Unfettered Capitalism Equals Plutocracy

The question of whether we should burn down capitalism is a complex one that requires a deep understanding of the system and its flaws. Capitalism, as an economic system, is based on the principles of private ownership, competition, and profit. It has been widely adopted around the world and is credited with driving economic growth and prosperity. However, in recent years, there has been a growing movement to question the value of capitalism and to call for its replacement with a more equitable system. One of the main criticisms of unfettered capitalism is that it is inherently unequal, leading to a small percentage of the population controlling a large proportion of the wealth and creating a plutocracy, where a small group of wealthy individuals or corporations hold disproportionate power and influence in a society. This inequality is often seen as a fundamental flaw in capitalism, as it creates a society where a small elite have disproportionate power and influence.

Another criticism of unfettered capitalism is that it is environmentally destructive, resulting from the focus on profit and growth that disregards the natural world.

However, it is important to separate capitalism from plutocracy. Capitalism, as an economic system, might be reformed and regulated to ensure that it operates in a way that is equitable and sustainable. This can be achieved through progressive taxation, regulations that limit the influence of the wealthy in politics, and ensuring that the media is independent and represents the views and interests of the majority of the population. By doing so, we can create a more equitable and democratic society where the voices and interests of the majority are represented.

Local Optima – Updated

[First posted as Local Optima on July 21, 2014]

I’ve heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. And more recently, some research has shown that information presented visually has more likelihood of convincing.

So, here’s a chart. It illustrates the relative effectiveness of the different approaches to e.g. developing software products and systems. The X-axis is the relative effectiveness, increasing towards the right. This same axis also maps from a narrow, local focus on parts of a system (left-hand side) to a broad, global focus on the interactions between the parts of a system (right-hand side).

Note: This chart represents aggregates – any given development effort may show some deviation from this aggregate. And also note, we’re talking about effectiveness from the broader perspective: meeting customer needs, whilst also satisfying the developers and other technical staff, managers, executives, sales folks, suppliers, etc. – i.e. all Folks That Matter™️. I also assume the aggregates exclude LAME, Wagile and other such faux approaches where folks claim to be working in certain ways, but fail to live up to those claims.

What Is a Local Optimum?

This post is primarily about the pernicious and dysfunctional effects of using approaches predicated on local optima. By which I mean, taking a narrow view of (part of) a “system of problems” aka mess. Or, in other words, respecting the boundaries of functional silos within an organisation.

Many folks seem to believe that improving one part of the whole organisation – e.g. the software development function, or an individual team – will improve the effectiveness of the whole organisation. As Ackoff shows us, this is a fallacy of the first order: it’s the interactions between the parts of the organisation-as-a-whole that dictate the whole-system performance. In fact, improving any one part in isolation will necessarily detract from the performance of the whole.

This performance-of-the-whole is most often the kind of performance that senior executives and customers (those who who express a preference) seem to care about – very much in contrast to the cares of those tasked with, and incentivised for, improving the performance of a given part (e.g. team, group, department or function).

“When a mess, which is a system of problems, is taken apart, it loses its essential properties and so does each of its parts. The behavior of a mess depends more on how the treatment of its parts interact than how they act independently of each other. A partial solution to a whole system of problems is better than whole solutions of each of its parts taken separately.”

~ Russell. L. Ackoff


Also known as code-and-fix, hacking, messing about, and so on. Coders just take a run at a problem, and see what happens. Other skills and activities, such as understanding requirements, architecture, design, UX, testing, transfer into production, etc., if they do happen, happen very informally.

Batch & Queue

Perhaps more widely known as “Waterfall”. In this approach a big batch of work – often a complete set of requirements – passes through various queues, eventually ending up as working software (hopefully), or as software integral to a broader product or service.


One of the various flavours of agile development. Other dev-team centric approaches (xp, kanban, scrumban, FDD, etc.) have similar relative effectiveness, whether combined or “pure”.


DevOps here refers to the integration of dev teams with ops (operations/production) teams. This joining-up of two traditionally distinct and separate mini-siloes within the larger IT silo gives us a glimpse of the (slight) advantages to effectiveness resulting from taking a slightly bigger-picture view. Bigger than just the dev team, at least.


