This article is an excerpt from a book written by me about twenty years ago called "Pragmatic Spirituality for a Progressive and Humane Society." A book (pages 250 in English) to help third world countries to put together a politico-cultural manifesto for progressive evolution.
PROMOTING EFFECTIVE BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGICAL CULTURES
A culture with little or no business sense usually is lower than third rate, and somewhat correlates with that of a Third World society, or even less. That is the case of many –X-realm societies. Outsiders whose cultures have a superior sense of commerce often economically exploit a society with a simplistic culture. At the beginning of the twentieth century, many of the –X-realm societies were still basically simple agrarian societies with feudal-like political systems, or were under the colonialists, or heartless landowners, or have an authoritarian type of anti-material religion, and had no inherited keen sense for commerce. The mainstream commerce was, and usually still is, is in the hands of business-minded outsiders. It is thus very important that –X-realm societies recognize their cultural shortcomings and make systematic and serious effort to educate and institute a strong business sense into their cultures. Those that do not do so, belong to deficient cultures. However, it may also be possible to address such deficiencies by working out honorable business arrangements with fair-minded outside investors willing to accept a WIN-WIN coexistence. Below, we will explore some of the basics associated with understanding how to acquire a business culture.
The backbone of a culture is usually its language and its value and belief-systems. It is of no surprise that a business culture has its own language and vocabulary for conducting trade, just as a military culture has a command language for putting into action their strategies and tactics. The usage of business-related terminology and happenings are commonly heard within a businessperson's home. Such an environment is quite usual for those from families with business traditions for more than one generation, and who are constantly exposed to business related thoughts and practices. They are far better prepared to be aware of and able to perceive the characteristics of business-related common sensibilities and realities. In addition, the communities and the societies with strong business cultures have successfully established networks often even globally to provide expanded awareness of the commercial world. Such societies usually have business schools that teach the ABCs of business sense, starting from the secondary school level, if not earlier.
It is of no wonder that a person from a non-business culture usually in general, cannot compete in business with those from a community or society with a strong business cultural tradition, fully supported by an effective network of educational and banking systems. The family or the society of the non-business culture can offer very little meaningful business-oriented guidance, or resources, and more often than not, their traditional culture or religion gets in the way of what make good business sense. They tend to be too narrow in their outlook and simply do not have, and do not know how to acquire the discipline or the strength of character required for business SAMADHI and to be competitive in the market arena, and also effectively coping with the peculiarities of such societies.
Since a particular people is mainly defined by its language and its idea-systems, once the language of the dominating business community is no longer that of the indigenous people, it is only a matter of time before the common people belongs mainly to the under-class. For example, in such a situation, many decent jobs within business communities are managed by non-indigenous people, and a person will have to learn their language to get a decent job in his own native land. If that state of affair remains unchecked, it is a clear indication that the belief dominated idea-system of the under-class is incapable of teaching its members how to gain the appropriate values and SAMADHI for meaningful growth in the here-and-now. Good traditional values that they may even have, are then in real danger of being lost for good.
In the beginning of history, societies conducted only simple types of transactions like bartering or selling the agricultural produce from the land around at the local marketplace. As those societies developed, they established farms that produced plant and animal produces such as grains, vegetables, milk, eggs, meats, etc. Several centuries later, men set up stores to sell such goods. To do that efficiently, coin currency of precious metals, a form of money, was developed as a more effective media of exchange for merchandise. The people who ran such stores had to know basic math. The coin currency allowed comparative values of goods to be efficiently established and easily carried around in containers. It also opened up trading with merchants from distant lands, dealing in goods such as wines, spices, metals, and manufactured merchandise that were not easily perishable. As sea-going technology improved, trade with far away countries was no longer restricted to slow and inefficient caravan routes, and the beginning of the mercantile trading era soon followed. It hastened the end of the medieval feudal organization in Western Europe. The modern form of accounting also evolved soon after.
Mercantilism is an economic policy of the major European trading nations from the 16th to the 18th century, based on the idea that increasing exports and collecting precious metals in return maximizes national wealth and power. Under that policy, a state government exercised much control over economic life by regulating production, encouraging foreign trade, levying duties on imports to gain revenue, making treaties to obtain exclusive trading privileges, and exploiting the commerce of their oversea colonies. Laws and tax systems were developed to support mercantilism. Many non-Western European civilizations based nations failed to develop such a system about that time, and were essentially mired in some kind of a feudal form of government, and consequently persisted with unprogressive organizational methods and technologies, and totally missing the industrial revolution that came during the 18th century. Japan was the only exception to this, having managed to catch up from behind at the turn of the 20th century with the help of Western powers that wanted to check the eastward expansion of Imperial Russia.
