We can do economics better


The image of the entrepreneur as a heroic all-rounder is outdated. It has become deeply imprinted - but it is no longer up-to-date.

If you want to experience a universal genius, the best thing to do is go to a museum. Aristotle and Avicenna, Leonardo da Vinci and Alexander von Humboldt, Goethe and Einstein are among those extremely rare specimens of the universally educated, multiply talented people who have left us works of wonder. Outside such hallowed halls, you usually assume that you are dealing with more or less normally talented people - people just like yourself.

Then please do me - and all of us, and yourself - the favour of questioning the traditional notion of entrepreneurship. Because according to this idea, people would have to be competent in all areas of a company and have mastered calculation, accounting, taxes and law as well as personnel management or marketing. They would have to have a patent, a new technology or a clever business idea. They would have to raise a lot of capital, talk to banks, convince financiers of all kinds. But above all, they would have to manage their company well and drum up a lot of publicity. All this and more. Not to mention the many rules, regulations and implementing provisions, which also change frequently. In short, a jack-of-all-trades, a kind of all-round genius, a mixture of ancient commander, technology freak, excellent organiser and marketing talent.

That would be hopelessly excessive. But it is precisely this image of entrepreneurship that still shapes most people's perceptions. The fact that we can also apply the idea of the division of labour to the activity of the entrepreneur has not yet arrived in the public consciousness.

If you look closely, the term "entrepreneurship" contains three completely different functions that should no longer be lumped together: The entrepreneur in the classical sense was a provider of capital, he brought the idea for his company, and he organised the company. Three things at the same time. How many people are there who fulfil these requirements in one person? Not many. In a society based on the division of labour, these functions can be tackled by very different people with different skills. This is a first reason why the "entrepreneurship" mindset is no longer appropriate.

We find a second, even more important reason in Joseph Schumpeter, who sees in the entrepreneurial figure above all an attacker who goes into the market with new concepts and attacks the already existing companies. The better is the enemy of the existing. Schumpeter therefore speaks of "creative destruction". Consequently, he divides the "entrepreneurs" into two camps: the "hosts" and the "innovators". In the first camp are the established firms that defend their market, the protectors of vested interests, while the driving forces of an economy come from the second camp, the attackers, who enter the market with better products or processes. These are therefore two hostile, diametrically opposed groups. If one wants to describe this constellation and its inherent dynamics accurately, the term "entrepreneurship" is completely inappropriate. The two camps have different interests, they pursue different goals and apply different strategies. What differs so much cannot be put under one hat.

Also, in terms of mindsets and ways of working, the founder in a hoodie and trainers has little in common with the aura of the gentlemen in expensive offices, tailored suits and elegant footwear.

Let's put the heroes of yesterday where they belong: in the museum. Just as has happened in other areas of society: from authoritarian ruler to accountable, deselectable politician. From the military caste, drill and unquestioning obedience to the citizen in uniform. From cramming pedagogy, with corporal punishment, to a student-centred motivational learning situation, from gods in white to doctors talking to informed patients.

Why, of all things, should the forms and requirements have remained the same in a field that is subject to such rapid change as the economy? There is every indication that a new type of actor, a "new entrepreneur", is also emerging in this field - with new corporate and leadership cultures.

Just as the "old economy" faced strong competition from the "new economy" at the end of the 20th century in the form of the internet, the "new entrepreneurs" also have opportunities that are superior to old-style entrepreneurship. The old-style entrepreneur, typically male, jack-of-all-trades, heroic, "assertive", is less and less successful. We live in different times. Today, the ability to work in a team is more important than the autocratic exercise of power. The number of companies and entrepreneurial people is much larger than it used to be. The field has also become accessible to ordinary people. The daughters of the patriarchs are taking over.

Good reasons, then, to put the old pictures and the old concept of "entrepreneurship" where they belong: in the museum. It is high time for that.

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In autumn 2018, an initiative was put to the vote of the citizens of Switzerland. It wanted to achieve a greater supply of food that is of good quality and produced in an environmentally friendly, animal-friendly manner and under fair working conditions.

The support in the polls was overwhelming: 78 per cent of those eligible to vote said they were certain or likely to vote yes. But then voices emerged suggesting that the initiative would lead to higher prices. As a result, support dropped abruptly. In the end, less than half of the population voted in favour.