Lean Software Development aka Lean Product Development. The (right)shift in effectiveness comes from again taking an even broader view of the work. Broader not only in terms of those involved (from the folks having the original ideas through to the folks using the resulting software /product) but also broader over time. Approaches like TPDS – including SBCE – improve flow and significantly reduce waste by accepting that work happens more or less continuously, over a long period of time, not just in short, isolated things called “projects” nor for one-off things called “products”.


(Including e.g. Prod•gnosis and Flow•gnosis.) My own thought-experiment at what a truly broad, system-wide perspective on software and product development could make possible in terms of improved effectiveness.


The best conceivable approach in the real world. I’ve included this (as an update from my 2014 post, therein named “Acme”) as a milestone for just how far we as an industry have yet to go in embracing the advantages of a broad, interaction-of-the-parts perspective, as opposed to our current, widespread obsession with narrow improvements of individual parts of our organisations. NB My recent book “Quintessence” sets out a map or blueprint of this Quintessential organisation, as well as the means to get there (i.e. Organisational Psychotherapy).

Please do let me know if you’d like me to elaborate any further on any of the above descriptions.

– Bob


For some reason which made sense inside my head at the time, I omitted Theory of Constraints from the above chart. For the curious, I’d place it somewhere between Lean and FlowChain.

Addressing Issues

I received a question yesterday, enquiring into my view on how organisations think about their issues, and whether they seek to address their issues directly, or “frame them in ways that others must bear responsibility”.


Firstly, some notes how I interpret the question (which may differ from the question the enquirer had in mind):

Organisations’ Thinking

I don’t believe organisations “think”. Yes, they hold collective assumptions and beliefs, and come to decisions (or fail to). But think? Not really. It’s the individuals in an organisation that do the “thinking” albeit mostly System 1 thinking (cf Kahneman) and rarely System 2 thinking.

On second thought though, maybe organisations do, in a way, “think”. At least if we define thinking as “inner speech” then certainly organisations continually have and ongoing inner dialogue (folks within the organisation interacting verbally with each other). See: the Psychology Today (2010) article cited in Further Reading.

Framing Issues in Ways That Others Must Bear Responsibility

I take this phrase to mean “slopey shoulders”.

To the Question

Overall, I take the enquirer’s question to mean “do organisations, generally, tackle the issues facing them, or try to avoid facing them?”.

In my experience, most organisations approach issues (a.k.a. problems) in one of four ways (props to Russell L. Ackoff):

  • Absolution: Do nothing and hope the issue goes away or resolves itself.
  • Resolution: Tackle the issue in the same way as we have tackled similar issues in the past, or seek to apportion blame and excise the blamed, to find a “good enough” outcome.
  • Solution: Tackle the issue using scientific methods, techniques, and tools to find the optimal outcome, or the closest one can come to it.
  • Dissolution: Redesign the system or its environment so the the issue cannot arise. A.k.a. “Design the issue out”.

And by far the most common approach I have seen has been absolution, and occasionally, resolution.

The Organisation as a Whole

Each organisation, taken as a whole, seems to coalesce around one or two of these four approaches. That’s to say, the problem-solving meme in the organisation’s operant memeplex steers issue resolution into a preferred or habitual organisation-wide approach.


It’s difficult for a subset of an organisation to buck the trend and adopt an approach to tackling issues different from its containing organisation’s norm. This can promote organisational cognitive dissonance, with inevitable deleterious consequences. Skunkworks are one way to cocoon the subset, limiting the impact of said organisational cognitive dissonance.

– Bob

Further Reading

Psychology Today. (2010). What Do We Mean by “Thinking”? [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2021]

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus And Giroux.

Pendaran, Inc. (2019). What Do We Mean by “Solve the Problem”? [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2021].

“When a mess, which is a system of problems, is taken apart, it loses its essential properties and so does each of its parts. The behavior of a mess depends more on how the treatment of its parts interact than how they act independently of each other. A partial solution to a whole system of problems is better than whole solutions of each of its parts taken separately.“

~ Russell L. Ackoff

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