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June 12 – 16, 2011
Bibliotheca Alexandria, Egypt
This major global conference is being convened by Dr. Kamran Mofid, Founder, Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative and Ms. Heba El-Rafey, Director, Dialogue Forum, Bibliotheca Alexandria.
- Written by: Kamran Mofid
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Economics and Economists Engulfed By Crises:
What Do We Tell the Students?
Prof. Kamran Mofid PhD (ECON)
Founder, Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI)
Steve Szeghi PhD (ECON)
Professor of Economics, Wilmington College, Wilmington, Ohio
Co-Author Right Relationship: Building A Whole Earth Economy
"Education should consist of a series of enchantments, each raising the individual to a higher level of awareness, understanding, and kinship with all living things". Author Unknown
"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge". Albert Einstein
"What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good". Aristotle
“Education is the leading of human souls to what is best, and making what is best out of them”. John Ruskin
The recent global crisis has lead to questions about whether the kind of economics that is taught in universities was responsible for the crisis itself, or indeed for its widespread failure to predict the timing and magnitude of the events that unfolded in 2008. There are many reasons for such failure. However, whatever the reasons might be, we strongly believe that now is the time for us all to begin to debate this issue and to discover what is it that we should now teach our students.
While the global financial crisis is most surely a significant peril, it is not the most significant problem that human beings or this planet face. There are two larger crises of which it is a part and which grow in immensity and difficulty to solve by the day, and which were in turn caused by many of the same philosophies, misguided ethics, flawed economics and politics that helped to spawn the financial meltdown. These two larger crises, of which we speak, are the crisis of growing inequality, economic insecurity and social injustice and the crisis of the environment which imperils an abundant diversity of life on earth as well as human survival.
It is our hope that with this paper we may begin an open dialogue with all concerned-colleagues, students and others, so that together we can prescribe a working solution.
It is clear that some serious reflection is in order. Not to stand back and question what has happened and why, would be to compound failure with failure: failure of vision with failure of responsibility. If nothing else these current crises of finance, social injustice and environmental devastation present us with a unique opportunity to address the shortcomings of our profession with total honesty and humility while returning the “dismal science” to its true position: a subject of beauty, wisdom and virtue.
Nowhere can the urgency of this task be better seen than in the eloquent words of the Real-World Economics Review.
"It is accepted fact that the economics profession through its teachings, pronouncements and policy recommendations facilitated the GFC (Global Financial Collapse). We also know that danger signs became visible long before the event and that some economists (those with their eyes on the real-world) gave public warnings which if acted upon would have averted the human disaster.
With other learned professions entrusted with public confidence, such as medicine and engineering, it is inconceivable that their professional bodies would not at the very least censure members who had successfully persuaded governments and public opinion to ignore elementary safety measures, so causing epidemics and widespread building collapses.
To date, however, the world’s major economics associations have declined to censure the major facilitators of these grave crises or even to publicly identify them. This silence, this indifference to the engendering of human suffering, constitutes grave moral failure. It also gives license to those economists who continue to indulge in axiom-happy behaviour. Nor has the economics establishment offered recognition to those economists who were not taken in by fads and fashion and whose competence, if listened to, would have prevented these crises. These two silences reveal a continuing moral crisis within the economics profession”. (See Real-World Economics Review Blog, January 11, 2010)
On the other hand, of course we find it somewhat encouraging that the most recent Nobel Prize in Economics went not to Eugene Fama for his theory of the always efficient and rational market but rather to two behavioral economists who question the rationality postulate. Coupled with the reception of the Nobel Prize by Paul Krugman last year and Joseph Stiglitz a few years earlier, both advocates of re-regulation of the financial system at the national and global level, there is reason to think that our field as a whole may truly be ready for something new.
The recent financial crisis provides overwhelming evidence that financial markets are lacking in both efficiency and rationality. Even if financial markets are characterized by something as rational as the price of an asset being related to the present value of its future income earnings; that can hardly be all that determines asset prices. Financial markets have always been griped by heavy doses of irrationality, as well as outright cons and Ponzi schemes. The potential of financial products and markets to create systemic risk and to fall prey to con and Ponzi schemes due to moral hazard, adverse selection, and asymmetrical information, was generally well understood and is why they were heavily regulated, to great success from the 1930’s until the time of Thatcher and Reagan.
Since the 1980’s, financial markets were increasingly deregulated throughout the world until the current crisis. Following Thatcher and Reagan; Clinton, Bush, Blair, and Brown all continued the deregulatory trend of the Anglo-American financial system. There were many who warned of what was to come, including Robert Kuttner (See Kuttner, Robert, The Squandering of America, 2007) and even earlier, such a wise but lonely economist as Hyman Minsky. (See Minsky, Hyman, Stabilizing An Unstable Economy, reprinted 2008, McGraw Hill) Yet it was the always efficient market hypothesis of Eugene Fama and others that came out on top in the policy debates of the last three decades in the corridors of power throughout most of the world.
Certainly the failure of the global financial system, as well as the crises of the environment and inequality and economic insecurity can not be solely blamed on standard economic theory. Surely there has been a failure of politics, ethics, spirituality and human culture as well. But standard economic theory is not without blame.
James Buchanan (See Buchanan, James and Tullock, Gordon, The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, 1962) and other Public Choice theorists introduced the concept of government failure to the basic vocabulary of Economics in the 1970’s and 80’s. Ever since, policy makers at the national and global levels have been reluctant to aggressively tackle the many cases of market failure which standard economics previously and currently admits, and for which previous theory prescribed government action. Somehow always missing from the list of examples of government failure for the public choice theorists, is the most egregious failure of all and that is the failure to correct for market failures for fear of making a mistake.
