U.S. should note shift to kinder form of capitalism in Europe

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Thanks to all those New York startup agencies that responded to my contention that there weren't any ("Compared to rest of world, New York is start-up desert," AA, July 9). Unintentionally, you helped formulate this column, too: Why we should all take seriously the simmering cauldron of the anti-globalization movement gaining hold in Europe.

Most of you referred to a desire to break with advertising's inexorable global consolidation, and all it entails. It was as if people engaging in a core capitalist act-setting up one's own small business-were doing so in an act of rebellion against the greater forces of capitalism. The desire expressed repeatedly was simply to be small again.

Setting up a small business of one's own is an act usually undertaken by people who could succeed in big business. A startup is sometimes the result of individuals being overlooked or frustrated, but it is not generally an act of the bitter, or disenfranchised.

This is where the similarities with the anti-globalization camp come in. The media tars the entire movement with the grungy brush of the Seattle and Swedish demonstrators; associating anti-globalization with the less palatable factions of the environmental and animal-rights movements.

However, the movement cannot neatly be pigeonholed as extremist. What's more, as recent articles such as Newsweek's "Slow Eur-ope" and New York's "Culture is not a store" explained, there is something more subtle afoot than aversion to the concept of Chicken McCurry.

Whether this really is a rejection of what Newsweek called the "American rat race" is debatable, but there is a regionwide shift toward a kinder, more gentle form of capitalism.

It is manifest in many and various ways, most visibly the recent landslide re-election of Tony Blair, a Conservative in Social Democrat clothing, but it is also present in France's adoption of the 35-hour work week (with Belgium to follow); in the European Union reintroducing workers' councils; and in the move to longer vacations in Sweden (where there is already a 25-day-a-year minimum) and Germany (where Volkswagen has implemented a 28-hour work week this summer).

The "slow movement" in Italy is also grabbing headlines. Headquartered in the town of Bra, where small businesses must by law close at least two days a week, and where there are vehicle bans in the center of the town, there are now 31 Italian members of the "slow cities" group.

True to one Italian stereotype, the movement began as a reaction against the proliferation of McDonald's across Italy and a rejection of the values associated with fast food. It champions eating at leisure.

It is now a banner under which to fight for the preservation of local foodstuffs and their producers threatened by global brands. In short, it fights for all the small businesses and idiosyncratic meat and dairy products that make visiting Italy (or France) such a pleasure.

Let's not be naive: These European countries enjoy the benefits of international trade, and export their own much-sought-after goods happily. And, for better or worse, McDonald's, the Gap and Starbucks will continue to colonize the Continent.

But in Europe it is more difficult to dismiss blithely the downside of globalization. It's a complex subject that demands more space, but many Europeans are less comfortable with the notion of wealth creation as an end in its own right, and in some parts of the EU there is even a stigma attached to being rich.

Businessmen and politicians should have their antennae raised. We can each try and sum up which side we are on by asking "Do we live to work, or work to live?" But let's be honest: Any movement that has as one of its principal tenets the right to a three-hour lunch-accompanied by wine-can neither be all bad nor that naive.

Stefano Hatfield is managing director and editorial director of Ad Age Global.

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