Making money is not a reliable guide to creating wealth

1 September 2015 by in Business and finance, Nine visions of capitalism

By Charles Hampden-Turner, co-author of Nine visions of capitalism.

Unhappy is the economy which cannot distinguish the making of money from the creation of wealth for these are not the same. While creating wealth includes the making of money, the latter is a more narrow activity which can and does in many cases exclude the creation of wealth. Indeed it may even destroy wealth on an epic scale as occurred in 2008. This happens when money is made by taking it away from other people and/or appropriating this from Nature’s bounty. Profits can be made by plundering other people and the planet. So what is the crucial distinction?

The distinction we must bear in mind and was pointed out in the nineteen eighties by Lester Thurow and more recently by Gideon Rachman, is between the zero-sum game or system of competing and the positive-sum systems of wealth creation. In a zero-sum world all gains come from other people or at the expense of the environment. All resources are finite or scarce as economists still teach us, so that what one person gets another must forgo. Alternative value can be extracted from Nature’s bounty, leaving the rest of us poorer for this. Inequality escalates and as the song of the ‘roaring twenties’ put it, “The rich get rich and the poor get poorer, in the meantime, in between time, ain’t we go fun!” Making money by exploiting others creates no wealth. The others are soon too poor to buy very much. Pay-day loans were almost certainly wealth destroying as is loan-sharking in general.

The City

So-called casino capitalism is very much a zero-sum game. Roughly half of all financial advisers are going to score below the Dow Jones average. This is not because they are stupid. Were they twice as clever this would still be their fate, since the average is the zero-sum of all their efforts which cancel each other out. Indeed there is a small overall loss since those running the casino need to be paid.

What then is a positive-sum game? This is where relationships between people generate more wealth than they began with. There is a surplus over and above the cost of what they generated which the parties share. The better wages and the higher share price put money into people’s pockets which they spend anew. Also the value delivered by the supplier may be hugely increased by the use to which the customer puts it. Both live in a world of abundance and this moulds their characters. We will cite examples of each.

In the case of Josiah Wedgewood, the world’s first tycoon, he took loads of red Staffordshire mud and with the help of pottery skills, new instruments he had designed, heat, paint and glaze he made a Portland Vase, Jasperware and other pots. Even in the currency of the times these were at least one hundred times more valuable than their ingredients and graced the royal tables of Europe. His medallion of a kneeling slave in chains culminated in the abolition of the slave trade after his death and it well symbolizes the two faces of capitalism in the distinctions which follow.

Or consider a more modern example. For a decade or more there have been more microchips than people in the world. It must be at least two or three times by now.  A chip installed in your automobile can inflate an airbag before your child’s head can hit your windscreen in a crash. It can unlock doors so you can escape or rescuers can reach you and it sends out signals of your plight. In such cases it saves lives, reduces insurance premiums and enriches all concerned. Yet bits of metal and silicon sand cost next to nothing. You have put human intelligence and purpose into the chip and this comprises its value. Intelligent design followed by intelligent manufacture saves what is most precious to us, the lives we hold dear plus our own. As East Asians like to say, microchips are “the rice of industry”. They feed other businesses and give thousands of products meaning and direction.

This leads us to consider business-to-business wealth creation where the supply of one device allows a second task to be accomplished. Suppose we make number-controlled cardigan knitting machines. Once installed, these knit 2,000 cardigans in one day with sizes altered in seconds. The supplier creates wealth by the method already described. The whole machine is of far more value than its components, but his customer creates wealth by way of the machine functioning. Indeed the machine by itself is valueless. But the garments created at an attractive price make both money and wealth. Supplier and customer have engendered wealth between them, despite their different aims and purposes. In a further example, Rolls Royce aero-engines produce power-by-the-hour to convey people to far destinations. Wealth lies in what they do, not in the engine itself. Contracts even specify this.

We are now in a position to contrast Zero-sum money making with Positive-sum wealth creation.

Zero-sum money making Positive-sum wealth creation
Money is made by direct manipulation of the individual for his exclusive purposes. This money derives from other people Money is made indirectly by first benefitting a customer who then reciprocates by bestowing more money upon you.

We are getting ever more individualist, so much so that relying on the favour of other people is deemed unreliable. To be totally independent you need you need to outsmart them by taking their money. “Never give a sucker an even break” is our watch-word and we need “to make a quick buck” which is not possible when you rely on another’s gratitude. The real individualist acts unilaterally whether people like it or not. Our wits entitle us to this.