At the core of the social attitudes which are engendering the crises of the environment and increasing inequality are both market fundamentalism and standard economics. While standard economics in and of itself is distinct from the rigid ideology of market fundamentalism, too often the profession as a whole has failed to draw the sharp distinctions between standard theory and the claims of market fundamentalists. The silence of much of the economics profession in the face of the political ascendancy of this ‘market knows all’ ideology has enabled and assisted it.
Market Fundamentalism is the assertion or ideological dogma that markets and private property with little or no role for government, civil society, tradition, and community are capable of solving all human wants, needs, and problems. Standard economic theory of course posits a role for government in correcting for externalities, insuring the provision of public goods, and addressing other forms of market failure such as imperfect competition in order for markets to be efficient. In order for markets to be just, standard economics recognizes a role for government in shaping the income distribution. While much of the economics profession has been eerily quiet in the face of the political ascendancy of market fundamentalism, some economists have in fact resorted to becoming cheerleaders and boosters for it.
As social scientists who study resource allocation there should be no bias in favor of market as opposed to command or tradition in the allocation of resources, just as there should be no bias in favor of private as opposed to communal or state ownership of the means of production. But frequently the enthusiasm of some economists for market allocation and private ownership in any and all circumstances is too obvious, bordering on ideology or religion rather than science and amounts to a flirtation with market fundamentalism if not a full blown affair.
It is certainly tempting in the face of so called gridlock or broken government, or partisan stalemate, to perhaps wish that markets were capable of solving all of our problems. Collective decision making is a messy business as are relationships generally. Our politics are so divided though, precisely because of the fairly strong view on the part of some, or so it would seem, that markets are capable of solving all problems.
As both Robert Kuttner and Paul Krugman (See Krugman, Paul, The Conscience of a Liberal, 2007) suggest, the rough consensus on the proper role for government in a system of managed capitalism which existed in the United States in the 1950’s and 60’s, and even 70’s has broken down. In the context of the present day, the ardent wish for markets to solve all problems is to side with market fundamentalists in the political debate. But, wishing doesn’t make it so. Markets can not solve the biggest problems faced by human society. They can not on their own, although they can play a role, in solving the crisis of inequality and the crisis of the environment, nor can they solve the financial crisis.
Markets are simply not capable of solving all problems with little or no role for government, civil society, or tradition. Economic theory shows that markets do in fact fail to be efficient. One failure is of course externalities, another is the case of public goods, both of which have implications in the study of the environment. Markets also need perfect competition to be efficient. In addition, markets give disproportionate influence to the wants of the rich, and theory has never claimed that even when ‘efficient’ that markets are just or ethical. Many Public Choice theorists, in the tradition of James Buchanan, by suggesting that government is capable of little good in the correction of market failure have become allies, conscious or otherwise, of market fundamentalism.
Leaving it to the market alone, is leaving it to the few, to the rich, to have inordinate say so and disproportionate influence on what is produced and how. Leaving it all, to private property is to fence off the bulk of humanity from the means of life. It means walling off retreats of splendor to wander in, gain solace from and find spiritual sustenance in. Leaving it to the market in the absence of regulation or in the absence of perfect information about the quality of what is being sold (Food, Drugs, Financial Products) is leaving it to a bunch of crooks, where Ponzi schemes proliferate. As Arthur Okun once suggested, “The market needs a place but needs to be kept in its place.” The unfettered market is killing the planet upon which our survival depends, even as it also kills relationships between people.
Karl Marx long ago wrote that ‘capitalism has torn asunder all familiar relations ...” It has also torn asunder the traditions that governed the use of the commons and the ties which bound people to one another in community. But Marx was wrong in one respect, these traditions were not torn asunder, not at the time he wrote, certainly not completely, not by capitalism. The best of these traditions survived long after he wrote the Communist Manifesto. But what survived capitalism for centuries may not survive market fundamentalism and a modern economic system where human beings are no longer citizens, only consumers. Where, once we had public spaces called town squares, now we have private spaces within shopping malls, places that have the look and feel of town squares but are not. The town squares of old were places where citizens and members of the community gathered for the common life. The town square replicas inside shopping malls are places where consumers linger for a few moments before venturing forth for the next purchase, even as they are calmed by the shadows of what once was.
Apart from the failure to speak strongly against market fundamentalism, and the enthusiasm of some economists for it, standard theory itself shares some of the blame for other attitudes which have assisted if not engendered the crises of the environment and inequality. Standard theory tends to be obsessed with economic growth, typically GDP growth, viewing it as an automatic remedy for everything from population growth, to inequality, to environmental problems. In addition standard theory has tended to neglect Ecology and the environment, although these are included sometimes for their rather narrow ‘economic’ benefits and costs. More rarely are the aesthetic human use values of the environment considered, and almost always nature, the earth, and other species are viewed in homocentric terms and not in terms of intrinsic value.
The failure to correct for market failure, accompanied by a deregulatory and privatization frenzy engendered by market fundamentalism directly contributed to the global financial crisis as well as continuing failure to adequately address the crises of Inequality/Economic Insecurity and of the Environment.
Now is the time to acknowledge the failures of standard theory and the narrowness of market fundamentalism. The times demand a revolution in economic thought, as well as new ways of teaching economics. In many respects this means a return to the soil in which economics was initially born, moral philosophy amid issues and questions of broad significance involving the fullness of human existence.
To begin this process, we suggest the following:
1-Begin a Journey to Wisdom
We should acknowledge that economics and business should be all about human well-being in society and that this cannot be separated from moral, ethical and spiritual considerations. The idea of an economics which is value-free is totally false. Nothing in life is morally neutral. In the end, economics cannot be separated from a vision of what it is to be a human being in society. In order to arrive at such understanding, our first recommendation is for us to begin a journey to wisdom, by embodying the core values of the Golden Rule (Ethic of Reciprocity): “Do unto others as you would have them to do to you”. This in turn will prompt us on a journey of discovery, giving life to what many consider to be the most consistent moral teaching throughout history. It should be noted that the Golden Rule can be found in many religions, ethical systems, spiritual traditions, indigenous cultures and secular philosophies.
