Last week, Simon and Schuster published a provocative new business book that flew to the # 3 spot in the best-seller list revealed in the 9/27/2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal.
The book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate, written by Naomi Klein, is a certain selection for one of us at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Watch our web site for the exact month we will present this one.
Who is Naomi Klein? She was educated at the University of Toronto, and is known as a social activist due to her criticism of corporate globalization and her candid political analyses. She is only 44 years old, and became well known in business circles with her 2007 New York Times best-seller, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador). In that book, she argued that those who wish to implement unpopular free market policies do so by taking advantage of particular societal segments following major disasters, including political, economic, military, or natural varieties. Her analysis was that when a society experiences a major ‘shock,’ a widespread desire for a rapid and decisive response to correct the situation follows. In the light of that desire for swift action, unethical and unscrupulous individuals have opportunities to implement policies that are self-serving and illegitimate. The shock doctrine allows such responses, including manufactured policy changes, to go into immediate effect.
You can read an interview published on September 25, 2014, on Slate.com, about her new book, by clicking here. Note that the bottom of the interview contains two important corrections.
In This Changes Everything, Klein argues that the climate crisis provides a challenge for us to abandon free-market thinking, restructure the global economy, and rethink current political systems.
This descriptive paragraph about the book comes from Amazon.com: “Climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism.“
And, later on the same site, “Klein argues that the changes to our relationship with nature and one another that are required to respond to the climate crisis humanely should not be viewed as grim penance, but rather as a kind of gift—a catalyst to transform broken economic and cultural priorities and to heal long-festering historical wounds. And she documents the inspiring movements that have already begun this process: communities that are not just refusing to be sites of further fossil fuel extraction but are building the next, regeneration-based economies right now.”
You can bet this book will produce many stimulating conversations. Watch the major editorial pages of national business magazines and newspaper sections. I am sure that some will include personal attacks on her own credibility. Time will tell what is actually true.
Remember that we do not select books to present at the First Friday Book Synopsis that we agree with. And, we don’t try to get you to agree with the books we select. We are merely reporters – transferring the information in an objective manner from the author to our audience.
But, when we do this one, I would sure like to stand in the hallway to listen to our attendees talk about it.
Is this the pendulum going the other way? If so, it’s probably too early to tell what this means – but it may mean a lot. One thing it may mean – China is producing more of its goods for the people of…China.
While trade has rebounded from its lows, the volume is nowhere near its peak. In September, the combined total of U.S. imports and exports was 24 percent below the level of July 2008. Countries stung by the sudden drop-off in demand from foreign buyers have realized that they can no longer simply export their way to prosperity. China’s exports fell 23 percent between August 2008 and August 2009. Smart investors are channeling resources to companies that produce domestic goods for domestic markets.
And this “deglobalization” reminds us that though America may not be in decline, the rest of the world is rsing.
He ends his article this way:
In November, Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, one of the states hit hardest by globalization, showed up at a corporate campus in Milford, a suburb of Cincinnati, to celebrate the fact that Tata Consultancy Services, the Indian outsourcing giant, now employed 300 workers at its North America Domestic Delivery Center. The outsourcer has become an in-sourcer. Perhaps we’re not seeing deglobalization, but rather, reglobalization.
“I’ve had enough unchosen encounters with poverty in my lifetime to know it’s not a place you would want to visit for touristic purposes; it just smells too much like fear..”
Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America)
It was August, 2001, when I presented my synopsis of Barbara Ehrenreich’s best-selling book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. It was a devastating description of the life actually lived by the lowest paid workers among us. This accomplished woman lived a year of her life as one of “them,” working as a waitress, a cleaning woman at a motel, and a WalMart Associate. She always had her own money to fall back on (though, if my memory serves me, she only did so once), so she admitted that she wasn’t truly as “desperate” as the ones she worked along side of, but her account is a gripping, moving tale of the way so many of our fellow citizens live.
And things have only gotten worse since then – for many. Poverty rates have climbed, and even with the recent raise in the minimum wage, many workers live literally at the edge. Ms. Ehrenreich wrote an op-ed piece in June for the New York Times entitled Too Poor to Make the News that is worth reading.
This morning, Slate.com has an article about “The 18 Books You’ll Be Reading About This Fall,” entitled When Stars Align: So Bright You’ll Need Sunglasses. I immediately went to the non-fiction portion of the list, and discovered a new Barbara Ehrenriech book, coming out in October: Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.