The demand for quality, fairness and environmental compatibility thus meets with high approval, and not only in Switzerland. But that is not enough. Concerns about higher prices are causing the issue to fail. If we could combine better quality - and not only of food - with constant or even cheaper prices, we would be sure of overwhelming approval. So we have to tackle prices. But don't skimp on quality. And that actually works: if we tackle the marketing backpack.

This "marketing backpack" quantifies the relationship between production costs and sales price. It contains all the costs of bringing a product to market. It includes avoidable expenses (such as advertising) and unavoidable ones, such as transport costs or sales taxes. The smaller this backpack is, the less unnecessary ballast the products carry around - which we have to pay for in the final price.

Without a large marketing backpack, we gain economic room for manoeuvre. The production of a men's shirt, for example, costs between two and three euros in Vietnam; here, the same shirt is sold "cheaply" for 15 euros and at 30, 40 or even more euros at the "men's outfitters". If you visit the local markets in Thailand as a tourist, you will sometimes come across pre-packaged shirts with German price tags that cost the equivalent of less than three euros and with which the trader even makes a profit for himself.

The high price of the shirt originates with us, in our economic sphere: through the wholesale stage, the brand effort and the retail stage. It does not originate in the producing countries. The labour costs only make up a very small part of the final retail price, a maximum of five percent. So we don't have to save on the seamstresses' pay, the working environment or safety. On the contrary: even a doubling of wages and decent working conditions would not be noticeably reflected in the price of the textiles for us end consumers.

So it makes sense to save on the sales circus in our hemisphere rather than on manufacturing. If we reduce the marketing backpack, many more people will be able to afford high quality products than today.

Unfortunately, today's profit logic regularly leads to the opposite result. Michael Braungart experienced a particularly drastic example of this. Together with Philips, the professor of process engineering and environmental chemistry had developed a television set that not only consumed two-thirds less electricity, but also contained neither PVC nor flame retardants. This made the product more ecological than conventional televisions, but above all it could be produced more cheaply. Braungart's idea was that Philips could bring the TV set onto the market more cheaply thanks to the savings. An opportunity, then, to open up broader markets for sustainable products through a lower price. But what happened? Although the production costs are lower, the sustainable product is sold at a higher price because it can take more money out of the pockets of customers who value sustainability highly.

A price that is not based on the true costs of a product but on the maximum consumers are willing to pay for it is a price that lies. It is unfair to the buyers. And thus it is not good economics. Because for good economics there are three central criteria: good product quality, low prices and fairness to all parties involved. Fairness not only towards the buyers, but also towards the workers, in the sense that they use their lifetime for reasonable products. Fairness towards the producers, for good working conditions and remuneration, and of course fairness towards nature. It is about transparency, about education, about product truth, about sustainability - about the meaningfulness of our economic actions. Because with companies that adhere to all three central criteria, the economy can once again fulfil its original purpose: to serve people and to preserve their livelihoods.

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When those who are committed to society begin to actively intervene in the economy, an economy that serves people can emerge. Economics as if people matter.

"It is necessary that we all show the powerful again and again and say: Not like this! Not like this!" This is how the future activist Robert Jungk called on citizens in the late 20th century to get involved in their community. To become active for socially pressing concerns that are not taken up by political institutions. Not to leave social development to technology experts, politicians or economists. The term "citizens' initiative" is inseparably linked with Robert Jungk.

When it comes to new technologies, it is now accepted that the societal questions they raise should not be left to engineers and researchers alone. Because there are always questions of risk and impact assessment that are answered differently by those affected than by those acting. Not everything that is feasible makes the world a better place. This is even more true for the economy: not everything that maximises profit makes the world a better place to live in.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Shortly before his death, Stephen Hawking, the famous British physicist, urgently warned that humanity was facing dangers that would endanger its existence in the long term. We would have developed the technologies that are gradually destroying the planet we live on, but not the ability to escape the earth. Politics alone does not manage to cope with these problems. They do not meet the challenges, they set the wrong priorities. The citizens feel it. The big, really important questions are not being asked. Hawking has formulated this extraordinarily sharply: „If we want to preserve our last chance, the world's leading decision-makers have no choice but to acknowledge that they have failed and let down the majority of people.”

