve fallen into the trap of letting fear override principle. When you are talking specifically about politics and policy in this country, if you suggest policies based on religion you’ve lost track of what we stand for. Religious freedom is probably our most hallowed principle. That’s what got the pilgrims into those boats.

Bigotry vs. “politically incorrect” 

Our usage has devolved to cloaking bigotry as merely “not politically correct” or “not PC.” People should be ashamed to espouse racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious hatred; but lately, if they just refer to so-called political correctness, they aren’t. They treat “not PC” as simply honest, or, worse still, failing to fall victim to some useless conventions.

How did this happen? When did we let these code word trivialize bigotry?

The meaning devolved. It started a couple of decades ago with comedians – Bill Maher and Jeff Foxworthy come to mind immediately – making fun of what they called political correctness. We all understood, back then, that they were poking fun at exaggerations, or so it seemed; but we didn’t think they were seriously advocating bigotry.

Fast forward to now, and the usage is often cloaking bigotry now. It’s as if discrimination against Mexicans, Muslims, LGBT, and others is okay if you just call it “not PC” and give it a wink and a nod. For my two cents, I’d like to live in a society in which ethnic, racial, or religious slurs are still inappropriate. And I worry that we’re sanitizing them.

Clean Air and Water vs. Bureaucracy and Red Tape

One thing all politicians agree on is that they all favor small business and oppose bureaucracy and red tape that affects small business. That’s as universal as motherhood and apple pie. On the other hand, if you don’t have bureaucracy and red rape, you don’t have clean air, clean water, industrial safety, widespread health care, maternity leave, and so on.

Portland (Oregon) was aghast a few weeks ago to discover that a couple very small businesses making colored glass for artists, located in residential neighborhoods, have been spewing poisonous gas into the local air for decades. Nobody knew. They were too small to require environmental screening. The owners weren’t evil, according to the reporting I’ve seen; they just didn’t know. And what would have made the difference here? Exactly what we call bureaucracy and red tape.

Isn’t it also true that the poisoned water in Flint MI is related to a breakdown in enforcement of rules? Now experts are saying hundreds of other cities in the US have similar problems, but we just don’t know it.

I look at this problem as a business owner. My wife and kids and I own a business that employs more than 60 people. We didn’t inherit it, either; we created it from scratch and grew it without investment.We mortgaged our house and took risks when we had to. But we also breathe the air and drink the water, and we share the community, so we never objected to tax on profits or regulations that keep the community safe.

Conclusion: The Danger of Diluting Meaning

This post is about language, not political candidates. As our U.S. politics become increasingly divisive, it’s as if we are divided into two warring armies, in trenches, tossing code phrases at each other like soldiers in trenches would throw grenades or shoot bullets. Where once we sought facts to resolve issues, now we gather around phrases that hide facts. It’s like shouting instead of talking, without the listening and reflecting that leads to common ground and shared truth somewhere in the middle.

(Image: Flickr CC by daliborlev)