Futurology blog: what’s the next trend that’ll disrupt our world, financially, socially or just pointlessly?

Friday, 14 November 2008

Non-profits and co-ops to erode capitalism

It’s now axiomatic that greed is the most successful motivation for providing goods and services to people. That if entrepreneurs can’t expect to make ever-increasing profits, there’s no point even trying.

The result is that we have greedy developers building us shitty homes, car manufacturers continuing to make petrol- and diesel-powered cars and banks that simply practise legalized theft.

Capitalist dogma preaches that the market will, in time, bring us better, cheaper, cleaner products. But in fact it’s usually only legislation that does this. Hybrid cars and low-energy lightbulbs will prevail through legislation, not capitalism.

Utilities, operated for profit, are examples of a business model diametrically opposed to the public good. In London, Thames Water let its own product leak away into the ground for decades while it rose prices and whinged about shortages, until government forced it to use some of its massive profits to fix its porous pipes. Now it’s creating gridlock all over London while it rips up the roads in its glacially paced upgrade.

OK, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with the profit incentive. In most cases, it works fine. But it’s not the only incentive. Creative people do their best work when they’re simply trying to create something new and exciting. Businesspeople get as excited by the thrill of competition as by their financial reward.

I don’t believe that Trevor Bayliss created the wind-up radio because he wanted to be rich, or that Dale Vince created Ecotricity, the wind-only energy company, to roll around in piles of money.

That’s why I expect more and more entrepreneurs to follow a not-for-profit business model. Providing things that people want, affordably, with good working conditions and a low salary disparity between management and workers.

Wait and see: consumers will actively seek out co-op and non-profit products and feel better about owning them. Result: loyal customers and motivated workers: a great competitive advantage.

Car-sharing, power, food, homebuilding, furniture, manufacturers and retailers, they’ll be everywhere soon. Check out http://www.cooponline.coop/index.html for co-ops in your area.

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