The decisive force of our time, which decisively shapes our living conditions, is the economy. It is necessary to intervene in order to find better, more intelligent solutions to the existential problems of humanity. Let us no longer wait for someone else to solve these problems for us. Let us understand Robert Jungk's idea of the citizens' initiative as a call to all of us to take the initiative ourselves. To go into opposition to the existing economic development. Let's develop his demand further, so that we can play an entrepreneurial role in the concert of the economy. The conditions for this are given today.

The new players to whom this call goes are people who are anchored in their community and committed to it. In the past, such a person was called, perhaps somewhat pretentiously and pompously, a citizen. In European history, from the Renaissance to the present day, he has played an indispensable role. The citizen as a citizen who is interested in many things and has an idea of the good life, both for himself and as a member of society. This good life includes good relationships, good conversation, good conscience. The citizen loves to contemplate art, to exchange ideas about it and to gain inspiration from it. In short: he is an open-minded, responsible citizen.

We build on this tradition. We are building on the citizen.

As economic calculations increasingly influence social life, politics, education, our relationships and even art, the citizen is increasingly faced with the task of positioning himself in relation to the economy. He can no longer avoid dealing with the economy and its consequences. He can react to this in several ways. One of them is to look the other way, to ignore the economy and its impositions. That is not very promising, and looking the other way is not his style either. Another option is to close ranks. Raise the walls around the house and the head to keep the economy at a distance. Many people behave in this way, but they run the same risk as anyone who remains passive: In the long run, the aggressive forces will find a way behind the wall.

Or the third option: fighting. Take up the challenge and look for ways to stand up to the destructive tendencies of modern economy. Search for new ways. Doing business differently. Doing what is important. These are forms of engagement that I believe will be part of the new image of the citizen.

Active participation as a person who thinks and acts entrepreneurially. Active participation as an entrepreneur. Let's call it Citizen Entrepreneurship.

The citizen as entrepreneur has many possibilities to act. From buying directly from the producer, to sharing, to sharing resources, to initiatives to network a more regionally oriented economy. He can do educational work, actions, campaigns. They can produce something themselves: from conventional DIY to the use of 3D printers. He can engage as a social entrepreneur in the not-for-profit sector or as a social business. He can build alternatives to the conventional economy as a pioneer entrepreneur.

Citizen entrepreneurship can open up an emancipatory perspective for the economy that could encompass the vast majority of the population. Let us take our cue from the ideas of the Enlightenment. Their belief in rationality and education and their hope that this could lead to a more humane world - with opportunities for all, regardless of birth and wealth, race and gender. Entrepreneurship could be the way to fulfil this Enlightenment promise of economic self-realisation. "An empty sack cannot stand upright", said Benjamin Franklin - without economic emancipation we do not achieve personal emancipation.

Only when economic events have become comprehensible and accessible to most people and many more people than today also actively take advantage of this opportunity, will we have achieved the goal of the Enlightenment: to make people mature also in the field of economics and to enable them to participate openly, self-confidently and courageously in a society in which the decisive question of economic shaping is no longer determined by the economic power of a few.

In such a society, the economy actually serves people - and the planet at the same time. Robert Jungk would be proud of them. And of us.

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A new indicator for a more responsible use of our resources.

The "ecological rucksack" is 25 years old this year. As a measure of nature consumption, it was developed in 1994 by Friedrich Schmidt-Bleek, a chemist and founder, together with Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsäcker, of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. This rucksack contains all the raw materials that had to be taken from nature or set aside in nature to manufacture a product - the heavier a product's ecological rucksack, the more natural resources it uses.

By analogy with this "ecological rucksack," one can speak of the "marketing rucksack" that is imposed on a product. It quantifies the relationship between production costs and sales price. It includes all the costs of bringing a product to market, both avoidable (e.g. advertising) and unavoidable (e.g. transport costs or sales taxes). It is therefore not a question of abolishing the rucksack, but of keeping it as small as possible and removing unnecessary ballast. Just as the ecological backpack cannot simply disappear: There is a necessary cost that would be incurred even if it were produced in the most environmentally friendly way.

