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Where Does It Stop?

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Where does it stop? A rhetorical question my brother-in-law posed. I didn’t really know what to say except where indeed.

We were lamenting the financial and commercial hunger companies we work for and used to work for showcase. Every single year, things have to be bigger, bolder, better, more, higher, more efficient. Numbers always need to go up, up, up. Profit prospects of 20%—wow, an expression of conservatism this year? I used to work for a big software consultancy firm that started locally but grew into the European market by, you guessed it, buying into everything it could possibly think of. When I left, in 2012, we grew to a workforce of 1,200 employees. I quit because I detested the nearshoring and offshoring practices. In 2021, nine years later, that figure is approaching four thousand, and many software development teams have forcefully been converted into external software configuration teams.

Another employer quarterly happily presented projected profits, exciting us: “look at how great we’re doing!”. These were projected numbers—none of the goals turned out to be reached, year after year. And yet, the response wasn’t reflection and humbleness, it was more aggressiveness towards prospects and existing clients and aiming even higher. The sky is the limit.

I never understood the dynamics of capitalism. I’m but a simple baker. Sometimes, I think to myself, I should really go out and buy Piketty’s epos. The hardcover is 812 pages. Nah. Those hours are much better invested in 800 pages of Montaigne. Perhaps some day. Maybe I should read a trimmed-down version to better understand where it does stop: nowhere.

My wife is in the process of staring her own small business geared towards slowing down instead of speeding up. She sometimes meets with other starting entrepreneurs (I might as well go on and use the fancy terms here); where some apparently aim for the sky before even being able to crawl. A local bakery specializing in tasty vegan products that aren’t to be found elsewhere recently started up other franchises in other cities. The result? I lost my interest. They’re suddenly focusing on churning out as much as possible and completely streamlined the baking process, geared towards a few products done well. The treats I used to buy disappeared.

If I was to start a bakery—and believe me, I’ve thought about this numerous times—I’d just want to bake and sell enough to comfortably live. I’d do it for fun, because I love baking bread, not because I love making money. I’d have zero interest in taking over other bakeries to slap my business logo on: it turns me into a manager, while all I’d want to do is bake.

That reminds me of that Buddhist koan of the fisherman and the businessman. The businessman sees the fisherman float around in a measly looking boat, and suggests to him to start selling his fish so that he can buy more and bigger boats to catch more, which in turn could earn him more money. If he worked long and hard enough, he might be able to retire and pass time with his hobby, fishing in a small boat on the lake…

I understand the mechanics of business buyouts—I just don’t want to be a part of it. I know why you’d want to sell your company at the peak of its success to become that fisherman. But where does it stop? id Software was bought by Bethesda (well, ZeniMax, the parent company, because of course there are conglomerates?) “to make the best AAA games”. Microsoft bought ZeniMax for $7.5 billion in cash. Keep at it and there will only be a few companies left. Oh. Right. There are only a few gigantic tech companies left.

Nintendo’s Switch is almost outselling its best selling console ever, the Wii. And yet, “big shareholders” (who knows) are starting to get restless, because Nintendo’s projected sales are not in line with the actual sales of Q3-Q4 2021. They’re doing damn well considered they basically side-stepped the console war with their hybrid Switch, but that’s not good enough. More more more.

Banks are losing money and panicking: interest rates on loans are becoming worthless, and money sitting on the account barely generates anything. The solution? In Belgium and The Netherlands, banks are partnering with big internet companies to promote and sell 5G subscriptions. That was an euphemism: they’re stalking clients to get them to buy more crap which they can take a cut of. Hooray, more more more!

The impact of COVID-19 on the economy was “devastating” according to numerous reports. How to recover? Guess what. Time to upscale. Did we actually learn anything here? In 2020, Indian people could for the first time in a long time see the Himalayan peaks. I loved the heavily reduced traffic in our own neighborhood: finally freed from constant buzzing. This month, Belgian politicians are panicking again: we’re suddenly in the midst of the fourth COVID wave. You’d think working from home is still recommended. Nope: traffic jams are back and as shitty as in 2019.

The worst part is that now that the Climate Top in Glasgow is a hot topic, big companies are arrogant enough to add sustainable and ecologic to their ads to trick you into thinking it’s all for the greater good. You should definitely consider buying an electric car. Tax reduction and no air pollution, right? We happen to be upscaling the production, so you’re in luck! Of course we didn’t produce CO2 and consume energy while making it (cough).

Where does it stop? Enlighten me.

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I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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