Have you noticed that in many countries, often very distant from each other, you find narratives which have a similar storyline? A young, naïve and trusting boy from a small village comes to the city where he is faced with cunning, cynical city dwellers. This is common: but why?
The problem is that job specialisation and huge city populations have caused the destruction of traditional community ties. The great benefits of efficiencies that accrue to modern civilisation come at a price. In modern society, pride and respect have been replaced by greed and admiration of the new 4WD: marketing gimmicks have replaced reputation.
So why do we need business associations? The first key word is trustworthiness.
I consulted an elderly couple, who were pushed into negatively gearing their investment by unscrupulous “investment advisors” and have lost about $20,000 on the investment as a result. Any business and investment decision comes with some risk. However, what is really appalling is that the investment was recommended to them despite the fact, with their low income, the couple would never be able to benefit from the recommended investment strategy.
There are stock and mortgage brokers who pose as “trusted advisors” and who recommend products on which you can lose tens of thousand of dollars just so they can have their commissions and kickbacks. We have auto mechanics who charge for repairs that were never performed, and chief executive officers who are happy to claim multi-million dollar bonuses, despite ruining the corporation. We have lawyers pitting separating couples against each other to secure their own source of income. No profession is free from the disease. (Of course, all the named professions and trades have a vast majority of decent, hardworking people.)
There is also the other side of the coin. A tree-lopper from St Albans was telling me about problems he and several of his friends had with some clients. The clients were making extravagant complaints and deducting huge amounts from the bill before paying.
It all would not be possible in a traditional village. No-one would dare to be unfair to their neighbour, as the next day no-one in the village would talk to them. The problem is that nowadays we just do not know whom to trust. Of course, we can not go back to small villages. But what can we do?
Those who have negotiated business deals in Arab countries might have been surprised by the question: "Are you a member of your local Chamber of Commerce?” Arabs, who have been trading for thousands of years, know well that being a member of a local chamber means you are responsible for your professional conduct to the whole business community. Of course, it is good for your business as well: being a member of a chamber (or traders’ guild) gives you credibility in the eyes of your prospective customers.
We have also some modern day examples of this approach. A US Better Business voluntary program does exactly that: it eliminates anonymity of businesses by their self-disclosure, and they have a consumer friendly complaint handling system.
In Polish there is a word partacz (partach) which means somebody, who does a very poor job. Originally it was somebody who was not a member of a trader’s guild. In German, there is the word meisterstűck - a piece of work of exceptional quality. An apprentice was obligated to present it to the guild to be admitted as a member. “Meisterstűck” is also a word expressing respect and admiration for somebody who has achieved excellence in this chosen area. As a society, we need to rebuild this sense of professional pride. Chambers of commerce and traders associations have a great role to play in this regard.
It has been shown time and again that intelligent and co-operative strategies are beneficial for everybody. It would mean more work and less hassle for businesses, better service for clients, more jobs within the community, and better sleep at night for everybody. Both scientific studies and commonsense observations show that societies which have developed ways to enhance co-operation are growing stronger and are dealing better with difficulties.
“What’s in it for me?” a business person might ask.
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