Activist vs. stakeseeker

In writing about the factors that act against capitalism, I often discuss “activists” and their actions in opposition to business. “Activist” is a word that I type quite often, and one with which you are quite familiar, especially so given the recent news from Syria and other Arab nations. That same word has also been used quite frequently by the mainstream news media within the context of the internal conflicts in those countries. But the media do not apply the term within the same context as do I.

Those recent news reports use the term “activist,” but the persons described as “activists” there engage in much more dangerous pursuits than the anti-business activists which I often discuss. So because of this glaring contrast, I feel I should examine what is meant by the word “activist.”

Concerning the Middle East, “activist” is used to mean “freedom fighters” or “rebels.” The choice between those two terms, of course, is yours and would be made based upon which side of that Middle East unpleasantness you fall. That same semantic question can also be asked in arriving at a label for those who organize actions against the freedom of choice that is the basis of the capitalist system. For some, the anti-business activists will be “freedom fighters” while for others they will be just plain “pains in neck.”

Of course, those anti-business “freedom fighters” or “pains in the neck” whom I discuss are not involved in a physical war. They do not deal with the same life and death issues as those activists in Syria, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries. Not even close. The anti-business activists do not risk their lives. Yet, they are involved in a type of war. The anti-business activists battle to involve themselves with, and insert themselves into, the operations of the companies they target in their campaigns, with many of the results, intentional or otherwise, negatively impacting freedom of choice in the marketplace.

Given the goings-on in the Middle East, and the life and death differences between these two types of “activists,” it would seem appropriate to distinguish semantically between the two.

Because anti-business activists attempt to be regarded as “constituents” of the companies they target, it would seem more accurate to describe these people as “stakeseekers.” The term “stakeseeker” is commonly credited to Boris Holzer, a professor from the University of Lucerne in Switzerland. “Stakeseeker” extends from the stakeholder theory of business under which businesses consider the interests of not only their customers, suppliers, employees, and shareholders, but also of the communities which they impact through their operations.

The “stakeseeking” activists (or the “freedom fighters” or the “pains in the neck”) about which I often write are those that campaign to be regarded as legitimatized stakeholders in the companies against which they campaign. Organizations like Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Friends of the Earth, and others seek to inject themselves into the affairs of various businesses, and attempt to justify their actions through the claim of acting in the “public interest.” Although the public never elected these organizations to represent them, these stakeseekers nevertheless battle, often through semantic sleight of hand, to declare themselves, to legitimatize themselves as one of the communities that the companies, whose reputations they extort, should recognize as a stakeholder.

At no time do these stakeseekers risk it all. At no time do these stakeseekers face the possibility of offering the “last full measure of devotion.” The stakeseekers have a cause, but the price of their cause is far less costly than that paid by the activists portrayed in the recent news reports.

The differences in this glaring contrast are indeed stark, and as we ponder them they become all the more stark and at once poignant. It is these differences we need to keep in mind when aptly applying the terms stakeseeker or activist to those who fight for political freedom versus those who fight against market freedom.


Richard Telofski

Richard Telofski is a competitive strategy and intelligence analyst. Formerly the president of one of the world’s first competitive intelligence consultancies, Richard currently practices at The Kahuna Institute where he studies the business effects of non-traditional competition. He blogs about “The War on Capitalism” at