In contrast all genuine wealth creation inheres within relationships, so that the Chinese word for “rich” is “well connected” and guanxi or relationship is their chief business value. The whole must be more than its parts and design and manufacturing are all-important to being productive. Between us we create more than we started with and trust is vital. A research group at MIT studied what motivated 800 creators of open-source software and make this available to all. The originators said it was a gift by them to the online community and they were repaid in many ways. Such action triggers the productive efforts of others on a wide scale.

Making money is via transactions in which one person receives money from another and gets goods or services back. The parties compete to get more from others at the least expense to themselves Wealth is created by transformation of money into goods and services & their transformation back to money when sales are made. This is the source of the surplus value generated

If the above statements are correct then we need to ask whether banks and financial institutions create wealth at all. They would appear to be sterile by dealing exclusively in money or “financial products” as they like to call them, but there is no transformation and no wealth creation. No two coins or notes cohabiting ever produced a third coin or ever will. So long as we stay with money there is endemic scarcity as economists teach, not the abundance of related brain cells and their associated meanings. Whatever trades’ unions receive shareholders and managers must forgo and the strategy of the latter is to pay as little as possible to remain competitive on costs. Taking money and creating a product and/or service from this is a transformation from currency to valued things and services and then back to money revenues when the sale is made. It is these conversions or metamorphoses from one state to another that generate wealth.

On the other hand we need banks to advance loans to industry so there is little doubt that they facilitate wealth creation by the real economy. What this means is that banks create no wealth on their own but make it possible for industry effect transformations. In short the role of banks is to serve industry and not principally themselves. Bets made in the world casino are zero-sum, with some of the big boys able to skew the markets in their favour by the sheer size of their wager and by using their clients’ money.

Banks do “make money” in one sense. They leverage funds and lend out as much as twenty to thirty times what they hold in assets. This conjuring trick should not be confused with genuine wealth creation, because where asset prices collapse leverage goes into reverse and banks LOSE twenty to thirty times as much. This is how trillions disappeared in 2008, an error for which we have been paying ever since. Banks need asset prices to hold up and only genuine wealth creation can do this. They create derivatives from these assets and then derivatives from those derivatives in a veritable house of cards. But unless they serve industry better these foundations will remain unstable, as were their subprime mortgages and their liars’ loans.

By distributing money to worthy persons and institutions banks aim to make the most profit with the least possible risk plus the highest level of collateral. Banks are simply one more industry and should compete with best of them The receivers of the banks’ money are the real contributors and wealth creators, whose products are risky, uncertain and hard to assess, so banks avoid them. Banks are NOT simply one more industry and competing with customers hurts all.

One reason bankers pay themselves so much is that vast sums pass through their hands for which they are responsible. Surely that deserves compensation? But the real reason they pay themselves so much is that they can. As distributors, the money reaches them first and what they skim off is up to their own discretion. Of course, industries will then lack funds with what amounts to a private tax levied across the board. Less money reaches the genuine contributors. Banks are not just another industry but a means of distributing money to industry and the tricks they use have abused this powerful position

But even these diminished amounts go to the wrong people. Catering to the already wealthy is a highly conservative process. They have much to lose and too little to gain. But even worse is funnelling money to the housing market. This is low risk, high collateral because most people pay off their mortgages and houses can be repossessed if interest is not paid. But it is also very low productivity. The house holder sits tight among his/her own possessions and waits for the property to increase in value. It often beats working! Two groups of American economists examining international comparisons have shown that faster expansion of the financial sectors triggers slower growth in the real economies. Talent and resources are attracted away from contributors towards distributors. The success of the City may be a doubtful blessing. UK industry has been in steady decline for more than 150 years. Manufacturing is down to 10% of the economy and productivity is faltering, not enough of the money is reaching the genuine contributors.                                    


Wealth-creation is a social, transformative, positive-sum activity. It needs at least two persons to create wealth and this is generated by the relationship between them. Merely making money may be sterile and speculative. The customer may have no choice but to accept your terms and this too is corrupting for the supplier and impoverishing for the buyer. The making money by itself can and sometimes does weaken the economy as a whole. All speculative activities are zero-sum with losers matched to winners. There is evidence that uncertain money rewards can be addictive and where capitalism imitates a casino we are all ill-served, even where the finest minds are attracted to a speculative enterprise, half will lose. We need to identify genuine contributors and get the money to where it can be used to create wealth. Banking is a service to industry and to people and it competes with its customers to the detriment of us all.

