Last week, Amazon acquired Whole Foods in a move that has many wondering what this means for the direction of the economy. In my view, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods does to organics what Uber did to the sharing economy: it takes something that was born out of a different economic logic (a grocery store dedicated to healthy food) and then molds and morphs it to fit into an economic operating system that is firmly based in the old paradigm—i.e. in a paradigm that aims for world domination rather than serving a goal of shared prosperity and well-being for all.
In this post, inspired by a number of gatherings with change makers across sectors in China, Europe, and the Americas during the past few weeks, I outline a framework for understanding how the current limits of capitalism we are bumping up against in sectors such as food, finance, health, education and business are all related to the same outdated economic logic or “operating system” (OS). We need a new economic operating system, one that reinvents how we work together as neighbors, as businesses, as cities and as larger systems. Below I describe briefly the evolution of these five sectors from OS 1.0 to where we are today, which in most cases is OS 2.0 or 3.0.
The pressing challenges of our time, i.e. the challenge of losing our environment (ecological divide), our societal whole (social divide), and our humanity (spiritual divide) calls for reinventing our systems of food, health, education, finance and management towards 4.0. This essay lays out the rationale for OS 4.0 and a possible way to get us there through an Asian-American-European initiative called 4.0 Lab.
Five Sectors, One Problem
As the labels of the new economy have gone mainstream (green, organic, sharing economies) the underlying economic reality stays the same. That is to say, the immense buying power of giants like Amazon squeeze the supply chain, workers, farmers, and the planet through the same patterns of exploitation and structural violence that gave rise to the movement for a new economy in the first place.
On one level you could describe the problem by saying that companies like Amazon and Uber misperceive the new economy as just another app that runs on their old corporate operating system (i.e. world domination through economies of scale). In reality, though, the new economy is not just another app—it’s a radical upgrade of their entire operating system. The difference between the old and the new paradigms can be summarized in three words: ego vs. eco. Ego-system awareness means “me first”, while eco-system awareness means an awareness that focuses on the well-being of all.
There is a profound systemic barrier that exists in all major sectors today. It’s not only the mainstream players like Amazon and Uber that are stuck in their current economic operating systems; many of the innovators who once broke through that model are now also stuck. The global food system is still profoundly destructive. The health system is still sick. The educational system is unable to learn. The global financial system is heading full throttle into the next crash—as if 2008 never happened. Foundations and philanthropists still place their assets in the old economy, thereby harming people and planet, in order to use some of the profits to fund projects that alleviate symptoms but don’t deal with root causes. The innovators in all these spaces are stuck in the niches that first gave them space to develop something new. But now these niches are increasingly crowded, and mainstream players adopt the new labels and sound bites while often perpetuating the old models.
Senate Republicans are voting to repeal the Labor Department’s recent rules that would have expressly allowed states and cities to sponsor a type of individual retirement account, called an automatic IRA. These votes will rescind those rules, because they already have been rejected by House Republicans and the administration supports rescinding them.
While Republicans objected to a patchwork of state-sponsored retirement plans, Congress should promptly pass a federal automatic IRA invested by the private sector. This vehicle, developed by conservatives, is the most feasible way of substantially increasing retirement savings in the U.S.
About a third of all Americans have no retirement savings, and most don’t have enough to retire comfortably. The main reason: More than 60 million American employees have no retirement plan offered to them by an employer.
Such employees are eligible to set up an IRA at a qualified financial institution and receive a tax deduction. But very few get around to filling out an application and making regular contributions.
With a market capitalization of approximately $12 billion and with the price of Bitcoin reaching towards its 2016 high, Bitcoin is both the most established and the most secure cryptocurrency. Its ascendancy has triggered both a great deal of enthusiasm and a fair share of concern.
On the utopian side, optimistic proponents assert that cryptocurrencies will free consumers from the tyranny of their domestic currencies, will force out entrenched financial players and payment systems, will reduce transaction costs for businesses and fees for consumers.
On the dystopian side, pessimistic opponents argue that cryptocurrencies may undermine traditional monetary policy, support illicit activity, or simply cannot meet the speed, scale and privacy requirements of real-world financial applications and marketplaces.
The resignation under duress of the CEO of Wells Fargo, after being pummeled in a Congressional hearing, raises a fundamental question: how can corporate boards hold management accountable for performance problems? One trendy answer from several governance mavens — limit the terms of independent directors so they do not become unduly deferential to the CEO.
The most typical limit on independent directors is mandatory retirement at age 72. This is the tenure limit for the Wells Fargo board. It is a significant limit because most directors do not join large company boards until age 60.
Wall Street’s gambles and risky borrowing directly led to the financial crisis, causing the collapse and near-collapse of megabanks and greatly harming millions of Americans. But thanks to government bailouts, those megabanks recovered quickly and top executives lost little.
In response, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank regulatory law to ensure thatno failing bank ever receive such special treatment again. But legislation that favors very large banks
Professor Bruce Grohsgal
and undermines those reforms is in the works again. The bill is called the Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act, or FIBA. The measure already has been passed by the House, and the Senate may take it up soon.
In theory, the bill attempts to solve a major issue in the Bankruptcy Code that prevents failing megabanks from restructuring through traditional Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In effect, though, FIBA offers banks an escape route, creating a subchapter in the Bankruptcy Code through which the Wall Street players who enter into these risky transactions will get paid in full while ordinary investors are on the hook for billions of losses. Not only is that deeply unfair, but it will encourage Wall Street to gamble on the very same risky financial instruments that caused the recent crisis.
Under Chapter 11, a failing company can get a reorganization plan approved to keep its business operating while paying its creditors over time. It then can emerge from bankruptcy as a viable business. During Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, creditors are prohibited from suing the debtor to collect on their debt, a key provision that ensures all creditors are treated fairly and enables the business to reorganize. This is known as an “automatic stay.”