Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Informative 5-star review on Amazon of "The Age of Responsibility"

5.0 out of 5 stars - A fine and fascinating book, 1 April 2011

By Dr Mike (UK) (Amazon TOP 500 REVIEWER)

Link to review online

I have read quite a lot about the recent financial collapse and feared that this would be yet another overview and analysis of these events. However, I was pleased to find that it was much more than that.

The first part of the book is a summary of various ways that firms conduct themselves. the author sees these as evolutionary stages, but whether or not you agree with that is irrelevant, because you can read without that assumption.

Stage one is Greed. The firm works solely for its own profit, and this is justified by the trickle-down theory of wealth, which, from the examples given, appears not to be working too well. There are some obscene case studies here, such as Barings, Enron, Lehman Brothers, WorldCom and even the Dutch East India Company. Although executive greed is generally mentioned here, the same greed pervades the whole company structure, financial markets and banking too.

Stage two is Philanthropy, and is exemplified by Carnegie, Rockefeller, Buffet and Bill Gates giving most of their personal fortunes back to society. This exemplifies the trickle-down theory of wealth, but is at the cost of what their companies have done to society and the environment in the first place. Also, of course, too few companies or individuals do what Gates has done: most hang on to their wealth or distribute it only to their higher ranking employees.

Stage three is Marketing. One has only to look at oil, gas and tobacco to see examples "greenwashing" the worst exploits of a company to make it appear that all is well and good. Lobbying is the primary tool used.

Stage four is Management. Cadbury is an example of a firm that put welfare and sustainability at the forefront and to challenge the supremacy of shareholders in governing the direction a firm takes.

Stage five is Responsibility. Here a company tries to build sustainability into itself, as in Interface.

The author then builds a new model for Corporate Sustainable Responsibility (CSR 2.0) which builds on the mistakes inherent in the original CSR (CSR 1.0). This uses ideas such as Creativity, Scalability, Responsiveness, Glocality (think global, act local) and Circularity.

The whole book is buzzing with ideas, and would be worth buying just for the ten case histories examined in detail. Whether you are a die-hard capitalist or communist you will, I think, get a lot out of reading this book. It is all too easy to distort the message of capitalism and over simplify the issues of wealth distribution, pollution and sustainability into the mantra "capitalism works". Yes, it creates wealth, but society has to moderate its worst excesses just as it needs to do that for any individual in society. After all, a company has rights, by law, and should therefore have responsibilities too.

This is one of the best books I have read in the past year. Thoroughly recommended!