I recently reread Peter Drucker ‘s “No More Salvation by Society” (from his really interesting 1989 book called “the new realities”) in which Drucker reflects on how businesses, governments <and politics> were shifting their focus on delivering ‘an everlasting society which achieves both social perfection and individual perfection’ to seeking ‘economic salvation.’
Let me translate that … money began to matter more than doing the right thing.
That is a big concept … and a big thought. And I as I read it it seemed to encapsulate an issue that really bother me about how many of today’s businesses (and management) are being run.
But first. My caveat.
Drucker is a frickin’ brilliant thinker. But. I recognize that Drucker’s writing can seduce you into thinking his ideas and thinking are your one true love. He tantalizes you with obscure facts and references and tucks you in with a nice warm theory that makes you dream big thoughts. And while most known for management theory he has written brilliant thinking on government, politics, ideology as well as business.
So please note that while I love his thinking I believe, as with most theorists, taking it as the holy grail is fraught with peril.
His thought on Management and businesses and “no more salvation by society” is valid. And I believe the issue is more relevant and important today then even in 1989 when he offered up the concept in “the new realities.”
The idea of Salvation by Society.
At its core it suggests businesses, and managers, have a responsibility to Society by creating ‘better people.’ Better as in values, moral compass and, in general, ‘do the right thing’ attitudes and behavior.
So no one is confused … it is not about salvation through religion <although he does suggest at some point that in the vacuum created by the departure of businesses in this role that religion would attempt to step in> but instead the idea revolves around creating better citizens through conducting life within a ‘better behavior’ construct.
His basic premise is that at some point beginning in maybe the 70’s functioning society changed direction … from societal priorities to economic priorities. In other words … we shifted from a society being driven by social power <values based> to a society driven by purchasing power.
This big shift was driven by the fact politics <and politicians> began integrating economic promise into their platforms thereby replacing social betterment (or salvation by society) as a governmental platform.
Simply said … ultimately, the holy grail became “increasing the purchasing power.”
Interestingly he foresaw several things <that will resonate as we think about it>.
He believed the disappearance of the belief in salvation by society would create an anti-society environment … and that salvation could only be achieved outside society … only in and through the person <he even suggests a withdrawal from society>.
A Bruce translation.
Let’s call this the growth of a “me” generation or “what’s in it for me” philosophy.
He may have meant it in a slightly different way but that is how his idea came to life.
He said in 1989 that the death of the belief in salvation by society, which for 200 years had been the most dynamic force in the politics of the west and increasingly globally, has created the rise of economic salvation (and a void in societal values … or salvation).
This is not salvation by faith but rather Salvation by Society <… values wherein we do the right thing for the greater good. Empower the weak. Make the tide rise higher for all morally>.
And, I agree with Drucker, we sacrificed that direction at some point.
This is a really big issue which has implications in the business management world (at a later date he addressed further implications in “Management as Social Function and Liberal Art”) as well as individual homes <and heads> and government.
about the blurring of the 99%
At the time he wrote New Realities the disparity between the haves and the have-nots was not as extreme as we have it today. But in a way he foretold it as we shifted from “salvation by society.”
By exploiting a common interest in prosperity we have created a ‘blurring of the 99%.’.
The blurring began as instead of “quality” interests <social and cultural values and styles> policies and programs were being developed to focus on individual ‘spending power.’
As he suggested … blue collar workers are clearly blue collar workers and yet in their lifestyle there is little left of working class except possibly preference of beer over wine. Their concerns are material … a motor home, a fishing cabin and retirement pension. They see exactly the same television programs as everybody else. They have exactly the same access to web based knowledge as everybody else. They buy the same consumer goods in the same supermarkets and they often take similar vacations. They do different work but they no longer lead different lives. They define status not through their economic interests <social and cultural values & styles> but rather through their spending power.
I don’t mean to disregard those within the poverty level but the reality is that it is difficult to discern massive differences within the 99%. Upper middle class is burdened with debt & upside down mortgages and lower middle class <the traditional blue collar> is actually relatively unchanged in their wealth situation. ‘Spending power’ is, through different formulas, of equal status.
salvation, society & government
Someone will point out, as Drucker also did, it seems to many of us that politicians and governments are pounding the “anti government” in their rhetoric … yet they are anything but.
They do not look upon government as the organ to produce a better let alone a perfect society. They see the function of government in specifics – to improve American competitiveness, to cut back the power of British trade unions, to make renters home owners, to improve farm productivity.