So what is the maximum size of the marketing backpack? We shouldn't be too petty when we ask ourselves what markup on production costs is acceptable and justified. The point is not to set rigid moral standards. Let's say a "factor of 3" should be sufficient to allow for all the necessary costs of bringing a product to market plus a perfectly decent profit margin. So we say that the price of a good should not exceed three times the cost of production.

With this "factor 3", and this may come as a complete surprise to most people, we are well below the prices with which so-called modern marketing serves us. Yes, there are also contested prices where the factor is lower, for example in the trade with individual foodstuffs such as milk or bread rolls, but there are also many areas, such as cosmetics, where the factor is higher than ten.

Without a large marketing backpack, we gain economic room for maneuver. The production of a men's shirt, for example, costs between two and three euros in Vietnam; here, the same shirt is sold "inexpensively" for 15 euros and at 30, 40 or even more euros at the "men's outfitters". If you visit the local markets in Thailand as a tourist, you will sometimes come across pre-packaged shirts that already have German price tags on them, which cost the equivalent of less than three euros and with which the dealer even makes a profit for himself.

The high price of the shirt arises in our country, in our economic sphere: through the wholesale stage, the brand effort and the retail stage. It does not originate in the manufacturing countries. The labor costs make up only a very small part of the subsequent final selling price, a maximum of five percent. So we don't have to cut corners on seamstresses' pay, the working environment or safety. On the contrary, even a doubling of wages and decent working conditions would not be noticeably reflected in the price of the textiles for us end consumers.

So it makes sense to save on the sales circus in our hemisphere, rather than on the profit logic of manufacturing today. If we reduce the marketing backpack, many more people will be able to afford high quality products than today.

We can look at the marketing rucksack, the ratio of production costs to final selling price, as an indicator of the efficiency of resource use in a product or in an entire economy. The higher the indicator, the more resources are wasted. And the highest values are reached only by the madness of modern consumer worlds.

But this indicator can also become a yardstick for economic reason. That is, if it serves as a guideline for companies and consumers. If only goods are offered that are below the factor 3. And when we no longer buy goods that are above factor 3.

Companies can also benefit from a movement in this direction. Even those that have so far been partly responsible for the fact that the marketing backpack is getting heavier and heavier. They are just as much victims as perpetrators: marketing is subject to an escalation effect - if one upgrades, the others have to follow suit. If, on the other hand, the backpack succeeds in influencing purchasing decisions, this would weaken the trend of always launching new rounds of escalation. The logic of escalation may even reverse: The first to make the backpack smaller has a sales advantage.

The marketing backpack indicator could thus become a signal for a rethink in the economy - for a more responsible use of economic and ecological resources.

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Economics as the most beautiful of all arts: creative design that opens up a viable economic perspective.

"Our true illiteracy is the inability to be creatively creative," said Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Our imagination, our ideas, the combination of thoughts are unlimited. So far, there is no evidence that there are limits to our creativity.

Of all living beings, only human beings have creative potential. Today we need it more urgently than ever, because a continuation of the current development threatens to lead us into catastrophe.

The most elegant way out of the catastrophe can be shown to us by the force that got us into it in the first place: the economy. For me, it has the potential to be the most beautiful of all arts: creative design that fits the place, time and person and opens up a sustainable, lasting economic perspective. Bringing an idea-child into the world. One that is not only the pride of the parents, but can be useful to society and that attracts attention through good and inexpensive products. And last but not least, one that does not exacerbate existing problems but contributes to new and better solutions through broader participation in an entrepreneurial way.

Even now, there is an area of entrepreneurial activity in which both the values that apply and the people who act are recognizably different from those in conventional business. I am talking about the field of social entrepreneurship.

The idea of using entrepreneurial thinking and action without associating it with profit maximization is meeting with great interest and approval worldwide. The positive values of entrepreneurship - achieving goals, organizing practically efficiently, using financial resources sparingly - are affirmed, but without taking on the ballast of profit maximization. Something like Richard Branson and Mother Teresa in one person. We need - according to the basic idea of social entrepreneurship - people who find and implement new answers to complex social problems with entrepreneurial spirit.

Only at a superficial glance does it seem that the unconventional, the creative, the artistic people cannot be inspired by economics. On closer inspection, this is not necessarily true. The popularity that social entrepreneurship has gained recently suggests that interest in and understanding of entrepreneurship is growing, but the forms and ways of thinking of conventional economics are being rejected. We are witnessing here an affirmation of the entrepreneurial spiritfor the solution of social problems.

