TELLING DOWN­SIDE TO THE BUR­GEON­ING ART OF DIS­RUP­TION

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - OPINION - MARTIN NEW­MAN

IT’S a term that has been te­diously shoved down our throats for the past few years like a mantra – dis­rup­tion.

Like “in­no­va­tor” or “ag­ile” it of­ten ac­com­pa­nies de­scrip­tions of new tech start-ups shak­ing up the tra­di­tional sys­tem, but has also be­come a sort of short­hand for ig­nor­ing the rules.

This, we’ve been en­cour­aged to think, is some­thing we should be grate­ful for – lift­ing us out of our ig­no­rant ways – rather than what it of­ten is: a cheat.

Dis­rup­tion is noth­ing new. It has al­ways been a fea­ture of busi­ness growth and of so­ci­ety’s evo­lu­tion. We just didn’t call it that.

We knew it by other less dra­matic terms, like change, best prac­tice or im­prove­ment.

The repack­ag­ing of the word “dis­rup­tion” as some­thing new and rad­i­cal is akin to the re­cent at­tempt by a café to dress Vegemite on toast up as some kind of al la carte of­fer­ing.

Hans Chris­tian An­der­son nailed it back in 1837: The Em­peror’s New Clothes.

It is noth­ing more than what uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sors might de­scribe as a Post-Mod­ern de­con­struc­tion of what oc­curs in the busi­ness world ev­ery­where and al­ways has.

When you can get away with it.

Be­cause the main ben­e­fit for the busi­nesses reap­ing huge prof­its on the back of the ide­ol­ogy of “dis­rup­tion” has been to by­pass the usual rules.

The dis­rup­tors of the world, from Uber to the firms re­spon­si­ble for all those dis­carded bi­cy­cles in your street, have used loop­holes to bam­boo­zle author­i­ties into ac­cept­ing a sys­tem of re­duced or van­quished stan­dards.

So while the poor Lud­dites of our taxi in­dus­try, con­strained by reg­u­la­tions de­signed to both en­sure pub­lic safety and keep the taxman happy, are hav­ing the val­ues of their busi­ness slashed and their liveli­hoods di­min­ished, Uber mer­rily un­der­cuts the mar­ket to drive out the op­po­si­tion.

De­spite grab­bing a lion’s share of the world taxi busi­ness by “dis­rupt­ing” tra­di­tional ser­vices with lower fares and un­trained “cit­i­zen” driv­ers, stud­ies show Uber X driv­ers earn half the statu­tory min­i­mum wage. And for a com­pany that has never been in profit (it lost $4.5 bil­lion last year) you can bet fares will rise once it has no one left to com­pete with.

In less than 25 years Ama­zon, the e-com­merce jug­ger­naut, has made its founder Jeff Be­zos $112 bil­lion and the world’s rich­est per­son.

It is a new ar­rival here, but in Amer­ica, where the com­pany made $5.6 bil­lion last year, it paid no tax at all.

Tues­day night’s Bud­get fore­shad­owed a raft of new mea­sures to stop com­pa­nies like Ama­zon, Face­book, Google and Ap­ple from shift­ing prof­its offshore and shirk­ing pay­ing tax here.

With barely a com­plaint from a pub­lic mes­merised by shiny of­fer­ings these com­pa­nies have raided the re­tail land­scape like plun­der­ing Vik­ings.

I’m all for progress and not for main­tain­ing in­sti­tu­tions that don’t work, but I’m also pretty sure when the smoke clears we are go­ing to find we are pay­ing the same and get­ting less, and a few shrewd com­pa­nies have made a mint.

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