Another necessary step in this journey of self-discovery, which is complimentary to the Golden Rule, is to discover, promote and live for the Common Good.
For our purpose and intentions we can define the Common Good as “widely beneficial outcomes that are never preordained but instead arrived at through mindful leadership and active following”. These outcomes involve a “regime of mutual gain; a system of policies, programs, laws, rules, and norms that yield widespread benefits at reasonable costs and taps people’s deepest interest in their own well-being and that of others”.
In short, the principle of the common good reminds us that we are all really responsible for each other – we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers - and must work for social conditions which ensure that every person and every group in society is able to meet their needs and realize their potential. It follows that every group in society must take into account the rights and aspirations of other groups, and the well being of the whole human family.
2- Now is the Time for a Revolution in Economic Thought
Here we are in total agreement with Hayek when he wrote:
“An economist who is only an economist cannot be a good economist”. Therefore, the focus of economics should be on the benefit and bounty that the economy produces, on how to let this bounty increase, and how to share the benefits justly among the people for the common good, removing the obstacles that hinder this process. Above all else the purpose of the economy is to provide basic human needs as well as the means of establishing, maintaining, and nurturing human relationships while dealing justly with future generations (Sustainability) and ethically with all life on earth (Ecological Balance).
Moreover, economic investigation should be accompanied by research into subjects such as anthropology, philosophy, politics, ecology, environmental ethics, and theology, to give insight into our own human mystery, as no economic theory or no economist can say who we are, where have we come from or where we are going to. All human beings and all species must be respected as part of the web of life and not relegated to narrow short term economic interests, commodification, or exploitation, as has been the case for the past few centuries.
Much of humanity thinks itself elevated above the rest of nature via one major difference: the possession of a critical mind. Many think it is through this gift that humans are honoured with a unique ability to influence the direction of our life and the world in which we live. Yet, there is much recent scientific evidence, just as there is much in indigenous spiritual tradition to suggest that humans are not unique in this capacity. Regardless, it is time to put our critical ability to good use and resolve to do our utmost in life for the good of humanity and the entire web of life. In order to be for the common good, we must admit that, there is more to life than economics, more than the so-called rational and efficient market: the market knows it all mentality, which has brought us all such a bitter harvest. We must realise that we should do our utmost by uniting faith and knowledge, love and reason, heart and mind, the human community and the community of nature.
We must undertake the task of building a bridge between East and West. We must encourage a dialogue of civilisations, cultures and faiths. We must encourage a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving. Above all, our paths must be to unite love and intellect. This, in our view, can be a great path of dialogue between East and West, and between “the modern” and the indigenous or aboriginal. Pursuing such a dialogue will lead to a more relevant and true economic model, in harmony with the deepest human values.
In the West we have mastered the sophisticated art of increasingly complex and complicated and highly mathematical economic models. Our technological achievements of the last few decades and centuries are truly unbelievable to say the least. However, many critics, including us, believe that in the process, as it appears, we have lost the art of living and loving, along with any sense of what it means to be happy and content, and more. Here, is where the time-honoured Eastern philosophy, mysticism and spirituality may offer a solution to our western market-driven thinking. In the wise words of a Muslim philosopher and poet, Muhammad Iqbal:
In the West, Intellect is the source of life,
In the East, Love is the basis of life.
Through Love, Intellect grows acquainted
And Intellect gives stability to the work of
Arise and lay the foundations of a new world,
By wedding Intellect to Love
In addition, the so called modern world (both East and West) has much to learn from the spiritual and cultural values of the worlds many indigenous peoples, both past and present. There exists much wisdom among the indigenous, containing lessons in sharing and equality and justice which can help draw ‘modern’ people into engagement with the deeper realities of their own dominant religions. Also, people who live close to the earth, who possess an earth-based spirituality typically view themselves as part of nature, part of the earth, part of a community of species as well as being part of the human community.
Among the indigenous not only do human beings derive tremendous benefits (physical, psychological, and spiritual) from nature, but all the elements of nature, (people, animals, plants, forest, rocks and streams) are regarded as living beings to be respected, reverenced, and to be in relationship with. These are the types of insights the world needs today in order to construct an environmental ethic which will allow us to enable an abundant flourishing of biodiversity on earth not only because we benefit from such diversity but also because it is right and moral. We take to heart the words of a Laguna poet and author, Leslie Marmon Silko in StoryTeller.
“The earth is your mother,
she holds you.
The sky is your father,
he protects you.
Rainbow is your sister,
she loves you.
The winds are your brothers,
They sing to you.
We are together always
We are together always
There never was a time
was not so.”
In a nut-shell, we believe that we should change our narrow economic obsessive and human centric language, terminology and values, to more inclusive ones. For us, our crises are not economic or monetary only, so to say. If they were, now that we have collectively poured in over 20 trillions of Dollars, Pounds, euros and more, into our economies, then, we should have had Heaven on Earth by now. We have not, because ours is a crisis of spirituality, of ethics, morality and love. Somehow we have lost our moral, spiritual and loving compass. Therefore, if any economic model, theory or prescription we may offer is going to be a good and useful one, then, it has to address these crises, thus, making the economics good and viable, as a subject under our control and not the other way round.
To achieve this, we suggest that students should be strongly encouraged to reflect upon the following as they begin their formal studies at the university. This will demonstrate how the economy can be made to serve the interests of society, and not the other way around, as it is today.
