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The Steady-State Theory
Written October 14, 2003

Alla rondo

I always thought that each of us has something in which we excel.  We should find it and spend the rest of our lives doing to the best of our ability that which we were meant to do.  Perhaps I've been naïve.

Before the 20th century, children usually grew up learning the family business, often farming.  When they became adults, they became farmers.  Or if the family business wasn't for them, they'd learn some other trade.  They became schoolteachers or doctors or shopkeepers or whatever, and they practiced that profession for the rest of their lives.

However, it doesn't always work like that nowadays.

A friend of mine earned his MBA degree and joined a public accounting firm, which provided auditing services to other corporations called clients.

If I correctly recall his explanation of public accounting, new employees were known as Junior Auditors and had a certain range of duties.  After a couple of year's experience, they became Senior Auditors and took on some management responsibilities.  The best Seniors eventually were promoted to Managers, and the best Managers became Partners in the firm.

Of course, the firm needed many lower-level workers but only a few Partners.  So it seemed logical that employees would rise to the level that suited them best and then remain there.  A typical auditor might spend 40 years as a Senior, becoming very good at his job.

But my friend said that this wasn't the case.  In public accounting, a Senior who failed to make Manager within a few years was expected to resign!  He then typically would have to find a position in the audit department of some client corporation and start trying to climb that ladder. 

I always thought that each of us has something in which we excel.  We should find it and spend the rest of our lives doing to the best of our ability that which we were meant to do.  Perhaps I've been naïve.

My manager once said, "The boss doesn't want you people to get comfortable."

"Nice guy!" I replied.

Of course, what the boss meant was that the employees shouldn't become complacent and self-satisfied, lest they stop trying so hard.

When the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates were getting into clubhouse disagreements last June, general manger Dave Littlefield approved of their fighting among themselves.  "When you're not winning," he noted, "you don't want happy people."

So is this our ideal?  Unhappy workers arguing with each other, uncomfortable in their positions, fearful of losing their livelihoods?

Wouldn't it be better to be motivated not by fear of unemployment but by pride in your work?  Wouldn't it be better to be relaxed and confident, your skills matching the demands of the job, your expertise growing year by year?

I always thought that each of us has something in which we excel.  We should find it and spend the rest of our lives doing to the best of our ability that which we were meant to do.  Perhaps I've been naïve.

It always seemed to me that an ideal corporation would be stable and well-established, boasting of "serving your needs for over a century."

But the reality today is that a corporation needs to show its stockholders a good return on investment.  A business that doesn't grow, preferably by at least 10% every year, is in trouble.  If you aren't moving forward, you're moving backward.

So corporations can't leave well enough alone.  They're always looking to acquire other corporations.

Often, those new acquisitions aren't a good fit with the original firm's mission, which results in all sorts of problems.  And someday there will be no other corporations left to conquer; how do you grow then?

I always thought that each of us has something in which we excel.  We should find it and spend the rest of our lives doing to the best of our ability that which we were meant to do.  Perhaps I've been naïve.

 

TBT

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Coda

Political leaders worldwide champion the suicidal notion that human numbers should go on growing as they did during the second half of the twentieth century.  It is commonly supposed that, if we fail to maintain that pace, the world's economies will collapse.  ...Social welfare architectures resemble Ponzi schemes:  they work best when each generation outnumbers the last.  Arguably, human beings have never figured out how to operate a thriving society whose economy and population don't grow by a percent or so each year.  But we're going to have to learn.

—Tom Flynn
Editor, Free Inquiry

 
We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese....

We can’t do this anymore.

“We created a way of raising standards of living that we can’t possibly pass on to our children,” said Joe Romm, a physicist and climate expert who write the indispensable blog climateprogress.org.  We have been getting rich by depleting all our natural stocks — water, hydrocarbons, forests, rivers, fish and arable land — and not by generating renewable flows.  “You can get this burst of wealth that we have created from this rapacious behavior,” added Mr. Romm.  “But it has to collapse, unless adults stand up and say, ‘This is a Ponzi scheme.  We have not generated real wealth, and we are destroying a livable climate....’  Real wealth is something you can pass on in a way that others can enjoy.”

—Thomas L. Friedman
March 2009