Keeping Score 

There ought to be some other means of reckoning quality in this the best and loveliest of games; the scoreboard is an ass.
– Sir Neville Cardus (1889-1975) English Journalist and Writer, commenting on cricket.

Turner believed the rich were “destroying the country” because “these new super-rich won’t loosen up their wads because they’re afraid they’ll reduce their net worth and (wind up lower) on the (Forbes 400) list. That’s their Super Bowl”.
– Ted Turner, quoted in the book “Media Man”.

Some people think business is all about money. They’re very wrong. Of course, money matters; in fact, it matters very much. Money pays the bills, but for most people who play the game, that is just the most basic of money’s purposes. For most players in the game of business, money serves the same purpose as a scoreboard in a sports stadium – a way of knowing who’s winning and who’s losing.

The idea of money as a way of keeping score has been around since antiquity, when rulers often enacted sumptuary laws to discourage ostentatious displays of wealth; the display of fancy and colorful clothing was a primary way of letting everyone know how much wealth you had. But ostentatious displays of wealth were wasteful and, more importantly, competition to the status of the ruling families.

Keeping score with wealth is, more recently, a particularly American idea, in large part because those who came to America from England and Europe viewed the “new country” as a blank slate. The relative lack of history, and corresponding lack of a traditional aristocracy, when the country was first founded meant that there was, initially, little in the way of a social hierarchy; no landed titles, no income producing great estates, no castles. Edward Chancellor, a leading author and financial journalist summed it up nicely in his best-selling history of speculation, Devil Take the Hindmost:

America is a democratic nation where social status is up for grabs, and wealth, not birth, provides the ultimate measure of distinction. …. In a democratic society such as the United States, where wealth is the ultimate determinant of status, there lingers a constant fear of being left behind materially. We may say that the guiding principle of American society is not to grow richer in absolute terms, but to avoid becoming poorer in relative terms.

  • Michael Lewis

Nowhere is this truer than in New York’s financial world. Talking about his career as a trader before he became a full time writer, Michael Lewis ruminated on how the annual bonuses in investment firms came to be the defining feature of employee’s self worth:
On January 1, 1987, 1986 would be erased from memory except for a single number: the amount of money you were paid. That number was the final summing up. Imagine being told that you will meet with the divine Creator in a year’s time to be told your worth as a human being. You’d be a little edgy about the whole thing, too, wouldn’t you? That’s roughly what we endured.”

Keeping score with money is nothing new in America or the business world, but as globalization and the American business ethos increasingly becomes the dominant worldview, for better or worse, such thinking has permeated both the world of sport, and, increasingly, the whole world.

  • Colin Chapman

When Colin Chapman (1928-1982), British Motor Racing Team Manager, said “Money is how we keep the score in motor racing nowadays” in 1974, he was just marking the beginning of a trend that has become ever more pronounced over time. Author and cultural historian Jackson Lears says “the idea that money is an indicator of fundamental value” is the “central dogma of our time.” And, to a large extent he’s right; money as a way of keeping score is so ingrained it’s hard to even recognize.

Some have battled this notion, but they have been on the fringes, and have been overrun as by a vast tidal wave. Dr Gordon Livingston, a soldier who became a war protester, and later a psychiatrist and author, sounded a common refrain when he said, “As long as we measure others and ourselves by what we have and how we look, life is inevitably a discouraging experience, characterized by greed, envy, and a desire to be someone else.”
But despite the acknowledged wisdom that keeping score with money is not the policy of sages and wise men, the temptation to do so, often with disgusting results, seems to have been the ruling passion of our time.

While there is little doubt that the sanest path is not, generally, to compare ourselves, or our incomes, to others, the temptation to do so appears to be irresistible; something within people, especially within certain types of people, notably competitive American entrepreneurs, calls out for a way to keep score. Rather than advise people to act against their natures – usually a foolish and time wasting endeavor, we’re trying to take that need and provide a better way to keep score, one that rewards productive and ethical behavior and takes into account the many different factors that effect success. While encouraging the good, we also want to show, as in the profile below, the ways that keeping score, in the traditional ways, has been a hugely vain exercise in flattering the egos of pompous, greedy, and wasteful business people.

  • 1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars
    Rate this Business as a Sport

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Best comments get a free hardcover copy of Living Sanely in an Insane World. We'll email you for your address if you're selected.