One of the main characteristics of social entrepreneurship so far is that it operates in areas that lie outside the core field of economics. A social concern is understood to be the commitment to the disadvantaged and groups on the margins of society. Let us now think of the social entrepreneur as someone who no longer intervenes in the economy at the margins of society, but at its core. His concern to provide social impetus, to help people, remains - and his commitment can thus benefit everyone. He can expand his radius of action and thus strengthen his impact. As a social entrepreneur for all, he fulfills the task that we describe as citizen entrepreneurship.

Such a task can draw on a long tradition. In part, the cooperative movement had always made it its task to provide its members with good products, beyond the otherwise prevailing strict profit mentality with its negative effects on products and people. When we think of attacking the inflated prices of brands, for example, we should keep this tradition in mind.

Social entrepreneurs are predestined to think and test possibilities beyond profit maximization - and to find more compatible business models. The idea of car sharing, for example, can be traced back to the fact that a few socially committed nonconformists developed a sense that the majority idea of a car-oriented city was neither intelligent nor sustainable. While economists professionally trained in efficiency are not bothered by the fact that automobiles spend 90 percent of their existence in park and rust mode, a handful of dissenters in Amsterdam in the 1960s began experimenting with how mobility could work without owning an automobile.

Today, the social pressure comes from technical progress and changes in ecological conditions. The previously successful ways of looking at things no longer fit into the landscape. To increase profits - according to the old thinking - you need higher sales, i.e. quantitative growth. Profit maximization as the overriding postulate sees the protection of the environment as a secondary goal at best, and even makes it appear as a cost of a company that stands in the way of maximizing profit. Lip service does not remove this contradiction from the table. There is no turning away from growth and profit maximization in sight.

Incumbents will not stop creating artificial shortages. Nor will they abandon their brand strategies and bring product prices closer to manufacturing costs. They will remain as Goliaths on the battlefield. If we want to change this, we ourselves must act as Davids, as entrepreneurs. Must offer alternatives that challenge the Goliaths for economic power.

These alternatives do exist. And where they do not yet exist, it is realistic to create them: Entrepreneurship today, unlike in the past, is accessible to everyone. The development of our society is in line with our concerns. In the knowledge society, economic opportunities are being redistributed; capital is no longer the bottleneck, nor is access to knowledge. In an economy based on a high division of labor, we can draw on components that allow us to act professionally and on an equal footing with the big players right from the start.

All the elements mentioned here are already present in practice. We can look at small and larger examples to see how they work. What matters now is to implement this movement, which can already be seen in its beginnings, on a large scale.

Entrepreneurship for the many, not the few. We are fighting to fulfill a dream of humanity. Nothing less than that.

As David against Goliath.

Small is beautiful - but if we recognize the historic opportunity and seize it, it becomes: Small is powerful.

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The economy has risen to great heights and freed us from scarcity. It is no longer good for what is needed now.

I can still remember that the fairy tale of the land of milk and honey was really considered a fairy tale in my childhood. When we were hungry, we thought of it. Being able to eat as much as you want, even eating as much cake or pie as you want. A fairy tale, really. We couldn't dream that it would become reality in our generation. And yet it has happened. Yes, more than that: today we are beyond the fairy tale. The dream of being able to eat as much cake as we want has turned into a nightmare - obesity has become a widespread disease.

We have passed through the stage of a fulfilled human dream without really realizing it. The bells have not rung. No celebration was held, although it would have been truly deserved: By all historical standards of the provision of essential goods, we now live in a luxurious situation.The economy has fulfilled its task. It has freed us from material hardship. At least in the rich countries. Our economic system has risen to great form.

And now?

If our economy were a computer game, it would now mean: new level reached! And with the higher level comes a completely new situation. Often the instruments you used to solve the tasks of one level don't help you anymore on the next one - sometimes they even disappear from your inventory. On the new level it can happen that you still have to find the instruments you need to solve the new tasks, even that their discovery is already an important step on the way to mastering this next level.

Beyond scarcity, an economy of scarcity will not help. An entirely different economy is needed. Let us try to better understand the turning point we are at.