The role and the function of government is perceived as different and so is its ultimate aim.
So, beyond the blurring of the 99%, government is currently built upon the foundation of individual purchasing power … ultimately feeding the needs of the 99%. Their programs are not about producing a better society but rather ‘creating disposable income.’
In addition … even if government wanted to shift focus to bettering society … we have increasingly come to doubt that there is “one right answer” to any social problem. There are wrong answers for sure but we understand that social issues are much too complex to admit a simple answer. If they can be solved at all they always need several solutions – none of which individually are quite right. Sounds obvious doesn’t it?
Here is a problem.
In order to have popular appeal in today’s world any promise of “salvation by society” must be a simple “this is the only way” (or at minimum ‘this is the best way by far’).
It increases the difficulty of re-finding our inner societal soul.
In society, with the emphasis of authority, leadership, legitimacy, hierarchy, interdependence and individual desires all focused on purchasing power … rather than ethical responsibility as the ultimate evaluation of what is happening in society and how people act … it is not difficult to see how society issues suffer. And the implications with regard to programs and issues being discussed.
Ultimately Drucker outlines global implications with all societies and individuals.
At the heart of Drucker’s explanation about the world economy is that the world economy will become a non-national flow of money and information as well as the trade within cross-border alliances. This translates into daily money flow exceeding what is needed to finance international trade and investment for several months <but … domestic economy may look completely different>.
Information transactions (e.g., face-to-face, print, Internet, movies, and videos) are even larger and are “…probably growing faster than any other category of transaction in economic history.” <I found this very interesting he saw this as early as 1989>
Both of those leads us to the fact that the driver for growth, prosperity, and employment for every developed nation has become the international economy.
That a domestic economy and international economies are indistinguishable except in a political, social, cultural, and psychological sense. On a side note … we should all note … we continue to focus most of our discussions ‘domestic – only’ and in fact we tend to lean toward an isolationist, or at minimum, a domestic policy as a stand alone <that is an issue by the way>. That thought is contrary to the actual economic reality (therefore we continue to have economic inefficiencies and strife).
Lastly, Drucker <remember … this is 1989> outlines how the Asian-rim nations (Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore … he did not foresee China at that time …) have become the models for trade policy. Each of these nations has refrained from managing short-term economic fluctuations; rather, they have invested heavily in education and training, rewarded saving and investment, and penalized consumption. Also, these nations have given priority to performance on the world economy over domestic economic performance.
All aspects of these issues feed into a society that is becoming dysfunctional.
society is sick
More important than the economic issues there are unresolved societal problems of attending to the common good.
We are increasingly unable to address the problems of society and “…in every developed country, society is becoming sicker.”
The issue is exacerbated by the fact that as businesses fail at their commitment to society <see my next post … worldly desires> the government began establishing huge bureaucracies to attempt to address the issues … and have failed to measure up to the problem.
Drucker suggested a rise in “volunteerism” to fill the absence of this salvation thru businesses/government but I believe he ignores the overwhelming stress on time with people in today’s age.
In my eyes salvation by society needs to be reestablished within ‘existing hours’ <not volunteer hours> therefore businesses need to begin re-assuming its responsibilities to society.
The incompetence of government in solving social problems is not solely the government’s fault. It is more a reflection of lack of alignment between people’s attitudes & behavior throughout the day <work life and out-of-work life>.
While I like the government assuming responsibility it seems like it should be a shared societal responsibility <including businesses>.
I have another post coming up on businesses and their role in ‘salvation by society’ but for now reading Drucker was like going to a doctor with symptoms of a sickness and receiving an analysis that makes you realize the problem may have been different than you thought.
We invest a lot of energy focused on “economy” (is it good, or bad, or improving, or sucking, or whatever …) and we don’t invest a lot of energy on society and the health of the citizenship.
We also seem to blame governments a lot.
And yet, I imagine, if I were to do a survey with two databases, one of typical households and one of business owners, and ask how they assess the health of their respective homes/businesses that by far the number one response would be an economic/monetary assessment. A balance sheet or balance statement assessment first and foremost.
I say that to make a point that this is about alignment … and shared responsibility … and a shared sense of priorities. To say government has a responsibility to society is to only complete a portion of the successful formula.
It may have been written in 1989 but Peter Drucker’s “the new realities” is thought provoking when examining the issues of today.