I have come to suspect that Big Business is generally a bad thing. Lest you think I’ve eschewed my former beliefs and become a socialist, I hasten to say that my doubts about that traditional American (and now global) institution spring from my conservative evangelical Christian worldview, which emphasizes the importance of religion, relationships and well-roundedness over material accumulation and social honors. I think this comes out in the solution I will offer, which is not to increase government regulation on the market. My complaints with such businesses are two-fold. (Please notice that mThe Corporate Laddery concern is with big businesses in general and not any particular business.)
First, I think that the kind of work folks have to get done to make a big business run is way too much. To take a company from good to great (to borrow a phrase from Collins’ excellent business book) the CEO, President or boss has to work 70-80 hour work weeks. To keep a big company functioning many have to have jobs that require long hours of work for extended periods of time. If the money is good enough, as well as the honor of being a corporate officer, starry-eyed men and women will line up in droves for such positions. Taking this kind of job, however, means that one won’t be able to develop a healthy, flourishing family life or cultivate deep friendships or spend time in reading great literature or exposing oneself to lovely art.
Even if these jobs do not necessitate an exhorbitant work week, commitment to the company often demands odd hours and constant attention. Cell phones with email become shackles and company mission statements become creeds. Big and growing busineses need their employees to produce this much because to grow at a level that meets their own amitions or those of stock holders requires utter devotion.

My second problem with big businesses is their impersonal nature. The most friendly they ever get is a pre-programmed employee saying, “Hello. Welcome to Ralph’s.” The tone in their voice is necessarily distant because people who don’t know each other and who don’t care to get to know each other never say things like that. It’s awkward for the customer because we’re never sure whether to respond in a likewise friendly manner – which seems presumptuous – or to ignore the person or offer a passing greeting. In real life we would only treat someone that way if our mother’s had never taught us manners or if we wanted to be rude. It’s downright uncomfortable! Ironically, this problem is eased by means of the telephone because at least there is a set etiquette that we follow. When our physical presence is involved things get hairy.

But physical presence should be involved in the relationships we have to others! Human beings are souls in bodies, so we must use our bodies to relate to others. Relating to someone by telephone, email or i-chat is a poor replacement for face-to-face contact. Big business, to cut corners and increase profits, install automated telephone systems so the customer never even talks to someone by the bastardized form of communication we call the phone! Email and chat technical support is now the quickest way to get technology problems solved. This sort of behavior is causing us to lose the ability to communicate in the fullest most personal ways. We have become conditioned to abandon real life, real time relationships and big business encourages this behavior.

Whatever else we do about this problem, let’s please don’t get the government involved in it. The government can often times become the worst kind of big business – just look at the DMV. I’m sure that would only hurt our society worse. The solution is more difficult than that – just as when we consider any cultural ill: it requires a change in the very character of the people. You and I need to avoid selling our time too cheaply (like for money) and not allow ourselves to become slaves of a corporation. That’s a good and fine part of life to devote lots of energy and creativity to, but it’s only a part of life. Most people spend most of their quality time when they are rested and productive with random co-workers that the HR people hired. Why not spend more quality time with family and friends? At what price are we sacrificing our relationships to others and the cultivation of our own souls? The answer is for more money, bigger houses, nicer cars, and better toys. No serious person would say they believed money or prestige would make them happy, but I would venture to say that most Americans live primarily for these things (if you throw in pleasure, e.g. sex, beer and drugs).Is this you?

The best thing we can do is catch a vision of the glory of a whole soul: a person who lives in harmonious relationship to God, church, family, friends, the arts and sciences and work. Then we must intend and decide to take steps to get off the mousey-wheel of the corporate ladder and find work that keeps our lives in balance. A great way to do this, vis a vi socialism, is to start a business. Entrepreneurship does demand significant time commitments in the beginning, but the disciplined entrepreneur will learn how to delegate and create jobs for others by making themselves inessential to the day-to-day operation of the company. (See The E-Myth or Rich Dad, Poor Dad.) So viva capitalism, but down with mega-corporations and the enslavement and impersonal environment they perpetuate!

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

7 Comments

  1. Dennis Prager has said that “Bg” is always evil, but each side has its blindness to Big. The Conservatives don’t realize that Big business is bad, while liberals don’t realize that big government (or big media, big education, big unions, etc) is bad.

    One idea that I have been kicking around lately is that some of our current disproportion has come from unreasonable expectations of stock holders. Since hardly any companies pay dividends, the only way a stock holder is compensated currently is if the company grows and the stock price increases. This leads to unreasonable expectations of constant growth, and poor decisions for companies – perhaps they could be far more profitable just staying where they are.

    So one thing the government could do is eliminate all taxes on dividends – not really a government solution, but rather just a method for them to produce by getting out of the way. It would also encourage more people out of the rat race (a la Rich Dad, etc) because you could more easily build a non-taxable passive income with dividends.

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  2. Andrew McKnight Selby August 4, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    I like your idea about dividends. I also think that investors ought to start looking to partner with entrepreneurs. I know an investor who looks for every opportunity to buy 2-5% of small companies. It’s enough to provide some much needed cash for these young or start-up businesses and also provides a nice little income, plus a huge payoff if the company becomes successful. It’s little enough ownership that the majority owners don’t get cheesed that the minor investor doesn’t daily work for the company.

    Which brings up one more word about business growth: it’s fine for mom and pop businesses to grow, just not at an exhorbitant rate. Patience is probably the most important economic virtue but the least practiced.

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  3. makelovehappen August 4, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    Andrew –

    As an employee of a big business I say: “excellent article!”. The worst thing about big businesses is exactly what you said – they can be very impersonal and the ladder climbing can become desperate and at the cost of one’s soul.

    Here I try to remember SK’s warning: “The greatest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if nothing at all had happened.”

    The solution is not in getting the government to limit business (like you say) but for individuals to stop worshipping idols. A man cannot serve two masters.

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  4. Andrew McKnight Selby August 5, 2006 at 1:40 am

    MakeLoveHappen,

    As always, thanks for your comments!

    You write: The solution is not in getting the government to limit business (like you say) but for individuals to stop worshipping idols. A man cannot serve two masters.

    I wholeheartedly concur. If I have the time I’d like to write a whole post about this in the next few days. The question is most fundamentally one of the ordering of loves.

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  5. Andrew McKnight Selby August 5, 2006 at 1:41 am

    I’m reading Kirkegaard right now and indulging in the great challenge of understanding him while being carried away by his moving writing (in Fear And Trembling, at least).

    Reply

  6. […] So last week I wrote that the American (or Western) big business, sell-everything-and-work-80-hours-a-week-for-success culture is seriously flawed. Folks sacrifice their families and relationships for the sake of big money and fame as top-of-the-pile ladder-climbers. The solution to this is not to create more government sanctions because the government will ultimately become a big business in which to succeed it will be necessary to work the most hours, shmooze with the most people and so on. Instead, the remedy is for us to properly understand the nature of work and its place in our lives as well as find motivationin the most important things, namely family and friends. […]

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  7. […] Last summer one of my friends, Andrew, posted this, this, and this on his blog.  I’ve been mentally chewing on those posts for half a year now, mulling them over in my mind again and again.  I am finally ready to say that Andrew gets the business world all wrong in a common way.  His two indictments are that the business world is fueled by greed, and that one must sacrifice flourishing relationships with family and friends in order to succeed in business (a latent point seems to be that putting in more than 40 hours a week is not good). […]

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