* Living happily is “the desire of us all, but our mind is blinded to a clear vision of just what it is that makes life happy”. The root of happiness is ethical behaviour, and thus the ancient idea of moral education and cultivation, is essential to ideal of joyfulness.
*In modern economics we have reduced humanity to a collection of individual, independent, utility maximizing creatures. And not without consequence, in our society success is too often defined by accumulation of material and financial wealth over a lifetime. We are ensconced in this free market ideology without questioning its morality and ethical foundations. So watermarked is this spirit of economics and capitalism upon our lives that even though our hearts cry for a more meaningful and genuine existence, we are sucked back into the squirrel cage of capitalism, running faster and faster to “keep up with the Jones’s,” lamenting as we inwardly yearn for a simpler, more meaningful, and more genuine life.
* Economics, from the time of Plato right through to Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, was as deeply concerned with issues of social justice, ethics and morality as it was with intrinsic economic analysis and questions of price theory. Most economics students today learn that Adam Smith was the ‘father of modern economics’ but not that he was also a moral philosopher. In 1759, sixteen years before his famous Wealth of Nations, Smith published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which explored the self-interested nature of man and his ability nevertheless to make moral decisions based on factors other than selfishness, such as empathy and the desire for approval from others.
In The Wealth of Nations, Smith laid the early groundwork for economic analysis, but he embedded it in a broader discussion of social justice and the role of government. Students today know only of his analogy of the ‘invisible hand’ and his advocacy of free markets. They ignore his insight that the pursuit of wealth should not take precedence over social and moral obligations, and his belief that a ‘Divine Being’ gives us ‘the greatest quantity of happiness’. They are taught that the free market as a ‘way of life’ appealed to Adam Smith but not that he distrusted the morality of the market as a morality for society at large. He neither envisioned nor prescribed a capitalist society, but rather a ‘capitalist economy within society, a society held together by communities of non-capitalist and non-market morality’. As it has been noted, morality for Smith included neighbourly love, an obligation to practice justice, a norm of financial support for the government ‘in proportion to [one’s] revenue’, and a tendency in human nature to derive pleasure from the good fortune and happiness of other people.
*‘Economic rationality’ in the shape of neo-liberal globalisation is socially and politically suicidal. Justice and democracy are sacrificed on the altar of a mythical market as forces outside society rather than creations of it. However, free markets do not exist in a vacuum. They require a set of impartiality in government, honesty, justice, and public spiritedness in business. The best safeguard against fraud, theft, and injustice in markets are the cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
*Every apparently economic choice is, in reality, a social choice. We can choose a society of basic rights – education, health, housing, child support and a dignified pension for example – or greed, pandemic inequality, ecological vandalism, civic chaos and social despair. Modern neo-liberal economics ignores the first and promotes the second path as the way to achieve economic efficiency and growth.
1) The pretence that people are rational and disciplined.
2) The pretence that more things make us happy.
3) The pretence that markets are mostly perfectly competitive.
4) The pretence that the economy can be studied in isolation from other subjects and disciplines.
* Steve Szeghi, Professor of Economics, at Wilmington College, Ohio, is co-author of Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy. At Wilmington since 1987 he served as Department Chair in Economics and Business, from 1998-2005. Szeghi writes on Social Justice, and Ecology, in relation to the Economy and Economic Theory, highlighting the socio-political economies of indigenous peoples as an alternative system. Mindful of the values and economies of indigenous peoples, Szeghi has grown to question many of the assumptions of standard economic theory. While incorporating these themes into existing courses he developed a popular student study trip class called, Wilderness, Resources, and Indigenous Peoples of the Southwest. In his youth, Szeghi worked with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. Today he supports and consults for Labor Unions, and Environmental Groups. He has worked with American Indian Tribal organizations in support of social change/development favored by indigenous communities.
- Written by: Kamran Mofid
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Globalisation for the Common Good
Invited seminar convened by
The Revd Canon Vincent Strudwick
Chamberlain and Fellow Emeritus,
Emeritus member of the Theology Faculty,
University of Oxford
(Mawby Pavilion, Rewley House, June 5th 2008)
Distinguished guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen,
First, Vincent, please allow me to thank you for your kind words of introduction and welcome. I am most grateful to you and thank you for all your efforts and hard work to make this seminar and this gathering possible. I would also wish to thank Dr. Farhang Jahanpour for bringing us together, discovering that we share much in our research and academic interests and outlook.
Secondly, I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is for me, to be here in Oxford with you today. It is always a very special joy for me to return to Oxford. It is here that I first landed all those years ago in 1971 as a young man coming from Iran. It is in Oxford that I met my future wife, Annie, here with me today. It is here where I have met many wonderful friends some in this room today. It is to Oxford I returned in the early 2000s to study Pastoral Theology in my search for life’s bigger picture.
But it is a particular privilege to be back to Oxford today, to share with you my journey for Globalisation for the Common Good (GCG). We at the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative fully believe that the rich heritages of the world’s religions have much to offer in the drive to promote global peace, justice, and human well-being. While globalisation is all too often conceived in terms of impersonal economic and the so-called market forces, we believe that in breaking down the barriers between cultures, it also provides the possibility for productive inter-religious and inter-cultural encounters. We at GCG seek to celebrate religious diversity while seeking to overcome ideological divisions to harness the wealth of the world’s diverse spiritual and ethical traditions to create a sense of common purpose that can enable us to build social and economic policies that are truly humane and life-enhancing.
The Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative was first established in 2002 at a conference in Oxford. Since then, the GCG International Conference has become an annual event growing as it has traveled across the globe through St. Petersburg, Dubai, Kenya, Hawaii, and Istanbul. The 2008 conference is at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, and the 2009 conference is scheduled to take place at Loyola University, Chicago. These multi-disciplinary conferences have been lively and productive affairs, in which scholars, politicians, businessmen and women, NGO leaders, theologians, journalists, peace activists, and students from many diverse faiths and cultural backgrounds have come together from around the world for intense discussions on a spiritual and value-centred vision of globalisation and the common good. Indeed, we have now moved from research and discussion to articulate position papers and an active agenda for change in the international community and its economic and development policies.
Our work over the past few years has given rise to numerous collaborations, several book publications, and academic papers, as well as the establishment of the rapidly developing online Journal of Globalisation for the Common Good. There are also modules on Globalisation for the Common Good offered at different unversities around the world, including Fatih University in Istanbul and Trinity College, University of Melbourne.
We at the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative believe that the current developments in promoting inter-faith relations are a vital step in adapting humanity to the age of globalisation. We look forward to being able to play a part in what we hope is a fruitful period of inter-religious dialogue which can see peace, justice, and human well-being furthered across the globe. And now I will share a bit more on my journey of a wonderful discovery, namely, Globalisation for the Common Good; a vision and an initiative we can believe in to heal our broken world.
Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative: An Introduction and Mission Statement
“Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”
- From the Earth Charter
The Children of Adam
Are limbs of one another,
In terms of Creation,
They’re of the self-same Essence. - Sa’adi.
“In a world ever more interdependent, peace, justice and the safe-keeping of creation cannot but be the fruit of a joint commitment of all in pursuing the common good”. - Pope John Paul II
“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom”. - Nelson Mandela
“Within a decade, no child will go hungry, no family will fear for its next day’s bread, and no human being’s future and capacity will be stunted by malnutrition”. - Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, Rome world Food Conference, 1974
“The world cannot get out of its current state of crisis with the same thinking that got it there in the first place”. - Albert Einstein
Globalisation has changed the world system and current trends suggest that its pace will continue and even accelerate in the future. These trends include greater flows of goods and services, money, capital, people, technology, information and ideas. Globalisation to some extend has increased competition, with some beneficial aspects that increase production and efficiency, providing a strong impetus for economic growth. However, this should be qualified, when considering problems of equity and distribution, and who actually benefits from globalisation. The great majority of the developing countries’ population and a large number of people in the developed countries have been marginalised and excluded from the globalisation and its benefits.
Indeed, today the globalised world economy, despite many significant achievements in areas such as science, technology, medicine, transport and communication and more, is facing the three intertwined illnesses that are eating at the heart of the world.
- An extreme, and worsening, maldistribution of wealth and income.
- An overwhelming, and worsening, threat to the environment;
- A collapse of love, compassion, social solidarity, at the levels of family, neighbourhood, workplace, and society as a whole.
In short, we live in difficult and troubling times, facing unprecedented global challenges in the areas of climate change and ecology, banking, credit and subprime mortgage lending, soaring cost of energy and food, hunger and infectious disease, international relations and cooperation, peace and justice, terrorism and war, armaments and unprecedented violence, crime and insecurity. It is precisely in times like these – unstable and confusing though they may be – that people everywhere need to keep their eyes on the better side of human nature, the side of love and compassion, rather than hatred and injustice; the side of the common good, rather than selfishness, individualism and greed.
People need to see that there are serious alternatives to the world’s present failing policies, rules and institutions, and that there are likeminded global citizens who share a vision of hope and common values that can lift them out of the deep sense of powerlessness and despair that is now affecting so many parts of the world.
Today, many people, from all walks of life and different parts of the world are asking some pertinent and timely questions. Are there sources from which we can draw meaning and wholeness to our lives? Are there resources of spirituality that would nourish and sustain our lives in this complex, pluralistic and ever changing world? Why, when we humans have such a great capacity for caring, sharing, consciousness, wisdom and creativity, has our world seen so much cruelty, wars, insensitivity, injustice, and destruction?
These questions and many more are being raised in our day not only by those traditionally identified with religious traditions; they are the questions of scientists, politicians, economists, educators, psychologists, people in the business world, working people, and all who experience an emptiness and a lack of purpose and orientation to human life. Young people in particular call for an alternate vision that is centred in values that give meaning to human existence.
What matters most today, it seems more than ever before, are money and economics, the “loads of money” culture, the greed is good mentality. This philosophy of materialism and consumerism has brought us a bitter harvest. Indeed, the ecological degradation and environmental vandalism that we are witnessing in the interest of profit maximisation and the highest return to the shareholders, has prompted many respectable scholars to ask if life as we know it can continue under present conditions. For example, Lord Rees, Prof. of Cosmology and Astrophysics, and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, gives present human civilisation no more than a 50 per cent chance of surviving the current century, in his recent book Our Final Century. Are we closer to the beginning of history, or to its end?
There is no doubt in my mind that, we need a new direction, a new economic system, a new path: a globalisation of kindness, compassion and justice. We need a globalisation that understands that sustainability demands that efficiency and equity should go hand-in-hand. We know there must be a convergence of these values, rather than a competition between them.
As it has been noted by many saints and sages throughout history, fostering peace by overcoming evil with good requires careful reflection on the common good and on its social and political implications. When the common good is encouraged at every level, the conditions for peace are promoted. Can an individual find complete fulfilment without taking account of his/her social nature, that is, our being "with" and "for" others? The common good closely concerns us. It closely concerns every expression of our social nature: the family, groups, associations, cities, regions, states, the community of peoples and nations.
Genealogy of the Common Good: A Bird’s Eye Summary The theological and philosophical origins and sources of the common good is indeed very well documented. As it has been observed, the common good is an old idea with new-found vitality in the global public discourse. Debates about the common good allow participation by diverse schools of thought and provide a unique opportunity to build the broad political will necessary to meet today’s international moral obligations. The global common good challenges individual traditions to work across boundaries of faith and geography to arrive at a shared moral vision for our highly interconnected world.