For those nations or societies whose governments failed to modernize around the mercantile or the industrial revolution eras, we need to differentiate the societies that already had a strong manufacturing and trading tradition and those which did not. The Chinese, for example, had such a tradition. Although they suffered from generations upon generations of unenlightened governments since about the 15th century, they had already established a very strong family- and clan-oriented business culture that was independent of state sponsored or developed modernization programs. In fact, their clan based business culture was strong enough to withstand the duress often exerted by the local despots. The family or clan based businesses were usually small to medium in size and incapable of developing new capital-intensive advanced large scale technology based enterprises. The Chinese already had local money lending systems and codes of conduct for doing business, and ways to enforce such codes in the absence of developed state-instituted banking systems and business laws. And this know-how was taught at their community secondary schools and within the clans. About the same time, some people from the Middle and Near East (of civilizations that were in close proximity to the “silk road” caravan route) also had similar business cultures. They were and are capable of successfully doing business in any part of the world if given the opportunity to do so, even if and when their own original countries are languishing economically.
In the past, European colonialists especially did not want non-Europeans to gain modern technology. Many East Asian nations were able to acquire the knowledge essential for modernizing their economy only after World War II, with the dissolution of the European empires and because of the threat of Communism taking over economically weak societies, technological know-how from USA was made available much easier to help improved their economy. They are now beginning to emerge as major forces within the global economy.
A brave new business world is now emerging where every nation can be a player in more leveled internationalized economic playing fields. With the advent of affordable computers now, the ways of doing business continue to evolve at a faster pace than ever before. Yet there are societies that missed the mercantile era, the industrial revolution, the business and technology fallout from the ideological cold war and shooting wars that were fought globally, and the current rapidly-developing computer assisted era. They have simply failed to learn to do business the modern way. Unless their leaders are capable of promoting the many kinds of business SAMADHI that their people need to have to modernize the vital aspects of their cultures, only the upper strata and their cronies will prosper, and the rest of the populace and the environment will end up being exploited. A weak middle class may exist, but the upper stratum is relatively safe from any effective political challenges from below. Little do they realize how vulnerable their countries are without a strong middle class, and yet, with rest of the world that continues to evolve rapidly.
Our discussion will continue with the subject of money, especially for the benefit of those not familiar with the basics of a business culture. Money can be in various forms of media and is used for the exchange of goods and services. A working definition of money is that money is anything that is generally acceptable in payment for goods and services and in settlement of debt. At present, using the United States as an example, most of the money is in the form of demand deposits, such as checks and credit cards. Then there are so-called time deposits such as saving accounts in banks, share accounts in saving and loan associations, U.S. Saving bonds, U.S. Treasury bills, etc. They are also known as near-money, as they can be converted back to currency at face values after a set time. Then, there is the near-near-money such as bonds and shares of private corporations, whose values can fluctuate up or down from their purchase prices. The economics of money, the way in which banking systems create money, how the money stock is controlled etc., requires considerable study and is well outside the scope of this book. Then there is money in terms of coins and currencies, the kind that the people of a less developed country generally know money as. People with good business sense know the value of money, how to generate money, how to keep track of it, how to save it, how not to spend it carelessly, and how to invest it wisely. Following is a more detailed discussion of these simple and basic key concepts of business involving money.
Suppose there are two carpenters, one from a business (let us call him "Max") cultural background and another from a culture without (we will call him "Min."). Both of them were hired to help build a local high school. Max went to work, taking along his work clothes and a lunch pack. He changed clothes once he got to the workplace. At lunchtime, he ate his nutritious home cooked meal. He changed back to normal clothes after work and then bicycled back home. Min went to work using public transportation and with the same clothes that he normally wears. Because they were not durable enough to work in, he needed a new set of clothes often. He did not bring his own lunch, and instead ate at nearby food stalls. Of course, the imported beer and other enticing food products that he saw at the stalls had to be sampled. He also freely donated part of his income to religious organizations with which he was affiliated, and because in his simple culture, he was taught that it would help him attain a better hereafter. His simple culture did not provide much guidance as to how he might prudently established a saving plan and how he might contribute to solving the real-world here-and-now needs of his family and improve their lot in the here and now. His understanding was that the only chance he had to donate was when he has money coming in, and that was only when he has a job. At the end of the school building project, Max managed to save a tidy sum of money. His knowledge of the value of money was demonstrated by his knowing the value of resources and the importance of conserving them. He also knew that acquired resources would add up if he stays frugal. After about three years of working on building projects, he saved enough to start up his own construction firm in partnership with another enterprising person like himself. On the other hand, Min found that at the end of the school project, even though his old debts were settled, they were “somehow” replaced by new debts, so he sold his carpentry tools to take care of those debts. He felt that he could always borrow from high-interest money lenders to purchase the tools again when he would need them for his next job. It does not require too much intelligence to see that Min and his descendants probably will not amount to much, whereas Max and his family will continue to improve their lot in life.
