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Views from the Prairie

July 11

New Success Paradigm

Now that Bernie Madoff has managed to totally discredit "Greed is Good" as the motto for capitalism, we are seeing a new wave of business books redefining what it means to succeed. What is surprising is how many of these books are defining success in terms that can only be called "spiritual". Is American business turning back to spirituality for its purpose?

Historically, there has always been a tension in American business between unbridled greed and the spiritual side. At the time when Boston was being run by smugglers, Ben Franklin and others were writing books on how to better ourselves and our businesses through spiritual insight. Business ethics are the only thing standing between capitalism and piracy (and some pirates had better ethics than some "businessmen").

Just looking at the business section of some local book stores shows this change. There are several books on what it means to have success in our lives that focus on the spiritual nature. There are books on how to be leaders through using a spiritual focus. Another is "Why are we bad at picking good leaders" which points to a number of attributes that good leaders have - all of these attributes are spiritual instead of financial, charismatic, or operational attributes.

This change can be a sign of hope. When we change our definition of success from "amassing the most money" to finding what actually brings us the most satisfaction, we can build healthier organizations which will out perform those organizations that are fixated on getting the most money.

New Alternative Currencies

We are seeing new currencies develop. Part of this is due to how some large financial institutions are trying to "privatize" money and transactions. We have the credit card companies trying to replace cash with their cards. We are also seeing quite a number of specialized companies offering their own currencies such as the airline frequent flyer miles. It is reported that there are over four thousand privately issued currencies around the world.

Governments are not real happy with this development. It is one thing when a "currency" is used in a local area. It is another when an alternative currency starts to be widely used. The alternative currency, "Q coin", is a Chinese currency that has some regulatory bodies concerned as it was starting to be used in far more places than just the online world that created it. The US shut down the Liberty Dollars for creating coins and paper currency "in resemblance to coins of the United States".

One of the latest entries into this field is the BitCoin. This is an online currency that wants to democratize the private currency efforts. The makers do not want to let the major financial players totally dominate the currency world.

These alternative currencies have a number of problems that have not been worked out. The first is that of fraud. No matter how noble of a quest we are on, eventually any group will include those who will do fraud. When the currency is virtual, somebody will work out how to massively defraud the system. A number of private currencies have been attacked and user accounts stolen. For example, Wikipedia reports that eGold had many accounts cleared out by fraudsters.

The challenge that BitCoin tries to address is that of trust. Instead of having some corporate or government body standing behind the currency, the basis of trust is the mutual support that a number of internet servers are giving each other. The initial paper that described the system states that the currency will be strong as long as more servers are supporting the system than trying to crack the system. Of course, this assumes that nobody finds a hole in the system.

Oh, bubbles do happen in alternative currencies. BitCoin had a bubble that burst through a stolen password. Other such currencies have bubbled and burst. Others have pointed out that BitCoin has a designed in "deflation" which makes those who got in early richer than those who come later.

In history, private currencies have been tolerated as long as they were helping to stabilize the culture and banned as soon as they were being used for fraud or enriching just a few. For example, during the "frontier" days in the US, many banks printed their own currencies. These were used in the local area. But much of that currency traded at a discount to its face value. Most of these wound up as worthless either through bankruptcy or new federal regulation.

Risky World

Chinese Mooncakes are a wonderful gift for the mid Autumn festival. However, the paper vouchers for Mooncakes have become a black market currency. Unfortunately, the vouchers are only for this year's gift and become worthless after that date. If you are left holding them, you will just have to eat the Mooncake yourself.


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Prior Years

  1. 2008
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  3. 2010