Even accounting for wars and famine and such our understanding of wealth has been reasonably stable since the development of agriculture.
It wasn’t ever really all that mysterious. There were a small number of haves and then the rest of us are the have-nots.
Wealth -or other system capacity- was accumulated in a more or less regular pattern of growth followed by harvest.
Even expansionist military economies like Imperial Rome followed a similar pattern as inflowing booty relied on regular campaigns which relied on good weather to wage them. War itself has seasons.
And so our prosperity spirits acquired a sense of immovability… regularity. (Ever wonder why so many bank logos use Graeco-Roman columns?) The male ones were kingly and static… the female ones fecund and dependable.
But sometime in the early twentieth century, as a result of the perfect storm that was global war, the resulting incorporation of women into the workforce and the ruling powers’ panicked, self-serving reaction to the Bolshevik revolution the demarcating lines inside the triangle slipped… a bit.
What followed was something unprecedented in the history of money: thanks almost exclusively to sound government policy that has been systematically dismantled over the last three decades, we had a couple of generations of free education, affordable housing, stable employment, easy access to healthcare and widespread boosts in overall prosperity (for straight, white people in western countries). It was the closest we will probably ever get to a genuine meritocracy.
We no longer live in that world. Ask yourself honestly, does the group-soul/archetype of wealth in the twentieth century look more like Lakshmi or Azathoth?
Last year in the UK there was much talk about new regulation to reign in the investment banking arms of global financial institutions because “they had gone feral”. There can be no better descriptive term. Except it’s not just the investment banking industry that has gone feral… it is the entire corporate world. From James:
From beginning of the startup until the time I left my job was about 1.5 years. Give it time. I feel like the world is in a startup frenzy right now. Relax. Corporate America as has been traditionally is now officially dead. There’s no safety there. There’s only hustling now. Always have ideas and you’ll eventually be able to leave the day job.
Emphasis mine. Even in the public sector there are no more jobs for life. If you stick around at your job for long enough to get that gold watch the only thing you are going to get is redundancy. And one way or another it is going to get even more chaotic, even less predictable.
There really is only hustling now.
The man behind the curtain has been revealed. Values like loyalty and stability are utterly vanished.
Only genuine psychopaths make it to the top of the corporate ladder (at the expense of everything else in their life), there is zero correlation between CEO pay and personal performance. (There is actually -with few exceptions- very little correlation between different CEOs and company performance. Read this book for more.)
Just because great swathes of the white collar world have gone feral doesn’t mean you should avoid it.
In fact, if you’re like me that’s a financial impossibility. (I definitely put the ‘slave’ in ‘wage slave’.)
What it means is your tactics and -crucial to the point of this post- companions need to change. A suitable metaphor can be found in the lives of our ancestors during the end of the last ice age. The climate was changing rapidly. This meant a changed hunting landscape and changed prey behaviour. It did not mean the end of the hunt.
The workplace as you know it is your hunting ground. (Unless you are in fact a hunter in which case that last sentence is reversed. In which case I have few suggestions for you. Maybe check your email or something. Hey, where do you buy those duck whistle things?)
What you need to ask yourself in this severely disrupted, explosive landscape is whether you need Alan Greenspan’s god or Mark Zuckerberg’s? Think long and hard about this because you are fighting your own brain here. According to a recent study by University College London we are hard-wired for the upside:
When given good news — i.e., a bad outcome is not as likely as you thought — people responded strongly. But given bad news, they tended to change their prediction only a little bit. Importantly, distinct brain regions seemed to be related to prediction errors for good and bad news about the future. Interestingly, the more optimistic a participant was the less efficiently one of these regions coded for undesirable information. Thus, the bias in how errors are processed in the brain can account for the tendency to maintain rose-colored views.
When choosing your spirit companions you are going to naturally gravitate toward the Lakshmian end of the spectrum. Even now your brain is resisting my earnest entreaties to find a being with a little more blood thirst. But please, the rules have drastically changed so pick a hunter to go hunting with you.
Because power and access to wealth has changed. Now billionaires ride scooters down hallways to meeting rooms that don’t have any chairs while Her Majesty takes the train to Christmas dinner. This is not the era of spectral kings. This is the era of the network, the crowd… the pack.
UPDATE: Found this amazing article about business flux through Penelope Trunk. Hail chaos.