In a world of food shortage, the fairy tale of the land of milk and honey typically develops an idea conceived from this shortage. And it ends with roasted doves flying into people's mouths. When water is the central element of scarcity, for example in the life of the Bedouins, one dreams of the end of scarcity as a world of constantly gushing wells. But in a world in which water is actually no longer scarce, water no longer plays a central role at all - unlike in the Bedouins' imagination. Other needs come to the fore. In a region where hours of sunshine are scarce, people dream of living in the sun. In regions, however, where there is no shortage of sunshine, people dream of other things.

Let us continue to think this thought. In a world where there is no longer any material scarcity, material goods no longer play a central role. In other words, economy becomes a secondary matter. We will no longer see happiness in material goods. Not because we become nobler people or attain a higher consciousness, but simply because material goods are no longer scarce.

As early as 1930, the great economist John Maynard Keynes ventured the prediction "that the economic problem is likely to be solved, or at least close to being solved, within a hundred years." Almost ninety years have passed since then, and materially we have far exceeded Keynes' calculation. Yet his prediction stands in complete contrast to the everyday world in which we live. Economics is by no means diminishing in importance. Rather, we will have to conclude that the economy is having an ever greater impact on other areas of life as well.

One of the most important players in the economy has so far prevented us from reaching a new level with Keynes and without shortages: companies. After all, they are the big losers when material needs are met. When every household is equipped with the relevant devices, goods will only be demanded when they need to be replaced. Sales will be lower. No more growth. Spare production capacity crowds into the replacement market. Not a good omen for profits. More competition, more supply, pressure on prices. The survival conditions of companies are deteriorating. And this continuously. An economy without shortages is a land of milk and honey for us - and hell for companies.

So they had to prevent the shortage from ending; so they had to create it artificially. That's why marketing gained importance and influence. In corporate budgets, in the media, even in universities: Marketing was able to create new needs and generate more consumption. The question of meaning, what actually remains as a task after the abolition of scarcity, was and is not asked. The idea of a post-growth world is also too risky for politicians: Will voters go along? Who will pay the pensions then? Politicians are therefore more likely to give the benefit of the doubt in favor of more growth than against it. It's an alliance that pays off for companies and politicians alike. A mesalliance that continues to play the old game as if nothing had happened in terms of shortages.

The self-image of economics has been to work to fix the shortage. At least for the industrialized countries, this task has been solved. Today, economists contribute to artificially stimulating scarcity in order to create demand. But this has as little to do with the economic principle of efficiency as it does with the economic ethos of using resources sparingly.

An economy that faces up to the challenges of the future would have to make it its task to fulfill the needs of the land of milk and honey as excellently as possible - but not to keep expanding the definition of the land of milk and honey. As a side effect, this would give us the economic leeway to help those who have not yet left material need behind. And it would give us the opportunity to focus on things that are more meaningful to us as human beings than economic growth.

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Where money becomes an end in itself, everyone loses - even the supposed winners.

A million? Completely insignificant. Ten million? Still peanuts. In Silicon Valley, you're considered something when your startup reaches a company valuation of one billion. Then you're a unicorn. Ten billion would be even more impressive, of course. Uber's IPO is expected to reach a hundred billion. For Amazon, a thousand.

You can call that the magic of zeros. What you do is of secondary importance. Only how high your company is valued counts. The zeros as a measure of success. Content is secondary.

No one has caricatured the magic of zeros better than Walt Disney. With the figure of Scrooge McDuck, he drew a character who swims in gold pieces and always wants more of them. He wastes his life time, has hardly any friends, is badly regarded. It is clear to every child that the ever-more accumulation of money has rather ridiculous features. Scrooge is a tragic figure. Deserves our pity, seems to have stopped emotionally at the level of four-year-olds. „No one has ever become rich through money,” said the Roman philosopher Seneca.

„We should dare to judge the love of money by its true value,” said the great and wise economist John Maynard Keynes 90 years ago. „The love of money as a value in itself - which is to be distinguished from the love of money as a means to the pleasures and real things of life - will be recognized for what it is, a rather disgusting, morbid affliction.”

