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by Sean Wilson
Thursday, Jun. 24, 2004 at 9:20 AM
US style Capitalism with its "me first" ethos encourages job flight and Enron-style financial mismanagement. But It doesn't have to be this way. Honor the worker and the worker will honor you.
The Brock Press, June 22, 2004
Even as the Press' official lefty, I have to admit, capitalism isn't inherently evil. It rewards innovation, allows for personal liberty and makes it possible for me to have three different choices for vegan salami replacement.
It's just that the North American model of capitalism has quite a nasty side that people tend to ignore, a side that is rooted in North America's individualistic, "me first" ethos, and can encourage job flight and Enron-style financial mismanagement.
It doesn't have to be this way.
Like us, the Japanese have a capitalist economic system, but there are marked differences between North American capitalism and the Japanese version. The most impressive aspect of Japanese capitalism is how workers are treated. Workers enter a job and most often remain with the company their whole lives. The corporation isn't viewed as a faceless entity whose main goal is to make as much profit as possible, but rather as a community to which everyone, from factory floor to boardroom, belongs. Everyone feels as if they belong to something greater. All workers are viewed as an integral part of the company; every part is essential. Japanese assembly lines have a stop cord at every station, meaning any employee can stop the line if they see something wrong with the product in front of them. Morning calisthenics, nap rooms, meals and unquestioned paid leaves during a major family emergency are all features of the Japanese corporation.
Another interesting feature is the way that upper management takes responsibility for their actions in the Japanese system. For example, Merle Okawara, CEO of Ebay Japan resigned his position because he did not perform as well as he should have. Was he pressured out by his board? Was he offered a position at another company? No. He felt as if he was dishonouring the company with his performance and gracefully stepped aside. It was shame that made him leave.
Compare this to the recent departure of Michael Eisner from his position of chairman and CEO over at Disney. He tried to hold onto power as long as possible, even though his performance was less than stellar. (Under Eisner's rule Disney lost the distribution rights to Pixar studios due to a lack of flexibility on profit sharing.) After the annual stock holder's meeting, where many were out for Eisner's head, was he finally pressured to step down from one of positions. Even though he stepped down as chairman of the board, he is still Disney's CEO even though his "approval rating" at the annual shareholder's meeting was an unprecedented 43 per cent.
So what does this mean? Why is a lefty writing about capitalism at all? Capitalism, with all its flaws and misgivings is still the best way of running an economy, but as it stands in North America, can be entirely deplorable. I would like to see our North American economic system learn from the Japanese. Honor the worker and the worker will honor you. A strong worker base means a strong corporation, a strong, responsible corporation which is accountable to its body of employees and the market.
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