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China’s stocks fall putting global economy on edge

24 August 2015 by in Business and finance, Current events, Nine visions of capitalism

This morning the FTSE plunged as the Chinese economy fell, putting investors around the world on a knife edge. Not since 2007 has there been such a drastic drop in global stock prices.

For many years, since the fall of Mao, the Chinese economy has flourished. It has been a great hybrid of ‘capitalism and communism’ as suggested in Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars’ riveting new book, Nine visions of capitalism. Look at the objects on your desk. Many of them will have been made in China. Over the past few decades, labour and manufacturing have been outsourced to China. Why? Well, quite simply, profit margin. For example, it is cheaper to catch fish in the North Atlantic, export it to China to be packaged and then ship it back to Britain than it is to package it in the UK. Clearly this is not an environmentally friendly way to do business, but from a purely capitalist perspective, it is effective.

China FTSE

Why is labour so much cheaper in China? Well, more people are willing to work for lower-paid jobs. With greater competition for jobs, companies can keep wages low. If you don’t want to work for a pitiful pay cheque, then someone else will. Mao’s regime forced millions into dire poverty and some are only now beginning to recover from this. Let’s, for now, put our assumptions about the working conditions aside.

Though definitely not a wholly capitalist country the People’s Republic of China has benefited from Western economic influence. While we outsource labour and other primary services to China, China in turn benefits from what Western capitalism can provide. Capitalism has allowed China to become one of the biggest economies in the world, while still claiming to be outside the capitalist bubble.

So, back to today. Over the past fortnight, the value of the yuan has been depreciating. Since then, trillions of dollars have been wiped from the FTSE. What does this all mean for the future of the economy? Perhaps China’s financial stability was poorer than anticipated. It would seem likely that the cheap labour and services that the West has been benefiting from for many years will now cost more. Trading with China will become a more costly endeavour and this could fundamentally change the face of our manufacturing and primary services.

Once again, our eyes are focused on those on Wall Street who are moving the intricate cogs that support the global economy. To the uninitiated every-person on the street, what goes on is something of a mystery. We are aware of the importance of the FTSE and the NYSE as well as how they have an important effect on the global economy. Like a heart monitor in an intensive care unit, the peaks and troughs of the FTSE index mean little to those who are not trained to recognise what it all means. But we can all imagine that the £91bn that was wiped off the FTSE today is not positive for the global economy.

China is undoubtedly a superpower with great influence. Western domination is being gradually usurped by China’s infiltration of other economies. Like dominoes, when one is affected it runs the risk of knocking down the others. We are making slow but progressive steps out of the recession that began in 2008. The memories, however, are still fresh in the minds of all who were affected, many of whom lost their homes, their jobs and their savings.

However this latest crisis develops the 2008 recession taught a valuable lesson: capitalism affects everyone under its umbrella, and often, it is those that need help most who get hit the worst when times are hard.

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Capitalist leaders are called to account

17 August 2015 by in Business and finance, Current events, Nine visions of capitalism

Earlier this month, emerging political candidate Bernie Sanders called out the top CEOs in America and asked them to account for their actions. It’s a familiar story, the Fat Cats on Wall Street engage in illegal activity, make exorbitant amounts of money, and then let other people deal with the consequences (if you’ve seen The Wolf of Wall Street, you’ll know what we’re talking about). Why does this matter? We’re all aware that those with the biggest bonuses are not the ones feeling the pinch of the recession that we’re only just recovering from. Well, with Greece still in crisis, the UK threatening to leave the EU, and the American election on the horizon, these are very real issues that we need to grapple with.

In his letter to The Wall Street Journal, Sanders said that the ‘Wall Street leaders whose recklessness and illegal behavior caused this terrible recession are now lecturing the American people on the need for courage to deal with the nation’s finances and deficit crisis.’ In a two-pronged attack on the wealthiest people in America, Sanders published a report that shows how various CEOs and corporations have managed to evade $34.5 billion in tax. These people claim to want to close the deficit but are actively contributing to the problem. If the average person avoids tax, it probably won’t make that much of a difference to the government. However, to reach $34.5 billion in unpaid (or avoided) tax it would require a significant proportion of the population of America just refusing to play by the law. If it was the average man on the street, he’d go to jail. But because the top players on Wall Street maintain so much power, it would seem that they are beyond the law. It is time that we stopped turning a blind eye to this sort of avoidance. The capitalists that determine, by and large, our financial stability, are the ones who should be an example for the benefits of capitalism. America is perhaps the biggest capitalist country in the world, and yet it would appear that, rather than show how capitalism can be beneficial to the economy and help those all the way at the bottom of the pyramid, it is leading the way in demonstrating the worst aspects of capitalism: greed and the misuse of power.

