Pluralists of all Countries, Unite!
By Otti Vogt and Antoinette Weibel
Once upon a time, around 1989, the righteous cavaliers of capitalism trounced the evil communist forces and freed the beautiful Princess of Liberty! “Mankind had reached perfection, thanks to the invisible hand and relentless greed”. Henceforth, neocapitalism ruled with precious splendour and all people shall be living (read: consuming) as mini capitalists happily ever after… WRRRRRRRRONG!!
Wake up, all you wilfully blinded proletarians and post-modern daydreamers! Do not believe those libertarian neo-evangelists who sell you a “win-win wonderland”, suggesting that “greed is good, property is sacred, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect”! We have been preaching the wrong gospel: Not capitalism, but THE BALANCE had triumphed at the end of the cold war! That precious balance of societal forces that enables the common good — with a private sector of responsible businesses, a public sector of respected governments, and a “plural sector” of robust communities…
Such is the radical thesis of management icon Henry Mintzberg in his most recent work about “Rebalancing Society”. If we continue to believe in that “self-interest fatefully misunderstood” and a “best democracy money can buy”, we are “driven to compete, collect, and consume our way to neurotic oblivion”…
“Enough!”, he commences his pamphlet with revolutionary passion, “Enough of the imbalance that is destroying our democracies, our planet, and ourselves. Enough of the pendulum politics of left and right, as well as the paralysis in the political center. Enough of the visible claw of lobbying in place of the invisible hand of competing. Enough of the economic globalization that undermines sovereign states and local communities. Have we not had enough exploiting of the world’s resources, including ourselves as “human resources”?”
In the last decades, says Henry, our society marched ever faster towards imbalance. After 1990, our “thinking ended” and in our modern “Corporate Society” greed has become a cult. Corporations have turned competitive markets into markets of entitlement, benefiting few people at the expense of others. In 1952, 32% of all taxes were paid by corporations, by 2010 it dropped to 9%. Globalised companies are blackmailing sovereign countries and their citizens with untransparent trade pacts and immoral courts of arbitration. Plural sectors are withering around the world.
Looking at the last twenty years of Anglo-American democracy, Henry points to dismal facts — incarceration rates have soared; obesity and mental health are at their worst; antidepressants are the second-most prescribed drug; levels of poverty are the highest ever; voter turnout is reducing; high school dropouts increasing; Income disparities are getting worse and worse; 70% of workers hate going to work or have checked out…
So what is the solution, we are asking? “Economists tell us”, says Henry, “that ‘if we can afford it, we can do it’, which is opening the field for all sorts of “adjectival capitalism”. Like ‘ethical’, ‘caring’, ‘compassionate’, ‘conscious’, or ‘whatever capitalism’. But the problem is not the adjective, the problem is the noun! Instead of stopping destructive practices, we try to price them to reduce demand. Hence, “perversely, only the rich can indulge” — here comes the survival of the richest!
The truth is that “what many of us can afford, our planet cannot.” Micro behaviours are rendering macro destruction. Growth for the sake of growth is “the ideology of a cancer cell”. Our ability to produce, and even our desire to do so, does not justify production. As Pope Francis once said: money must serve, not rule. And “no citizen or corporate has a moral right to use private wealth to influence public policies.”
A “good society” balances public, private, and plural interests with a focus on “communityship” and common good. Such a rebalanced society has respected governments to provide protections and critical services, responsible businesses who care for their people and the environment; and a “plural sector” of robust communities where we find many of our social affiliations.
However, restoration of balance will require unprecedented renewal in America and beyond. And we must “not expect miracles from CSR”. It’s fanciful to believe that problems created by some corporations will be resolved by other corporations. Corporate social responsibility will never compensate for “corporate social irresponsibility”. Green retailing won’t make up for greedy polluting. Hence, key to societal change is the plural sector — the only actor that can lead the process of rebalancing. “If men are to remain civilised or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve”. We need a global grassroots movement that tackles societal improvement and climate change to demand the immediate reversal of destructive practices, enable widespread regeneration to foster better practices and push for consequential reforms that change the structure of institutions and corporations.
Governments need a clear message from citizens. Political parties will be hesitant to act vigorously against corporations as they are dominated by private entitlements. Yet, we must be adamant to push for change. Responsible laws imply that corporations must not become “not too big to jail, or to fail”. Common property needs to take its place alongside private property ending the excesses of intellectual property. Lobbying needs to go into public spaces and political advertising and donations must be curtailed. Banking industry requires restructuring. Increased corporate taxation, globally, is long overdue. And businesses must drop the shareholder doctrine!
Thus speaks Henry Mintzberg, with the deep wisdom of decades of speaking truth to power, smiling and surrounded by his famous “beaver statues”. Henry simply rocks! He did it when during our MBAs he chastised the old-time strategy grandees (Roll over, Mr. Porter!) claiming that “strategies grow like weeks in a garden, not like tomatoes in a hothouse”. He did it again by single-handedly rewriting the American declaration of independence! And he does it now by rallying global citizens to participate in a planetary rebalance. His message is clear to all those well-meaning pluritarians out there: Go and do! And unite! We must stop the unbalancing before it is too late. The final stage of slavery is when you no longer realise you are a slave. “When the economy of free enterprise becomes a “society of free enterprise”, its citizens are no longer free.”
Originally published on our GoodOrganisations Medium page
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For our Leaders for Humanity interview with Henry Mintzberg see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egC9-h-4M1I
The podcast on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/3B5NN89pIDPgGDEPqNv0W7
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