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The New Political Capitalism: How businesses and societies can thrive in a deeply politicized world by Joe Zammit-Lucia

Bloomsbury Business, 2022


I met Joe Zammit-Lucia at a think tank event a couple of months ago and looked up this book as a consequence.

Conscious of a significant shift in the relationship between the state and business post-2008 and again post-pandemic, and yet sceptical of often spurious attempts by corporates and brands to shout about their "values" in recent years, I hoped that this book would provide context.

Enjoyment factor

Zammit-Lucia argues persuasively that politics and business have always been inextricably linked: the government defines "money" by choosing what it will accept in payment of taxes; and conversely, ultimately the public sector is paid for by business.

To those who argue that politics should more closely resemble business (I've been guilty of this), he points out that politics is about making moral and ethical trade-offs - it's not an administrative or managerial function. There is no such thing as free markets, only constructed markets - and the rules need to be made by elected officials.

He identifies four iterations of capitalism in the history of the West: feudal capitalism, industrial capitalism, financial capitalism - and now political capitalism.

The implication is that, in this new form, capitalism has finally self-actualised; indeed, trade has never been an end in itself, but always a tool in foreign and domestic policy.

The argument is compelling and helps to consolidate a thesis around the purpose of business in a corporate landscape which some would say has become rather too noisily politicised.

It left me thinking ...

I often say (usually when making the case for in-person collaborative working) that a company is just that - a "company" of individuals, all of whom have their own personalities, beliefs and stakes in society. Change up just one member of a small team and you get a different dynamic - the business does not exist as an entity in its own right.

And Adam Smith's butcher, baker and brewer may have been acting in their own interests, but the consequence was that their businesses bettered society. It therefore follows that a key role of business is to be an active player in creating the kind of society in which we want to live - and always has been. It follows naturally that brands and corporations should seek to effect social change - and they are often able to bring about that change much more quickly than governments.

This is much more convincing lens through which to understand why purpose should come naturally to business than an observation of the noisy, well-intentioned but often mis-firing attempts at virtue-signaling which have come from household name brands in recent years. They aren't wrong, but the ecosystem is much more subtle - and will settle out as such in the decades to come.

One consequence of this, combined with an increasingly automated world, is that stories, narratives and ideas will be more important than ever, not only for individuals but for companies too. There has been talk of the "storification" of advertising for some time, but one wonders whether a whole different approach to corporate communications is needed, drawing instead on the world of entertainment. More on that anon.

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