End of the Line?

Forty years ago I was living in the mountains of Cyprus, a place that sits deep in my heart and holds many memories. Amonst the many wonderful idiosyncracies was the “Bundu Bus”. Built on a Bedford chassis, they carried anything and anybody anywhere on the Island, from the deep winter snows of Mount Olympus to the beautifiul beaches around Paphos, defying roads that were little more than tracks. At that time, the island was quiet having just come out of the war with Turkey. There was a magic to it as resourceful people rebuilt the island with what was available to them, and most of whatever it was arrived by Bundu Bus. It was a perfect vehicle for it’s time. That was then, this is now. The island has recovered, it has good roads, and the Bundu Bus is no longer needed, though a few can still be seen.

The picture here is by Michael Owen, a well known local Cyprus artist , and hangs on my wall at home next to one, also by him, of a Bundu Bus in its heyday. It’s quite poignant.

It struck me that the same could said of much of our way of organisaing business today. The creation of the legislation that give businesses limited liability, essentially embodying the rights of an individual to trade, sue and be sued paralleled the establishment of the Law Society in the early 1800’s as the Industrial Revolution really got going. It was a necessary and creative move in order to speed up the mechanics of creating a business, and both institutions thrived.

Rather like the Bundu Bus however, they have fallen behind what society needs of them. Limited Liability is used not to be creative, but to avoid responsibility, often aided by those for whom the Law is a lucrative occupation rather than a vocation. Self interest has become an industry. The obession with Shareholder rights and returns over the last thirty years has twisted the original intent of how companies operate into something altogether more malign as the wealth that is created is gathered and hoarded by a very few, creatively using all the provisions of a system designed for a very different time.

In a world and society defined by inequality, climate change, rapidly evolving technology, and a global population seven times the size of when the industrial revolution started, it seems time to put develop new ways of working and consign the old one to the scrap heap.

It will be a challenge. Those who benefit from the system do not want to see it go, but go it must. If we don’t deal with it, we will end up with something like revolution rather than evolution.

But change it must. Covid19 and it’s lessons have started the conversation, whether we like it or not. Our children will not settle for less.

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