Cancer and the Economy: How much growth is too much?

In my 14+ years of working for big companies, running my own business and having a life in between, I have some observations about our current economy, the stock market and what this all has to do with cancer. I’m not saying that our economy causes cancer, but I do see similarities between how companies plan for the future and the Big C, as it is called someplaces.

Off on a tangent for a minute, but I’ll get back to the original topic. In my mind, for simplicity, I have defined 3 states of basic activity for living things. These are normal growth, failure to thrive and excessive growth or cancer. These states all play a part in life and death, but I think what many people hope for is normal growth. There should be a balance, with a living organism not failing to change or grow but not also growing out of control and possibly consuming itself with mindless, undirected growth.

Now, back to my original thought, the economy, business and cancer. In the last 20 years, much of the focus on business has become growing continually, never stopping and always topping the previous records. If this assumption of continual, wild growth that is made in reviewing companies and their performance were made anywhere else, it would be considered mad. It would be viewed as a cancer or out of control population growth or something else and people would not invest time into keeping it alive.

But on Wall Street and in the Stock Market, suddenly this behavior is considered acceptable. If you don’t grow, you’ll be bought. If you don’t always show a profit, you’ll be bankrupt. If you’ve always shown a profit, but have one bad set of 3 months, not 3 years mind you, but 3 months, your worth plummets. Business becomes a cancer within our society requiring more and more resources to sustain growth. These resources are natural resources, such as oil, wood, food, people, etc. There is also symbolic resources being used, money, to buy more goods to continue to fuel the business cancer. More resources spent purely on business and the economy, with people wondering why we can’t feed out hungry kids, keep everyone healthy and why we have shortages of different natural items.

Now, I’m not against growth, I’m against cancerous growth, the kind that eats up the healthy parts and requires a lot of resources and effort to support. I’m against the layoffs of thousands of people because the cancer of always growing must be fed. I’m against the knee jerk reaction that is reminiscent of an animal cutting it’s leg off in a trap in order to escape the baying hounds of underperformance. I’m against the hiring of brand new, with a huge golden parachute executives, to bail out a company, and than firing them a year, two years later and having to pay out those big payments because they didn’t perform.

Now, I’m going to wimp out at this point, because I don’t have an answer to changing this view of our economy. I don’t necessarily want to go back to the “Good Old Days” when people had a job for life, but heaven help you if you were laid off because you were basically black listed. But I don’t think cutting away possibly healthy parts of the company in order to appear “serious” about making a profit is very good either. What I would like to do is explore other options, other viewpoints and treat the cancer of wild growth as a problem and not the way things have to be.