„Greed is good” on the other hand, said Gordon Gekko 30 years ago in the feature film Wall Street. He thus embodied the guiding principle of an entire industry, as well as the criticism of it. Yes, greed is good - for all those who want to keep a system alive in which maximizing profits has priority. Greed as lubricant, as fuel, as the engine of the economy. An economy without values, without a compass and without a map.

The magic of zeros does not carry far. It generates envy, frustration and many losers. Not good conditions for happiness - not even for the winner.

Bill Gates seems to have understood that. From small start-up to billionaire. Gates, the likeable, youthful-looking man who puts the technology giant IBM in its place. What follows is a phase in which his company tries to enforce a monopoly position for operating systems and office software. The mood turns. A Bill Gates who wants to reach for world domination, obstructs, sues or copies competitors. A generation of hackers comes out against Microsoft. The media report more and more negatively about the company and its boss. Gates must have sensed that the further accumulation of wealth could only have a negative effect on him as a person. He gets out. He divests himself of a large part of his fortune, uses it to finance a foundation, and henceforth commits himself to non-monetary goals. And almost overnight, he is once again a likeable and highly respected personality.

A successful life has only limited, if anything, to do with the size of a company and the number of zeros in its valuation. Happiness usually comes more modestly and on quieter soles. So a dash of skepticism about a Silicon Valley type-of-entrepreneurship can't hurt. But we should not overlook the fact that many entrepreneurs want to make the world a better place by founding their own company. They take ecological values much more for granted than the generation before them, and they bring a different value system to the economy than the heads of the corporations.

Anyone who is still addicted to the magic of zeros today no longer fits our times. When companies are willing to pay almost any price for quantitative growth - so much so that they even run the risk of being convicted of fraud - then something is wrong in our economy. Then the direction is no longer right. The problem lies in the companies, in their value systems and the organizational structures that match them. Large companies were once the bearers of the development of the productive forces. Today, they are increasingly becoming impeders, in the process of abandoning their historical function.

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The fatal logic behind the postulate of profit maximization.

Business administration is not a subject for imagination. Nor is it a discipline that is particularly capable of looking into the future. On the contrary, its focus is inward. It arose from the need for effective organization of large companies.
That is its focus.

Recognizing and counteracting ecological or social undesirable developments at an early stage is not its strength. For this reason, economics has had to put up with a lot of criticism recently: that its focus as a scientific discipline is too narrow and that it is built, as a matter of course, on such weak ground as the postulate of profit maximization.

Even in students' textbooks, maximizing profit is assumed to be the goal - and this is taken for granted. Professional practice is also about profit maximization, and economists are usually expected to do this by the outside world as well. Unlike the expectations of any other profession.

As a matter of course, we expect a doctor to do everything he can to cure his patients. We do not expect him to keep patients ill or even to invent new diseases so as not to make himself superfluous.

We expect an engineer, as a matter of course, to build bridges that will last, for as long as is humanly possible, with the best knowledge and materials available to him. We expect him to design machines that are durable and require the least possible maintenance. We do not expect him to build his bridges with planned cracks and inferior materials to increase the demand for engineering services.

Of course, both doctors and engineers also want to earn money and practice their profession for this reason. But neither during training nor in later professional practice is profit maximization the goal. No professional representative of physicians or engineers would dare to publicly proclaim profit maximization as the first and foremost goal. Only economists are allowed to set profit maximization as their highest goal.

But if profit is the ultimate goal, it logically follows that the quality of the product is not. Neither are the employees, the nature, the customers or the price-performance ratio of the product. If maximum profit is the first priority, the "rest" becomes variables to achieve this very top goal. You don't have to be a systems theorist to realize that you can't maximize a single function (profit) without doing damage elsewhere. It pays to put other aspects aside. It would be better - and also economically more productive - to include all aspects. In other words, to strive for the best possible overall performance of all factors.

From our example of an engineer, we can learn how economics could work. We expect the engineer to build a decent, good bridge at the lowest possible cost. Of course, he wants to be well compensated, and he should be if he builds a good bridge. If he earns a reputation for building outstandingly good bridges, he will be able to charge more. But there remains a close connection between the quality of his work and his remuneration. If anything at all in the realm of economics should be maximized, it is not profit but quality. As has been the case in almost all epochs of economic history.