Keeping good account is second nature of every capable business person. Smart business people keep good track of where and what state their money is in. They know where they are making money and what expenses are being incurred. Many small business people often have to do their own bookkeeping late into the night. Every significant transaction must be written down, dated, and signed-off with an appropriate signature, even when family members are involved. Keeping an accurate ledger helps keep disagreements regarding debts to a minimum, and helps debts to be systematically collected or paid off in a timely manner. Nonpayment of debt or chronic late payment of debts is a major violation of the business ethic, and the business community shuns such people. Violators of the business code of ethics will soon find themselves deprived of the advantages of belonging to business guilds. They may also have problems with the law, or even with the dark side of business that employs forceful or violent actions. Each business community has its own set of rules that its members implicitly or explicitly agree to uphold and collectively enforce. They must do their best to ensure that those rules are fair, pragmatic, and realistic, and the members must live up seriously to them. Many non-business cultures are weak in establishing or upholding any pragmatic or realistic rules needed for an economic system.
Belonging to a business community has many advantages. Businesspeople normally operate within a business community of a township or a city that in turn is networked to other business communities that may mutually provide each other with information, especially of market trends, referral of personnel, communication with the appropriate and influential people, and the acquisition and marshaling of resources. Accurate and timely information is essential for product manufacturing, merchandising, and market surveying. There are many special skills and experience needed in the world of commerce. The networked business community collates the related information. Larger business cultures encompass the many local business communities that are networked together.
One of the most valuable entities in the world of commerce is a modern, experienced, businessperson. A successful businessperson has a very keen sense of the market, where and how he can satisfy its hunger, and how he and others together could shape it or make it grow. He normally has business SAMADHI, and the related attributes are essentially the same as those listed by Gunner Myrdal, as reproduced in Chapter 14, "The World of Will and Men." It is shown below again with a slight modification shown in italics.
- Scrupulous honesty
- Rationality in decisions on actions
- Preparedness for change
- Alertness to opportunities as they arise in a changing market
- Energetic enterprise
- Integrity and self-reliance
- Willingness to take the long view
A modern businessperson is not just a trader. He may be well educated and well trained in many disciplines beside business itself. He may be a computer scientist or a teacher. A person can be successful in business by effectively trading in established markets and making a steady profit, or he can be successful by taking advantage of new technologies and market opportunities either through new marketing techniques or new products. The best rates of return are seen by those businesses that use or invent advanced methodologies and technologies.
Unscrupulous people can also be successful at business by exploiting others. For example, in some countries, through lobbying the legislative branch of the local, or national government, public housing or public transportation is kept inadequately developed and the populace is forced to buy expensive houses, cars, and insurance for which they otherwise would not need to use up their capital. Such unscrupulous men and women cannot be considered bona fide business people. A populace aware of its moral rights will get organized and oppose such forms of exploitation and waste of resources, and would insist that questionable businesses clean up their acts, just as in some societies, they have to clean the environment of the pollutants that they generate.
Businesspersons who practice Pragmatic Spirituality and shun exploitative and predatory practices are among the most valuable members of an enlightened community. They are the wealth-makers that every society must promote. We will discuss them more in Part III. Switzerland is a fine example of a country that is tiny and has very limited natural resources, yet its well-developed human resources of businesspeople, highly educated professionals, and technologists have established it among the nations with the highest per capita income and living standards.
Resources have to be systematically organized to effectively run any sizable operation. The talents, skills, expertise, integrity, and endurance of the members of an organization are important resources. If the core of the business is people-dependent, like a football organization for instance, human resources are cultivated to the maximum. On the other hand, for a business such as offshore oil drilling, the management will be most concerned with finding and exploiting natural resources for the greatest profits. To do so, effective assemblage of both the required specialists and technologies is imperative. Huge amounts of funding resources usually have to be raised to finance giant business undertakings. Acquisition of capital is normally done through some kind of banking or stock marketing systems. The business culture of a nation must have adequate integrity and safeguards to attract bona-fide investors.