Wall Street

When companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft are now richer than the US government, one looks to them to set a positive example of how capitalism can benefit not just those who work for the corporations, but the government to whom they pay tax. These are global corporations but they all began in Silicon Valley. They are the very epitome of American capitalism at its best, highlighting how small start ups can become global brands. However, these companies should also be a marker for how all companies in the capitalist food chain can not only be successful, but create wealth and grow the economy. Not all companies will be as successful as these, but even small companies can take lessons from conscious capitalism. Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars in their new book, Nine visions of capitalism suggest that ‘Wealth is created when values are joined by meta-values, when for example workers receive higher wages for being more productive so there is money or value for everyone. Customers provide more revenue that is shared between employees and investors. Wealth is also created when products do not die and go to waste but become a cradle for another product.’

The iPod is an excellent example of a product which has evolved and grown, making way for better and smarter technology while maintaining the integrity of the original. So Apple is leading the way. You only have to look around you and you won’t be far away from an Apple product. This is demonstrative of capitalism being beneficial to the customer as well as the company. There are many people who are loyal to the Apple brand. However, with great wealth comes great responsibility. Apple and its chiefs must demonstrate a conscience in a world that is powered by wealth. Back in June, Taylor Swift called Apple to account when they said the they would not pay artists in the first few months of their music streaming service, ‘We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation’, she wrote in an open letter to the company. Recognising the backlash that this would cause, Apple quickly did a 180 on their policy and announced that they would pay royalties. Case closed. Nevertheless, Swift proved that large companies are not infallible and that it pays to be seen as a company that is doing good.

Capitalism and the companies that contribute to the growth of wealth are not infallible, but they are incredibly wealthy and powerful. It will take more than Taylor Swift to bring down Wall Street. Yet the conscious capitalism movement is growing and it’s people like Swift and Sanders who have the platform to call those to account who should be doing more to help the economy grow rather than contribute to the deficit. It is incredibly unlikely that the next President of the United States will be the CEO of Coca-Cola or Microsoft, but their influence is not to be ignored. Those with such influence and power should work alongside governments to help find a solution to the economic crisis. Paying taxes will be a drop in the ocean compared to what they stand to lose if the house of cards that these people live in decides to topple.

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Conscious consumerism and the distribution of patronage

5 August 2015 by in Business and finance, Nine visions of capitalism

Capitalism has changed the way we shop, there is no denying it. Where once a high street would be populated with a butcher’s and a baker’s (perhaps too a candle-stick maker?) we now have colossal supermarkets offering everything we need under one roof and for seemingly a better deal than the smaller shops. Capitalism should strike a balance between big companies and smaller ones. Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars’ book Nine visions of capitalism offers some ways in which conscious capitalism, and in turn conscious consumerism can benefit those who really do live on the other side of the world.

It’s true that consumers are coin-operated and you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who would reject a good deal. If you can get the same product at a cheaper rate from a bigger company, then why would you spend the extra money? How much power do consumers really have over capitalist giants such as Amazon, Google and Starbucks? Well quite a lot, it would seem. Sure, one person would have a mighty job trying to bring down a huge company on their own, but in the social media age, where everyone’s a critic, word of mouth and customer service means more to giant companies than you think. Amazon describes itself as the most ‘customer-centric’ company, offering every product you could wish for from the supermarket in the sky. The recent Amazon Prime day, which had more deals then the Generation Game, was brilliant in that it got thousands of people to sign up to the service for the ’30 day free trial’ but then relies on the apathy of the customers not to bother cancelling their subscription. Brilliant. Customers think they’re getting the best deals and Amazon are set to make a huge amount of revenue.

But is cheaper always better? We recently blogged about whether Amazon Prime Day was good for publishers and we understand the value of a good brand. When you see a Starbucks or McDonald’s while backpacking in Timbuktu, there’s a sense of the known and familiar, a comforting feeling that you’re not so far from home and you associate those brands with the everyday. You can be on the other side of the world from your home but there will always be a capitalist giant to remind you that the world is smaller than you think. This logic of the familiarity is easy to transfer to the everyday life. With a Starbucks coffee, you know what you’re going to get. You know that Coca-Cola will taste the same in Austria as it does in Australia and perhaps it is the fear of the unknown that drives consumers to these brands.


