Nietzsche tells a story about an Emissary and his Master. Once there was a wise ruler whose lands prospered and grew to a point where he (this was, remember, a while ago) had to appoint emissaries to assist him. One of the emissaries became so powerful that he was able to usurp the master and take power, and as a result, the land fell into ruin.

At what point, I wonder, did business usurp wise rule? For me, there are several candidates, and the finger of suspicion points towards the “Washington Consensus” and subsequent deregulation in the West. 

During that time, power moved inexorably towards business, with the resulting concentration of influence into just a few hands, none of whom have any accountability to the countries that host them. 

I’m not into conspiracy theories. I think this was largely unforeseen consequences due to politicians’ short-term and self-seeking interests who believed they could control the forces they were unleashing—a precursor to the same attitudes giving us climate change. Then, as now, informed but inconvenient voices sidelined in favour of profit. 

Like most things of this nature, the reputation of business is tarnished by a few massive emissaries who, as in Nietzsche’s story thought they could do the job of their master. 

They can’t, of course. They may have a form of personhood in the form of limited liability but have no inherent personality or character, only that which we (assisted by expensive PR and Marketing) assign to them. 

We have far more choice than we realise, and in many cases, we can buy by ethic, and relationship, and trust. We know that culture change is a long haul exercise determined by the example of owners, not their emissaries in the C Suite or their emissaries.

I prefer owners who I know or can at least see. I like to know where the money I pay is going and who benefits. I want the backstory, not the PR.

We have more choice than we think.

We should not confuse emissaries with masters.

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