In some –X-realm societies, so-called investors from abroad exploit the natural resources or the available cheap labor in a way that is worse than when some of the –X-realm lands were under the colonialists. Some governments with little or no SAMADHI are only concerned with the well-being of themselves, their families and their close friends. Transportation and communication infrastructures have hardly developed any further after independence from the colonialists. People with SAMADHI who are aware of their moral rights will work toward rejecting the so-called investors that really strive to suck the wealth out of their countries and in the process, ruin the environment and the non-replaceable natural resources and getting returns that are clearly below the fair-market prices. Worst of all, many of these investors neglect to systematically develop the human and natural resources and general well-being of a nation.
Organizations must have intellectual, material, and financial capital. The organization with greater capital in every department will prevail above others in a highly competitive world. An organization must be very clear about which are the most important resource components for meeting its goals, and where it can get and how can it assemble the needed resources with the correct features, quality, and quantity. If funds are borrowed, a clear schedule of how those loans are to be paid back is required. All that must be done by taking advantage of prevailing market windows, and hopefully making a worthwhile profit at the end of the day. The economy of a modern society depends to a very large degree upon the government with the ability to organize capital, labor, and technology competitively, and to generate products in an integrated economic system. Much also depends on the spirit and drive of the entrepreneurs themselves.
As we have mentioned before, since the Mercantile era, a progressive state government has exercised much control over economic life by regulating production, encouraging foreign trade, levying duties on imports to gain revenue, making treaties to obtain exclusive trading privileges, etc. That usually means the government, the financial and the business elites of the society, the politicians, and the labor unions, must work closely to make sound economic decisions. Sound economic policy of the government means it must be accountable and capable of establishing an effective and fair-minded legislative body to come up with good laws to coordinate many special interest groups. It also requires keeping monopolies under control, not letting the lobbying process off balance and thereby allowing unjust practices, arranging incentives to stimulate the economy, etc. Keeping inflation under control is a major responsibility of any government. Insufficient control will cause severe difficulties to operate a modern banking system. Without a sound banking system, it is not easy to set up an effective tax system. Without an effective tax system, the government cannot raise enough income to fuel the governmental machinery. Printing more paper money than is economically sound means inflation, followed by a vicious circle of economic crises. Societies and governments must have the economic Will – single-mindedness to successfully cut off any vicious cycle and cooperate appropriately to build a healthier national economy.
Open and honest discourse about labor rates with responsible and realistic labor unions should be encouraged. Income for the working class must not only be sufficient for mere survival, but if the people are reasonably frugal, they must be able to save a significant percentage of it. All of these factors must be in harmony with the (realistic) economic production possibility curve. The government, the financiers, and workers should constantly keep in their minds the adjustment of major economic parameters (indices) necessary to maintain a gradual and upward productivity level and a stronger economy.
Most countries that lack a pragmatic business culture and have missed several chances to modernize themselves still need to lay the pre-modern legal, banking, and stock market foundations. These foundations may include having a civil service with personal integrity and SAMADHI, a realistic wage structure that rewards people appropriately; a sense of fair-play by those who have power or wealth, a sound functional higher educational system, and the pragmatic planning and systematic buildup of community, society, and national infrastructures. Likely economic growth areas must be provided with knowledge, technology, and capital. Planning must be realistic regarding time and resources and the availability of experienced planners and implementers to realize the various reform and modernization programs with realistic rates of development.
What we have described so far of the basics of a business culture is only the tip of an iceberg so to speak. Markets may sometimes be manipulated to be unnaturally hostile, or investment resources interdicted by unfriendly foreign-powers, and a country’s economic model may have to be modified to consider such extraneous problems in addition to the core economic and political models employed. Therefore, there can be a real need to pay attention to international power politicking, especially by super powers with covert if not overt plans for regional or world domination.
We have not said much about how this very important and complex business related culture may be blended in to an existing culture in which it is lacking. We will defer those discussions to Part III. Meanwhile, we may mention here that only a people subscribing to an equitable and humane political culture is likely to affect meaningful progress. Above all, they must recognize that they will have to initially work within windows-of-possibilities of quite narrow margins, and must acquire the economic and the political Will, the SAMADHI, and the patience to welcome and assimilate a business culture that benefits all.
The materialistic here-and-now powers are the lifeblood of a worthwhile life in this material based existence. To be anti-materialistic, as some religions advocate, is asking for a bad bleeding session. Anyone who lives through one will have no difficulty with his choice for a pro- or an anti-materialistic culture. There is absolutely no fun in being anemic physically or economically. However, we can over value materialism to the point of worshipping it and jeopardizing the general health of the entire society. That is why it is important that materialism be kept in balance with the help of a positive sense of spirituality. ☼