However, consider for a moment that you don’t get your morning coffee from Starbucks, but instead from the independent coffee house around the corner. You’re more often than not likely to get better-quality coffee and better customer service. That is not to say that is the way for all independent coffee houses, but if you’re going to compete with giants such as Costa and Starbucks, you’ve got to care about your customers and care about your product. Otherwise, what’s the point? Customer service is valued now more than ever. If you want a book recommendation, Amazon can tell you what other customers who viewed certain items bought, but if you go into a book shop, you can ask for personal recommendations. Booksellers are usually incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to their products, in a way that cannot be substituted by an Amazon algorithm.

The balance of patronage lies in the hands of you, the consumer. We all love the ease with which we can do our weekly shop, or use the ‘one-click’ service online. It’s great when packages fall through our letterboxes and we feel even better knowing that we’ve got a bargain. There is a backlash against large companies and their seemingly untouchable power. Last year a loyal customer of Caffe Nero returned his loyalty card after finding out that the company had been avoiding tax. Integrity goes a long way and these large companies are endangering the positive aspects of capitalism. Perhaps next time you feel like buying the latest best-seller for a ‘better than half price’ deal, consider sharing your patronage with those independent shops. For the extra money you may find you reap the rewards in other ways.

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Why immigrants succeed

30 July 2015 by in Business and finance, Current events, Nine visions of capitalism

No matter where you’ve been in Europe this summer, you can’t help be be aware of the growing problem that immigration is causing on first world countries. Thousands of migrants are making their way from Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, among many other countries, to the UK border in Calais. Crossing the Mediterranean Sea in treacherous conditions to be washed up on the coast of Italy or fished out of the water by the British Navy, European immigration is becoming an increasingly concerning issue.

Earlier this week, a man died while trying to get into the Channel Tunnel and today David Cameron issued a warning to all of those attempting to cross over to Britain every day: you will not find solace or welcome on our shores. Sure, the UK cannot accommodate the thousands of migrants that are hoping to breach its borders, nor can it afford to pay for their healthcare, housing and job-seeking period. However, this issues is now bigger than a UKIP placard. These migrants have risked their lives and left their families behind just for the chance at a life in Britain. Their own governments and countries have failed them. They have nothing to lose.


If you’d read any UKIP propaganda before the 2015 UK general election, you’d have thought that every British citizen was plagued by migrants; that there were 10 immigrants for every British person. This is not the case, nor is immigration bad for the British economy. If we send all the immigrants back to their homelands, do we have to recall all the British who have moved abroad as well?

Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaars, authors of Nine visions of capitalism, state that ‘In a land of strangers you are defined by what you do, not where you come from.’ Statistically, immigrants in the UK contribute more to the economy than they take out in benefits, suggesting that they’re willing to to any job if it pays the bills, whereas there are Britons who are rejecting work on the basis of either ‘waiting for something better to come along’ or not wanting to lower themselves to clean toilets, for example. Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars offer a broader evaluation on the effect of migration:

What is it that immigrants have that overcomes the prejudices against them? They have at least two points of view or social contexts, the one they brought with them and that of their adopted land. Too many of us have just one. Immigrants must strive to include their diverse views with our own. It is when cultures collide that we learn – not only about others but about ourselves. Values are differences and immigrants know all about the differences they encounter daily. They can encompass different points of view.

Immigrants are also more likely to be individualistic. They have broken ties and moved away from old attachments, but they are also more likely to be communal, since their economic futures depend upon a network of fellow migrants and maintaining their close support. They are prepared to work harder for less in order to survive. That they better understand other differences between say, sellers and buyers, is not unexpected. We saw that where East meets West in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia the economies tend to be strong. These populations have also learned from both sides. Since birth rates have fallen in the affluent West we need educated immigrants to make up for this.

Of course immigrants are not always successful. Some are crippled by prejudice or by culture shock, or bring cultural practices with them that clash with majority values (female genital mutilation, for example). Moving from one culture to another makes you or breaks you and anti-immigrant feeling is easily aroused by the numbers of broken strangers, many in prison, some unemployed, claiming benefits or before the courts. Depending on their social class, indigenous citizens may encounter more losers than winners and generalize from this. Those who are different will not always be included. Tolerance is not enough. We should learn from immigrants. 

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Watching the inexorable and tragic dismemberment of Greece

6 July 2015 by in Business and finance, Current events, Nine visions of capitalism

By Charles Hampden-Turner, co-author of Nine visions of capitalism.

