Umair Haque's New Capitalist Manifesto: Roadmap for Better Businesses and a Better World

by: Michael Eisenberg
I have been an avid reader of Umair Haque's blog (@umairh) for a while. I enjoy reading Umair for his witty rants and unflinching ability to call out tough problems and chart a different path. He is repetitive in the way the prophets were, calling out and confronting misdeeds over and over again because fundamentally the root causes never went away. Want some fries with that?
So as soon as Umair's book went on sale for the Kindle, I bought it and read the New Capitalist Manifesto in a week (it would have taken me less but the eight kids don't offer a lot of time for pleasure reading). I thought it also would be interesting to compare and contrast it with Matt Ridley's fascinating "The Rational Optimist" which I read before it.
Despite the fact that I always read Umair's blog, the Manifesto is still a must read. "The New Capitalist Manifesto" puts all of Umair's posts and rants into a coherent argument and blueprint. If you never read Umair's blog, run out now and get the book, read it and internalize it. Here is why:
1. This is not a book about economics. It is a book about life and meaning. A better, sounder economy and business is the outcome of greater meaning and explosive passion according to Haque and he is right. Therefore, it is a book about why we should get out of bed in the morning and seek to make the world a better place and not how we make another buck.
Over the last two weeks, I made presentations about entrepreneurship at two universities in Israel. In my powerpoint, I shared a somewhat blasphemous slide (below) showing the Old Testament alongside The Tanaitic Ethics of Our Fathers, alongside The New Capitalist Manifesto. I showed the slide because I think Umair's book is a reminder of the exhortation of the prophet Isaiah to take care of widows and orphans while earning an honest living and the sayings of the great Rabbis of 2000 years ago that "A good name is better than good oil."
2. The New Capitalist Manifesto implores us not to think about ourselves as the homo-economicus. It asks us and our political and business leaders to think about the interconnected world as one giant economic being. In fact, not only the living world but the inanimate world of resources. Not only the living and inanimate world that exists today but the unborn future worlds. This is a tall order, but as Umair points out in the book, not accounting for our children and grandchildren and the world of resources has a significantly negative impact on our own economic success. We can no longer borrow from the future, or leverage the planet or other, poorer, countries or communities to finance and power economic growth. Nor should we. We need to make tough decisions today to build better business, better relations and a better world.
Here is one of the money quotes:

Developing nations' growth comes to depend on overconsumption in developed nations, and developed nations' growth comes to depend on lending by developing nations. Yet that game of musical chairs...

This is not sustainable.
3. Umair's focus on value cycles is game-changing. It means that as a seller or marketer of goods and services, your responsibility does not end when the customer has taken possession. We need to think of the consequences of the products we sell after they have left our shelves (virtual or otherwise) and think of their impact on customers, the planet and others. This requires rethinking a lot of business learnings but more importantly opens the door to create disruptive advantage for those who master it. Umair calls these outputs "Betters" which he defines as "bundles of products and services that make a difference to people, communities and society by having a tangible, meaningful, enduring positive impact on them." In short, a real reason to get out of bed.
4. Umair has put his finger on a change in the social zeitgeist of the 21st century that I believe is not apparent to most leaders: Most people are fed up with mediocrity, fungability and money as a pursuit. I do not know whether it is the coldness of the computer screen that we all spend more time in front of, or the general decline in meaningful debate and leadership that seems to afflict the world today, or the unrelenting onslaught of shallow advertising and media. Whatever the reason, people are fed up. They look for employment today that has more meaning than money and they distrust leaders who are not authentic. Today's wired citizens of the world do not want fuzzy explanations. They want the straight scoop and they want leaders, business and political, who will make hard decisions and pay the personal price. We can tell fuzzy BS when we see it in business products and politics. This was not true 10 years ago but it is now. We know that Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) phones are not as good as Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL). You feel it and touch it and read about it and no marketing in the world will affect that. As Umair writes, "advertising is all about achieving awareness, and we no longer need awareness. We need to become part of people's lives." We knew that Obama made no changes when he came to Washington. No spin would help. And we know that bailing out the banks instead of finding a better path forward for finance was kicking the can down the road. We know it so please do not fool yourselves. Umair gets this better than anyone and has now turned it into a business roadmap. Authenticity is critical for 21st century businesses so you better dig down deep and see if you have it now. If not, save your shareholders and get out of the way because the New Capitalist Train is coming down the pike and Umair is its prophet.
The New Capitalist Manifesto will challenge your thinking whether you are thinking of starting a business or rethinking Walmart (NYSE:WMT) or Nike (NYSE:NKE), one of Umair's shining examples (yes...Walmart and Nike). Entrepreneurs starting business should not be looking at optimizations, driving 1/10% out of advertising efficiency through ad arbitrage. Their mission statement should include the vision for their business and how this changes the world. As an example, when I think about what Seeking Alpha (Benchmark portfolio company) does, it is not that Seeking Alpha is a "better" financial media model. Rather, Seeking Alpha is fundamentally democratizing the world of financial information and tools and leveling that playing field. That is awesome and inspirational, befitting a new world of capitalism that Umair describes. If you have not figured it out, I highly recommend the book and hope that more companies, investments and startups follow its recipes for better business and a better world.

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