Monday, November 3, 2014

Edward F. Fischer’s "The Good Life"

Ted Fischer is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University. He is also the founder of Maní+, a social enterprise combating malnutrition.

Fischer applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing, and reported the following:
In this era of globalization, of transnational corporations and ubiquitous internet access, it is easy to forget just how different national economies sometimes are—and what we might learn from different ways of organizing markets.

Germany’s soziale Marktwirtschaft (“social market economy”), also known as Rhenish capitalism, places a greater emphasis on stakeholders (employees, customers, and suppliers as well as stockholders) than the more free-wheeling Anglo-Saxon varieties of the market. This is in part cultural, but it is also crucially codified by law in the institutions of what is called co-determination.

The idea behind co-determination is that both labor and capital have equally valid stakes in the future of an enterprise and that corporate governance should seek a balance between these interests. The practice of co-determination is built around "works councils," tiered organizations of employee representatives (blue and white collar) elected by their peers. At the grassroots level, shop-floor works councils help organize employee schedules and make tweaks in the production line. A couple of years ago, middle management works councils successfully lobbied VW to have its corporate Blackberry server to stop sending message to employee's devices 30 minutes after their work day ends (and begin again 30 minutes before the next shift).

At the upper level, works council representatives hold half of the seats on the company's supervisory board, which introduces new voices and incentives in boardroom deliberations.

Page 99 of my book The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity, and the Anthropology of Wellbeing looks at how co-determination also plays into the capital structure of German markets. The German market is dominated by companies that are not publically traded, mainly the family-owned small- and middle-sized companies known as Mittelstand that focus on high-quality and small-batch production (especially of machinery). The Mittelstand companies focus on long-term gains over short-term profits and show a special commitment to their workers.
Learn more about the book and author at Ted Fischer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue