Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Industry and its Discontents

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the states and the differences between industrialism and capitalism. People sometimes use the words industrialism and capitalism interchangeably. Both are seen as an invisible force that has shaped our culture and our way of life.

Industrialism is a process that craves productivity because lower price wins. The productivity that results in lower prices come from cheaper labor with fewer protections. Industrialism, therefore, demands that everyone in the system feels obligated to go against their morals because productivity is, in many cases, a race to the bottom.

Throughout our industrial age, there are many examples of industrialism, leading us to cultural changes that were dehumanizing. One example is the rise of the cotton industry, coupled with the need for cheap labor. For a long time, the cotton industry relied on slavery as the primary source of cheap labor and productivity.

Capitalism is about free markets and choice. Markets are listening instruments, and they exist to figure out what people want and to prioritize what they get. When we have freedom, it can be the fuel for dignity. In truly free markets, slavery would be impossible because people would have the right and choices to make about their labor.

Industrialism, on the other hand, is its own master. Industrialism is also about power, power over people, markets, and systems. Because it has created surplus and prizes along the way, people have permitted industrialism to run through our culture. In many places, the relentless race to create something ever cheaper has led to the cost to the environment or the people.

Industrialism also seeks monopoly because monopoly is the best way to gain power. While there are few real monopolies around us, we have industrial organizations that practice monopolistic conspiracies. These are oligopolies, groups of corporations and individuals, working together to create less choice.

We call something a conspiracy when people or organizations are cooperating in a way that hurts others. Conspiracies that promote monopoly cab do damage, and those business practices are not secretive. We have many examples of industrial organizations conducting productivity-enhancing practices at the expense of the people and our culture.

Furthermore, computers and machines are becoming the tools used by the oligopolies that seek to maximize their return while giving people less choice. Machines changed everything about industrialism because machines are tireless. Machines do not complain, and they do not bring the baggage of morality with them.

Machines also hastened the race to monopoly because machines can be built and improved to create insulation for the people who do have the machines. With network connectivity, machines also amplify the network effect. The network effect means that successful leaders can become even more potent because they can achieve lock-in. Such lock-in also leads to more profit, more coercion, and more conspiracy.

Industrialism is not the same as capitalism. Industrialism is the repeated process of getting something cheaper and faster. Eventually, industrialism requires coercion by pushing people running the industry not to take responsibility for what they are doing.

Capitalism is about discovering market needs and filling them. It works best when people take responsibility for what they do. We have an opportunity to create boundaries for both industrialism and capitalism, and we can make boundaries that benefit all of us.

Most importantly, we can make both concepts work to our advantage by creating a positive culture. We can create a culture that is based on dignity and choices over the long term.