Aristotle was the philosophical father of the common good. In his quest to set out the ethical precepts for developing virtuous citizens and building just societies, he developed the idea that both individuals and governments ought to work for the same virtuous goals. By bringing humanity back to its shared common good, he developed an ethical system that attempts to address the shared interests of diverse societies. St. Thomas Aquinas played a critical role in wedding Aristotle’s concept to the Christian tradition. Aquinas makes the important point that the common good and the good of individuals are not in opposition. In fact, “He that seeks the good of the many seeks in consequence his own good.”
Contemporary Christian sources, both Catholic and Protestant, have built on this long tradition of advocating government for the common good. Vatican II speaks of “the increasingly universal complexion” of the common good, given our growing human interdependence, and argues that we have duties not just to our countrymen but “with respect to the whole human race.”
In Protestant traditions the concept of the common good rests on similar foundations of universal human dignity and a shared responsibility to build just political systems. The common good resonates beyond Christian traditions as well. The term has rich resonance in the history of Jewish thought and in contemporary Jewish practice. The Jewish tradition of working for justice and the common good is extensive: Among the 613 commandments laid out in the covenant with Moses are injunctions to protect the disempowered, especially the poor, widows, orphans, and children. The related concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) is also prominent within the contemporary Jewish community.
Like its two Abrahamic cousins, Islam is rich in ethical injunctions grounded in the idea of the common good. The presence of zakat (almsgiving) as one of the five pillars of Islam makes it clear that an ethic of mutual support is at the core of the Islamic faith. There is a strong sense that good government is one that can provide for the poor and needy. The idea of maslaha, translated as either “public interest” or “common good,” guides governmental responsibility to provide for public needs. It has featured heavily in the writings of modern Muslim reformers throughout the Islamic world.
Conceptions of the common good abound in Eastern traditions as well. In all, these rich traditions of religious and philosophical thought have pervaded societies throughout the world, establishing the foundations for civilizations and governments. In addition to its religious roots, the concept of the global common good is based in civic values that can unite our troubled world and guide our actions in serving for the common good.
Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant expressed similar truths when developing his cosmopolitan ideal of the international community. “Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a cosmopolitan right is not a fantastical, high-flown or exaggerated notion.”
However, discovering common ties amongst various belief systems important as it appears to be is nonetheless only a beginning. The greater challenge is to apply the ideas of the global common good to practical problems and forge common solutions. Translating the contentions of philosophers and religious scholars into agreement between policymakers and nations is the task of statesmen, citizens and policy makers, a challenge to which globalisation for the common good has adhered itself to, the purpose is not simply talking about the common good, or simply to have a dialogue, but the purpose is to take actions, to make the common good and dialogue to work for all of us, benefiting us all, which I will shed more light on later. In all, from our perspective, the basic philosophical argument that should guide our strategic process and inform our politics is clear: We should seek to secure the common good. Securing the common good means putting the public interest above narrow self interest and group demands; working to achieve social and economic conditions that benefit everyone; promoting a personal, governmental and corporate ethic of responsibility and service to others; creating a more open and honest governmental structure that relies upon an engaged and participatory citizenry; and doing more to meet our common responsibilities to aid the disadvantaged, protect our natural resources; and provide opportunities rather than burdens for future generations.
After years of neo-liberalism defined by rampant individualism, materialism and greed, people, everywhere, are ready for a higher national purpose and a greater sense of service and duty to something beyond self-interest alone. The common good represents a clear break with the conservative/neo-liberal vision of the world as an aggregation of individuals pursuing their own needs and interests with little concern for what unites us as people, or for the impacts of our actions on the whole of society. The goal of the common good in both the secular and faith traditions is a more balanced and considerate populace that seeks to provide the social and economic conditions necessary for all people to lead meaningful and dignified lives. Given the bitter harvest of neo-liberalism world- wide, today we are all getting a better understanding of what is needed to heal our broken world, a strong notion of sacrifice and duty in service to a greater good.
We should advocate for new and revitalised global leadership in pursuit of a global common good; leadership that is grounded in global engagement and dialogue, expand economic opportunity with justice and equity, and new institutions and networks to deal with intractable problems. Martin Luther King said it so eloquently when he remarked that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. That is what the global common good is about-working together for a world of justice and peace.
Globalisation, as I noted above, is most often thought of within economic and technological structures as a way to denote the massive and dynamic global integration of national economies and markets. Because these economic and technological forces are central to the current and future well-being of the global human family, it is essential that they be discussed within the more general framework of human moral and spiritual experience. It is only within these frameworks that we can fully explore the values and relationships that form our human communities. Central to this discussion are religious institutions and communities which have developed time-honored wisdom arising from the deep encounter of the human person with the mystery of the sacred. The diversity represented by these communities images the profound truth of the transcendent mystery in which we participate.
In recent decades, the role of religion has increased both in Western and non-Western societies. Religion continues to be significant in individual lives, collective identities and political mobilization. Furthermore, religion today is quintessential of identity politics and it functions both as a liberating and a repressing factor. I believe that, religion is better at fostering peace than at fuelling war. Frequently, the root cause of conflict is economic, social, ethnic, or political, even though it may be dressed up in religious garb. As Fred Dallmayr of University of Notre Dame in his recent book, In Search of the Good Life, has noted, “It seems to me that religiously motivated violence is a sign of small faith. It is practiced by people who merely dabble in faith or are novices in faith and thus do not hesitate to abuse religion for their own ends”.
