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The Lost Generation

by Fredmund Malik Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008 at 5:32 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

A whole manager generation will have to be retrained or change its ideas. Life is measured in money by such people becaused they learned this as the ultimate truth in their training, not because they are immoral or amoral. Countries that once amassed dollars to buy oil are now unloading dollars to diversity their holdings.

THE LOST GENERATION

They think in numbers and only believe in money. Why many managers fail today

By Fredmund Malik

[This article published in: DIE ZEIT 49, 12/1/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://images.zeit.de/text/2005/49/Manager-Verantwortung.. Fredmund Malik, an Austrian economist, is author of ]




Disregarding exceptions, managers are lacking in correct education, not in morality. Whoever graduates with a typically American Master of Business Administration (MBA), regardless of university, gains a leadership position with the worst conceivable prerequisites. Critical reflection has no place in education, theories or the didactic method, the case study. The questions what is right for businesses and managers and what is their task are not raised any more. That something was modern was enough. A whole manager-generation will have to be retrained or change its ideas.

The great false doctrines of economic history are the core of this dislocation: shareholder value and value enhancement as the highest aims and goals of a business. In a macabre global campaign of conquest, these false doctrines reached the heads of many younger leaders because they were the only management theories available in English, not because they were right.

The Anglo-Saxon doctrines of salvation were eagerly adopted in the German-speaking area which had offered something better and was more highly developed in crucial aspects of business leadership – corporate governance. With few exceptions, economists in the 1990s ignored the crucial discussion. Instead they spread the mistakes.

Morality is not defective. Rather the right business knowledge is lacking. This deficiency cannot be compensated by the noblest morality. Conversely correct management knowledge can make explicit morality completely dispensable because it is already part of that knowledge.

The many excellently operated businesses in Germany are the best evidence for this. These businesses were immune against the American false doctrines because they long showed they could do it better. This includes practically all firms, independent of size, branch, legal form, financing and whether they are listed on the exchange or not, e.g. firms like BMW, Porsche, a large part of the cooperative sector like savings banks and many others. Their standards are uncompromising customer orientation and competitiveness. In the media, there are hardly any reports about this business type since it isn’t fit for high circulation headlines. Through one-sided reporting, the – false – impression arises that scandal-shaken firms directed by managers without morality predominate in Germany.

I venture the thesis that no well run business operates according to the doctrine of shareholder value. Business orientation in shareholder value is the systematic way into failure. This is true worldwide, not only in Germany.

The mistaken belief in the superiority of Anglo-Saxon management has led to dislocations that are seen today as moral defects. However they are something else. This kind of business leadership has brought persons to the top of big businesses who had no chance in the past and even today are not in top positions in rightly operated businesses. The type of money-driven person whose understanding of the economy and the world is limited by monetary quantifiability and business plans is at the root of our problem. Its maxim is one cannot manage what one cannot quantify. On the other hand, management is first needed where one cannot quantify and must act.

The media phenomenon that has moved into the center and is generally widespread is materialist greed for money. These money-driven persons exist but are rare. They are held to a morality that rarely convinces them. If they are convinced, they are at the end like Hofmannsthal’s Everyman.

Being driven by money is not the same as greed for money. Being driven by money is the idea (based on the seemingly best training certified by universities) that only what can be expressed in economic figures or money counts. This conviction legitimated by MBA diplomas is that there are no other values outside of monetary values in the economy and the other areas of society on account of its towering significance, exemplariness and efficiency.

Life is measured in money by such people because they learned this as the ultimate truth in their training, not because they are immoral or amoral. They have a morality – the morality of economic reductionism that was not defended by a single genuine liberal thinker, not by Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises or Wilhelm Ropke. The founders of genuine liberalism, the Scottish moral philosophers of the 18th century, were fervent opponents of such an economic thinking.

That the economy is endangered in its basic existence is ascribed to superficial neoliberal knowledge. Genuine liberalism does not demand that all goods be subject to the economy. Liberalism demands that everyone take responsibility for his actions. That must also be true for managers. Many positions of liberalism were reversed.

It is wrong to preach to people that the market economy is a marvelous system. The market economy is a bad system. The daily experience of most people confirms this. They experience the market as brutal, unmerciful, inhuman and unjust. Leaders should defend but not praise the market economy. They know the market economy is bad and inefficient. But they also know all other systems are much worse and more inefficient.

It is naïve to say the market will order everything. The market does not bring about any economy efficiency. It does not prevent errors but punishes them after they occur. To compensate for weaknesses of the market, we need well-educated managers. Businesses cannot be reduced to shareholder interests and maximization of profits –not for moral reasons but because effective management must follow another logic.
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