Of course, at all times there were also ambivalent practices and figures. People who operated not with the quality of the product, but with the appearance of quality, which they created through all kinds of tricks or manipulation. Rosstäuscher, for example, had the method of sprinkling sawdust in the horse's feed. The flour made the horse look healthy and strong for a short time. The special appearance. Mostly they had a talent to convince, to persuade. They sold their products as something better than they actually were. But it would not have occurred to any of the theorists of economics at that time to accept this way of doing business, of maximizing profits, indeed to tolerate it as a normal state of affairs.

Is it not permissible for economics to start from the assumption that people aim to maximize their utility? Couldn't one even say that it is absolutely realistic and accurate not to start from any idealistic ideas, but from what really determines action - to maximize one's own utility, one's own profit?

Those who argue in this way overlook the fact that even an economy that builds its edifice of thought on profit maximization cannot do without a value system. A simple and quick way to maximize one's profit is to snatch an old woman's handbag and take off. It's an almost risk-free opportunity to get rich. Yet most of us don't do it. Why not? Because the very thought outrages us, because basic decency forbids us to act in such a way. This does not make us noble people, but rather we adopt an attitude that is taken for granted.

The market lives on social norms, needs rules, otherwise it becomes an event for tricksters and mafiosi. We can see this if, like the radical liberal economists of the Chicago School, we "deregulate" the market, i.e. declare it to be a "free play of forces". When "deregulation" is called for instead of imposing rules on the market - as the proponents of the social market economy called for - and enforcing those rules. It stands to reason that in a free play of forces, it is the strength of the forces that counts - in other words, the stronger, the more brutal wins. It is clear that a certain species is attracted to this game. And that strength, elbows and assertiveness, coupled with ruthlessness, count decisively. And everyone else who is not so wired feels repelled by this kind of market.

Profit maximization versus value system. Which side will win the future?

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Why we must counter expansionist economics and show alternatives.

In politics, we have learned that expansionist politicians, those who want to expand the borders of the country, those who are ready to start wars because of material resources, must be opposed. Responsible politics means preventing expansionist, aggressive politics.

Let's apply this idea to economics. Let us oppose expansionist economics! An economy that stimulates our needs for more and thus constantly expands the borders. It makes every achieved state a springboard for a further expansion of the limits. If we always tickle out new needs and let the consumption of goods grow unrestrictedly, it is inevitable that we reach the limits of our resources. Then conflicts and wars over these very resources are preordained.

Let's do business in a smarter, more environmentally friendly and socially responsible way. With better products and less waste. Let's stop trying to push the boundaries in an expansionist way. We don't need it, it doesn't get us anywhere, but in the meantime we are risking our survival.

In politics, the principle of participation has proven to be the best instrument against expansionism. The voice of the many has fostered a balance of interests, social cohesion and the search for intelligent, lasting solutions for all. A system in which opposition is permitted, even institutionalized, opens up a broad spectrum of values and points of view. It is, as we know, not an ideal principle, but it is clearly better than following the ideas or even whims of princes and their generals. In an open, democratic dialogue, more and different ideas are conceived, more alternatives come to light than in authoritarian and exclusive structures. Generals talked about troops, dreamed of glory and monuments - mothers thought differently.

Structures based on diversity are better. Because there is opposition, because alternatives are shown, because more transparency is created. Opposition is something that those in power have to put up with. It is part of the democratic process. And that should apply to the princes of the economy as well. If they can't think of anything other than expansionist economics, we need an opposition to the real existing economy. An economic opposition.

Like any political opposition, the economic opposition should be able to significantly influence directional decisions. Or even to step out of the opposition and become the majority itself. This means nothing less than: We must be prepared to take the economy into our own hands. We must take responsibility ourselves.

The economic aristocrats suggest that we ordinary people cannot have a say in matters of economics and are not qualified enough. Just as they once did in matters of politics. There, too, there was great skepticism about democratic approaches, right up to modern times: Peasants, workers and, most recently, women were said not to be educated enough for political participation, that they lacked the power of judgment to make important decisions. The idea that, in the course of participation, representatives of the opposition would also acquire the qualifications needed in politics was alien to the princes.

They were taught better. And we can do the same in the economy. As entrepreneurs, we can go into opposition to existing economic development. We can oppose an expansionist economy and thus make the world a better place. For our children and grandchildren, too.

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