It’s hard to argue against optimism. But sometimes, a failure to be realistic can have some pretty serious consequences. Here is a line about the book (from the Amazon site):
Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where, as Ehrenreich shows, the refusal even to consider negative outcomes—like mortgage defaults—contributed directly to the current economic crisis.
I don’t know that this book will fit what we typically choose for the First Friday Book Synopsis. But it might. And I am pretty sure I will present it for the Urban Engagement Book Club for Central Dallas Ministries after it comes out. This I know – I will read the book, with interest. Barbara Ehrenrich is a disturbing author. That is one of the more important functions of a good business book. Or, as Seth Godin put it, “I read in search of disquiet.” (I blogged about this here).
When I read this book, I expect to be disquieted.
• You can order my synopsis of Nickel and Dimed, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.
The Long Tail is a great concept in our ever expanding, internet connected world. In this book (originally an article), Chris Anderson explained clearly that the market is now almost unending. Exhibit A was Amazon. The vast majority of what they sell (in books) is available at Border’s or Barnes&Noble. But, much can be made from the 20% or so that is not stocked in such physical bookstores. This “Long Tail” is the market available from the rest of the world who find you in other ways, especially the internet. (You can purchase my synopsis, audio + handout, of The Long Tail here).
His long awaited new book comes out in July: Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Here’s the summary from Amazon: “in Free, he makes the compelling case that in many instances businesses can profit more from giving things away than they can by charging for them. Far more than a promotional gimmick, Free is a business strategy that may well be essential to a company’s survival.” You can read the Wired article, Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business that launched his concept here.
The idea is simple enough. Give something away free, give a lot away free, and they will come back for more, and they will willingly pay for the more.
It makes sense. And I know that what we give away can spark interest, generate followership, and maybe produce a long-term relationship with a customer. But even before the book hits, the criticism has started. And the first question is blunt and to the point: if free is such a good idea, and if Chris Anderson is the editor of Wired, why doesn’t he give Wired away free? James Ledbetter provides this criticism in his Slate/The Big Money article: Free to Be Ignored.
Ledbetter is doubtful that the business model works. And he’s got a lot of reason to be so doubtful. We are reading nearly daily that the newspaper as we know it is in great jeopardy. The rumblings have begin that the Kindle, and unknown future such devices, might put “printed books” out of business. And if we think that alarm is too early, let’s remember that we have only had the internet 15 years — and it took just over a dozen years for people to realize that the free content of news was ultimately a threat to the news gathering business. (To put it simply, if news is free, who will pay the reporters to gather the stories and dig into the corners and crevices of our society — in other words, to practice journalism?) On-line music sites have greatly crushed the profits from what used to be called record sales. All of this proves that free works in one way — people like to get stuff free. But free may not bring in enough money on the back end.
(And, by the way, Wired does give much of its content away. I read Free for free on-line).
I write this with few answers— just questions. I really don’t know what will happen. I’m a firm believer in “free.” I have spoken for free, I have sent handouts to people for free, as have many who do what I do. But I can’t give it all away for free.
So where is free going? We all watch and wait.
(By the way, I’m certain that either Karl or I will present a synopsis of Free pretty soon after its publication – and yes, we will pay actual money for a hard copy of the book Free. Probably from Amazon.com).
Normally, I spring from a business book in these posts. But here is an article by Daniel Gross from Slate.com that is worth a look.
We all know the recession is tough. And for many businesses, including the chain restaurants, the recession has been really, really tough. But one chain is thriving even in the midst of the recession. The chain is P. F. Chang’s. In The Secrets of Chang: The Recession is Killing Chain Restaurants, we learn some key reasons.
Here are some excerpts:
“Co-CEO Rick Federico says that in early 2008, when traffic first softened, management went through “all elements of our business that don’t touch our guests or our product” in a search for efficiencies.
P.F. Chang’s made it to $1 billion in sales by taking cues from successful Asian businesses. Now by focusing on process improvement rather than helter-skelter growth, it seems to be doing so again. Continuous improvement, the philosophy pioneered by Japanese companies such as Toyota in which managers and workers relentlessly seek out small modifications that add up to big profits, seems to be the recipe for success in 2009.”
Note the focus on continuous improvement. And note the untouchable portion — nothing would be changed that would lower the quality of the product or the experiences of the guest (the customer).
And so we ask: How can we do things tomorrow better than we are doing them today? And then, the day after tomorrow, what can we find next that we can improve? Or, how can we find further improvements even in areas we have already “improved?”
It is hard work to keep asking where/how can I be better? It is hard work to keep getting better. Most business books point us to these questions. And sometimes, we have to put aside the reading, at least for a while, and tackle making the actual changes.