The Fatal Flaw of STAKEHOLDER CAPITALISM
The problem with STAKEHOLDER CAPITALISM remains, in my interpretation, primarily ontological.
What does that mean? It means that when we “see the world” as a fragmented array of constituents who lay normative claims on the economy, or an Organisation, or the State, we quickly forget that such a perspective is necessarily incomplete. Not only because we often find ourselves often in multiple roles — as employee and citizen, and consumer, and investor — but, more importantly, because any aggregation of such partial agendas and viewpoints could never “add up” to the common good.
The common good instead emerges by way of shifting perspective from our own needs and goods to the system — by stepping from an “ego-logical” and individual into an ecological and inter-relational identity.
This same “ontological gap” beleaguered the notion of CSR since its inception. As soon as I understand myself and my business as separate to society, and merely seek to derive a sense of legitimate obligation towards it, I have missed the point. My engagement becomes a merely voluntary and philanthropic act. Yet, from a systemic or relational vantage point, our common life on the planet, is first. (Not: “comes first”, but “is” first — our ‘being in the world’ is “phenomenologically” enmeshed and entangled) The starting point, our “ontology”, is not the individual, but the indivisible whole.
Yet, therein also lies an ethical claim. As Levinas pointed out, our responsibility for the other is not ‘derivative, but foundational’. “Identity” is in itself a relational process of becoming. We come into presence, acquire meaning and gain significance by bringing to life our interdependent relatedness. That is why “integrity” also means “wholeness” — on this basis, organisations are, by definition, organisms of society, not stakeholders. That’s a big difference.
Of course, by the same token, any notion of “adjectival capitalism” is, as Henry Mintzberg points out, fatally flawed. It simply isn’t about “adjusting capitalism” — and even less so about coming up with fancy new attributes that somehow seem to imply its critical revision. It is about rethinking our society, and the role of the economy and its organisations and its citizen within it. Transformation, above all, is a shift in perspective — not just a marginal adaptation of the hegemonic paradigm. It situates “me” in a new relationship to “the world”. Which makes it much harder to achieve, most of the time.