Thus, for me, religion can often be invaluable in promoting understanding and reconciliation-and the need to exploit that potential has never been greater. Moreover, with so much emphasis on religion as a source of conflict, the role of religion as a force in peacemaking is usually overlooked. As I mentioned in my introductory remarks, in order to provide a better understanding of the role of religions in the age of globalisation, in 2002, “Globalisation for the Common Good” came into being at Oxford. This movement is for “Rekindling the Human Spirit and Compassion in Globalisation”. We have articulated an alternative to the current dominant models of economic/free trade globalisation and that would make globalisation good for all.
The mission of Globalisation for the Common Good is to promote an ethical, moral and spiritual vision of globalisation and encourage adoption of public policy at all levels that builds the common good of our global community. In this way we nurture personal virtue in our relationships with each other and the planetary environment,
while investing our understanding of economics, commerce, trade and international relations with values centered on the universal common good. We will advance understanding and action on major global issues by civil society, private enterprise, the public sector, governments, and national and international institutions. We will promote collaborative policy solutions to the challenges posed by globalisation. We are committed to the idea that the marketplace is not just an economic sphere, ‘it is a region of the human spirit’. Reflecting on the Divine dimension of life can not be divorced from consideration of economic questions and issues can not be considered. Economics can not be effectively practiced without an understanding of the world of heart and spirit. Therefore we view the problem and challenge of globalisation not only from an economic point of view, but also from ethical, spiritual and theological perspectives.
The Essential Dimensions of Globalisation for the Common Good
1. To champion the highest cultural evolutionary values and aspirations of the early 21st century, in full awareness of their strategic interdependence:
- Respect for belief in God, Ultimate Reality, or the One, and the right of each person to religious freedom and practice
- The investment of spiritual capital
- The practice of selfless love
- Deep Interreligious and intercultural dialogue and engagement for thecommon good
- Cultures of peace and non-violent conflict resolution
- Economic justice, social justice, solidarity, and universal human rights
- Ecological sustainability, stewardship, and commitment to an interspeciesethic Global empowerment of women
- The rights of the child
- The elimination of global hunger, thirst, preventable disease, and poverty
- Cosmopolitanism: the harmony of local, national, and global citizenship
2. To seek solutions to the great challenges facing the planetary community:
- The estrangement of global North and South
- The urgent need for a restructured global economy
- The increasing necessity of global public governance
- The elucidation of a global ethic identifying the rights and the responsibilities of Earth’s people
- The elimination of the scourges of actual and virtual slavery and torture
- The creation of sustainable energy policies
- The realization of planetary sovereignty by the peoples of the Earth
- Cherishing and protection of the global commons
- Commitment to service
3. To contribute to the creation of a global interdisciplinary agenda for the common good.
The Aims of Globalisation for the Common Good are:
- GCG commits itself to a wide range of activities that are all aimed at promoting and teaching, through cutting-edge scholarly activities, research and education on Globalisation for the Common Good. Our emphasis is on providing progressive perspectives that are increasingly hard to find because of the reliance on, and promotion of, neo-liberalism as the sole philosophy behind the current globalisation process.
- GCG therefore, rather than espousing and defending a single discipline or paradigm, seeks to engage a broad, pluralistic range of viewpoints and models to be represented, compared, and ultimately synthesised into a richer understanding of the inherently complex systems it deals with.
- GCG nurtures a commitment among academics and practitioners to learn from each other, to explore new patterns of thinking together, and to facilitate the derivation and implementation of effective policies for the realisation of Globalisation for the Common Good.
- GCG is committed to the idea of global cooperation and dialogue between scholars, business leaders, policy makers, opinion leaders and leading NGOs.
Our aim is that such co-operation will lead to a more informed and balanced understanding of the behaviours, motivations and objectives of the various forces, agents and policy makers that form the globalisation process. Among research topics carried out by GCG in fulfilment of its mission are:
- Ethics, Philosophy, Theology and Globalisation
- Eastern and Western spirituality in Dialogue for the Common Good
- Global Governance, Business, Economics and Globalisation
- Ethics and Spirituality in Higher Education
- Global Consciousness and Spirituality
- Faith and Action in the age of Globalisation
- The Virtuous Economy- Business as a Calling: Doing Well by Doing Good
- Environment, Ecology and Globalisation
- Psychology and Globalisation
- Politics, International Relations and Globalisation
- Non-violent Conflict Resolution and Peace building
- Civilisation, Culture and Globalisation
- Media, Global reporting and Globalisation
- Global Activism for the Common Good
- Enabling, Envisioning and Empowering: Young People Leadership Programme in Common Good
- Regions & Globalisation for the Common Good
Finally I am very much pleased to share with you a powerful emerging initiative in the interfaith field aimed at having the United Nations declaring 2011-2020 as “Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace” (DECADE). Within the UN the role of interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace has been clearly expressed in recent resolutions of its General Assembly which promote “interreligious dialogue” as well as “religious and cultural understanding, harmony and cooperation.” Worth mentioning is also the “Alliance of Civilizations” initiative, launched by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in July 2005.
In October 2007, the General Assembly convened a “high level dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Cooperation for the promotion of tolerance, understanding and universal respect on matters of religion or belief and cultural diversity, in coordination with other similar initiatives in this area”. In December 2007, the General Assembly decided “to declare 2010 as the International Year for Rapprochement of Cultures” and recommended that “during the course of the year appropriate events be organized on interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace.”
The time seems ripe to build on the momentum that has been built around the importance of interreligious dialogue and cooperation and work for the launch of a “UN Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace 2011-2020″.
The DECADE provides a framework to:
- Encourage Member States publicly and constructively to engage individuals and communities of diverse religions and beliefs for the common good;
- Strengthen and deepen the cooperation of individuals and communities of diverse religions and beliefs, locally, nationally, regionally and internationally for building a sustainable world of justice and peace;
- Encourage individuals and communities of diverse religions and beliefs to cooperate on UN initiatives such as: Enhancement of Human Rights (including the rights of women, children and youth, refugees and migrants as well as gender equity), Millennium Development Goals, decent work for all, dialogue among civilizations, promoting a culture of peace and nonviolence, peacebuilding and shared security.
