One of my favourite maxims regarding entrepreneurship is:
The more value I create, the less I need to capture.
Providing £100,000 of value allows me to claim, as compensation, a smaller relative percentage than if I provide £100 of value. Naturally, the specific figures matter less than the idea—the aim is, in all projects and transactions, to create so much value that I need only take the tiniest slice as payment.
However, this formulation of the concepts of “value created” and “value captured” is pointed at the level of individual relationships, of interaction between client and service provider. But what if we scaled it up to the societal level? Well, then we need to introduce a third action—“consume”. And when we say that actors in a society have only three choices…
- create value,
- capture value, or
- consume value
…then we end up in some intriguing places. These are best illustrated by plotting the three “C”s on a Penrose triangle and mapping out the different domains.
One thing to note is that the differences between the domains are one of emphasis. For example, The Capitalist Kingdom emphasises the creation and capture of value, but still requires consumption to function. The same applies to the others. Now, with that out of the way, allow me to explain the rationale behind the three realms.
The Capitalist Kingdom emphasises the creation and capture of value, and de-emphasises consumption. The primary example of this ideological leaning, to my mind, is Apple. One of the most valuable companies around, it specialises in large scale fulfilment of high end consumer tech demands. Their aim is not cheap and cheerful, but best in class, be it phones, tablets or laptops. But even more extraordinary than this ability to create value for their customer base using a diverse array of means is the company’s ability to capture the majority of the value they create. Braeburn Capital, an asset management company and subsidiary of Apple Inc., is the custodian of Apple Inc’s cash reserves—reserves that are now estimated to be at over two hundred billion dollars.
Companies like Apple and Amazon are the de facto rulers here. Their ability to create value at a large scale and capture a great portion of said value bestows upon them regal status. The nobility of The Capitalist Kingdom are smaller players. They are individuals or organisations that either work a variant of the same magic but at a lesser level, or are individuals and organisations that, because of the extreme value they create and the systems they deploy, happen to end up with stores of value.
The Socialist Republic also emphasises value creation, but it is more interested in consuming the value created, as opposed to capturing and storing it. In The Socialist Republic, created value is distributed back to the populace—including to those who had a minimal, or zero, part in creating it. Its constituents and its elected representatives see value like water, as something essential to all life and something whose circulation and use should be available to all. Because of this, those who ensure others get to consume their fair share of value are just as celebrated and idolised as those who create it in the first place.
The Wastelands isn’t a nice place. Here, nobody cares about the creation of value. Their mantra is “Take take take, hoard hoard hoard”, with little thought or effort devoted to the origins of the thing they so desperately seek. The constituents of this land are bandits, terrorising other parties, taking whatever they want—and if they can, what they don’t want as well—via an endless campaign of indirect and direct manipulation and force. They are interested only in competition; cooperation, either for the benefit of society at large (like The Socialist Republic) or for the gain of a select alliance (like The Capitalist Kingdom), is anathema to them. Thus, the mightiest of this barren landscape are simply the most devious and the most unscrupulous—they are the ones that are able to look you in the eye, welcome you into an embrace and push the knife deep into your back.
Perhaps the simplest way to differentiate between the three is to compress their tendencies, emphasis and ideals into a single word. So:
“Community”, “Competence” and “Cunning”—the term which most resonates with you is an indication of which domain, and thus which values, you most value.
Now, in a world populated with humans and divvied up into territories via boundaries, conflict is inevitable. I’m reminded of George Orwell’s 1984, where the three superstates—Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia—are in a state of perpetual war, where the actual warfare is conducted on neutral ground, where alliances shift yet seem to be timeless, and where no superstate is either capable or willing to win by entirely eradicating another. It is this idea of borders, alliances and perpetual war that I will turn to now.
Looking at the rather contradictory arrows labelling each neighbour as both “friend” and “foe”, the obvious question is, “How?” Let’s deal with alliances first, which are enabled by a shared belief.
Although what they choose to do with it differs, the Socialist Republic and the Capitalist Kingdom find common ground via their belief in value creation. The Wastelands and the Socialist Republic are united by the perception that value is a means to an end, a thing that people use to live. And The Wastelands and the Capitalist Kingdom understand one another because both recognise the merit in the storage of value.
What about opposition? Well.
The Capitalist Kingdom despise the Socialist Republic. For the former, Competence is the master and they believe that anyone not possessing it is suspect. Further, they cannot comprehend the idea that those who add nothing receive something, which is a commonplace practice in the Socialist Republic. The Capitalist Kingdom also takes issue with the Wastelands because its people want to take without giving. For the Wastelanders, competence is unnecessary if you’re cunning enough.
The Socialist Republic despises the Capitalist Kingdom because of the way they consolidate value. They store it up, refusing to spread it around to those who need it. The Republic are also at odds with The Wastelands because people there see no moral conflict in taking from someone in need simply because they don’t have the wiles to protect what they have.
Finally, the Wastelands despises the Socialist Republic for its community, which to them represents a threat, a way for those who don’t deserve a thing to survive at the expense of those who do. They also feel enmity towards the Capitalist Kingdom for its deification of a fool’s virtue—competence.
To me, the concept of Society C, its perpetual war, and the mapping of its three primary elements—create, capture and consume—to a Penrose triangle—an impossible object—illustrates the absurdity of the current cultural climate. Society C and this place called Earth are home to conflicts with numerous, intertwined factions, the members of which see everyone else, at some point and on some issue, as both friend and foe.