In comedy, opposed values bounce off each other harmlessly and humorously and we laugh at human frailty. In tragedy, opposed values grind painfully against each other in a strife that destroys all that lies between them. In Greece today the comic festivals are over and we are watching tragedy in real time, from which there may be no way out. Europe’s cultural wars are rooted in religion; despite the fact that piety and worship are diminishing, religion has shaped us for centuries and left its mark. To the North and West are the Protestants, rule-bound, individualist, neutral, analytical, abstract, impassive and self-controlled. To the South and East are the Catholics and Greek Orthodox, exceptional, communal, passionate, holistic, earthy and self-indulgent. Economically, Britain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Finland and North America are doing better than Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and France and even the latter owes much of its wealth to Huguenots, its Protestant minority. Partial exceptions are Austria and Belgium.

If we add to this mix, then the cultural revolution of the late sixties and early seventies demonstrated that much of the Western world tipped over from a culture of production to one of consumption; life was to be enjoyed! However, the postponement of gratification began to erode. The Catholic and Greek Orthodox countries had always been ‘indulgent’; started by the sale of indulgences well before the Catholic Reformation. The religious services of Catholics and the Greek Orthodox Church have always been spectacular, full of mysterious exceptions, decorative, colourful and rich. In contrast, those of the Protestants have been full of rules: restrained, plain-spoken, sparse, subdued and frugal. The arrival of the consumer culture only exaggerated the luxurious strain in southern religions.

Greece crisis

Two popular films of the time celebrated this difference and took the Greek side. Zorba the Greek, from the novel by Nikos Kazantzaki featured Basil, a Greek writer, educated in Britain whose intellect had strangled his emotions. He was re-visiting his lost origins. He meets Zorba, earthy, lascivious and passionate who teaches Basil how to dance with joy. Only Zorba weeps for Stella, a free-spirited widow who sleeps around and is decapitated by angry villagers when her locally popular footballing lover kills himself. Basil, who also slept with her, turns her death into a lofty abstraction. Zorba is the Vitalist, the hero of the counter-culture, who lives life to the full and celebrates the sensations of the here and now.

The second film was Never on Sunday, also a celebration sexuality and joy, in which Homer, an overly serious and solemn American academic and tourist encounters Ilya, a Greek prostitute, who enjoys her sailor-clients, but ‘never on Sunday’, clinging to her last vestiges of piety. Homer, in love with classical Greece but ignorant of modern Greek mores, tries to reform Ilya, but is instead seduced by her joyous lifestyle. Taken by him to tragic plays she insists that all protagonists therein ‘went down to sea-shore’ and had a party and will not hear Homer’s denials. The plot of Pygmalion is turned upside down with the pupil subverting her trainer who in the end wants only to make love to her.

But all ceremonies of joy come to an end and what we face in Greece today harks back to classic tragedy in which Dionysus has drunk and feasted too much for too long while the bean-counters of the European Union sternly disapprove. Greece has failed to collect its own taxes, failed to cut an ever-mounting deficit, distributed pensions it cannot afford and is in debt to the tune of $50 billion and may take forty years of iron discipline to dig itself out of the hole, a virtue it does not possess! On the one hand is the austerity proclaimed by the Protestant Northwest and insisted upon by creditors who could lose everything. On the other hand is the refusal of a culture of vibrancy and celebration to be reduced to rags and penury. As Lord Byron put it, ‘eternal summer gilds them yet’ and Greece is the land of vacations and aesthetic sensibilities. Ironically both sides are correct. Greece is a victim of its own long refusal to face economic realities. To that extent Germany and the European Commission are correct. However, austerity has clearly worsened not improved Greece’s plight and it’s hard to think of a policy that goes so much against the cultural grain of its people: they are suffering misery and this will only impoverish them further.

It is classic Greek tragedy: the clash of noble yet opposite ideals leading to catastrophe, literally ‘the downturn in the fortunes of the hero’. We crucify ourselves upon a cross of half-truths. The answer is to find joy and meaning in the work we must do, but Greece is a long, long way from that goal. Catharsis was the collective shudder that ran through the audience in the amphitheatre, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder and feeling the agony of the whole audience. Alas, catharsis is upon us all. The shuddering may have just begun. The devalued drachma may be the only stop-gap measure before a whole nation re-defines the purpose of life, as it must.

To find out more about Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Tromenaars, and their company, please click here.

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