- Promote mutual respect and trust between individuals and communities of diverse religions and beliefs through dialogue and shared action.
Such is our work and calling. How well we succeed in changing our world for the better, so that we can build a world that is just, free and prosperous for all, will depend on our collective capacities to mobilise interest and master enthusiasm around our common vision and our collective action. This call to action should be heard loud and clear. So please share our message with all of your colleagues and friends: GCGI is the place where we come together with a positive global focus, inviting all to march with us along the path of justice, peace and the common good for all.
Kamran Mofid, Founder, Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative
Co-editor, Journal of Globalization for the Common Good
Endnotes: The main sources consulted are:
- Marcus Braybrooke and Kamran Mofid, Promoting the Common Good, Shepheard- Walwyn, London, 2005
- Kamran Mofid, Globalisation for the Common Good, Shepheard- Walwyn, London, 2002
- Kamran Mofid(et al, eds), A Non-Violent Path to Conflict Resolution and Peace Building, Fatih University Press, Istanbul, July 2008)
- Sally Streenland, Peter Rundlet, Michael H. Fuchs and David Buckley, Pursuing the Global Common Good: Principle and Practice in U.S. Foreign Policy, Centre for American Progress, Washington D.C., 2007
- John Haplin and Ruy Teixeira, “The Politics of Definition (Part IV)”, in The American Prospect, April 27, 2006
Globalisation for the Common Good: How it All Began
Globalisation for the common Good: In a nutshell I was born in Tehran, Iran in 1952. In 1971, after finishing high school, I came to England to further my education. In 1974 I married my English wife, Annie, and two years later we emigrated to Canada. I received my BA and MA in Economics from the University of Windsor in 1980 and 1982 respectively. We returned to England in 1982, and in 1986 I was awarded my PhD in Economics from the University of Birmingham.
From 1980 onwards, for the next twenty years, I taught economics in universities, enthusiastically demonstrating how economic theories provided answers to problems of all sorts. I got quite carried away by the beauty, the sophisticated elegance, of complicated mathematical models and theories. But gradually I started to have an empty feeling.
I began to ask fundamental questions of myself. Why did I never talk to my students about compassion, dignity, comradeship, solidarity, happiness, spirituality – about the meaning of life? We never debated the biggest questions. Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going to?
I told them to create wealth, but I did not tell them for what reason. I told them about scarcity and competition, but not about abundance and co-operation. I told them about free trade, but not about fair trade; about GNP – Gross National Product – but not about GNH – Gross National Happiness. I told them about profit maximisation and cost minimisation, about the highest returns to the shareholders, but not about social consciousness, accountability to the community, sustainability and respect for creation and the creator. I did not tell them that, without humanity, economics is a house of cards built on shifting sands.
These conflicts caused me much frustration and alienation, leading to heartache and despair. I needed to rediscover myself and a real-life economics. After a proud twenty-year or so academic career, I became a student all over again. I would study theology and philosophy, disciplines nobody had taught me when I was a student of economics and I did not teach my own students when I became a teacher of economics.
It was at this difficult time that I came to understand that I needed to bring spirituality, compassion, ethics and morality back into economics itself, to make this dismal science once again relevant to and concerned with the common good. It was now that
I made the following discoveries:
- Living happily is “the desire of all men, but their minds is blinded to a clear vision of just what it is that makes life happy”. The root of happiness is ethical behaviour, and thus the ancient idea of moral education and cultivation, is essential to ideal of joyfulness.
- Economics, from the time of Plato right through to Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, was as deeply concerned with issues of social justice, ethics and morality as it was with economic analysis. Most economics students today learn that Adam Smith was the ‘father of modern economics’ but not that he was also a moral philosopher. In 1759, sixteen years before his famous Wealth of Nations, he published The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which explored the self-interested nature of man and his ability nevertheless to make moral decisions based on factors other than selfishness. In The Wealth of Nations, Smith laid the early groundwork for economic analysis, but he embedded it in a broader discussion of social justice and the role of government. Students today know only of his analogy of the ‘invisible hand’ and refer to him as defending free markets. They ignore his insight that the pursuit of wealth should not take precedence over social and moral obligations, and his belief that a ‘divine Being’ gives us ‘the greatest quantity of happiness’. They are taught that the free market as a ‘way of life’ appealed to Adam Smith but not that he distrusted the morality of the market as a morality for society at large. He neither envisioned nor prescribed a capitalist society, but rather a ‘capitalist economy within society, a society held together by communities of non-capitalist and non-market morality’. As it has been noted, morality for Smith included neighbourly love, an obligation to practice justice, a norm of financial support for the government ‘in proportion to [one’s] revenue’, and a tendency in human nature to derive pleasure from the good fortune and happiness of other people.
- The leading figure in the establishment of the American Economic Association (AEA) in 1885 was the progressive economist Richard T. Ely. He sought to combine economic theory with Christian ethics, especially the command to love one’s neighbour (as did Adam Smith). He declared that the Church, the State and the individual must work together to fulfil the Kingdom of God on earth. Few economists or economics students today know much of this history: that, for example, twenty of the fifty founding members of the AEA were former or practising ministers. Ely himself was a leading member, in the 1880s, of the Social Gospel movement; he was better known to the American public in this capacity than as an economist. He believed that economics departments should be located in schools of theology because ‘Christianity is primarily concerned with this world, and it is the mission of Christianity to bring to pass here a kingdom of righteousness.’ As a ‘religious subject’, economics should provide the base for ‘a never-ceasing attack on every wrong institution, until the earth becomes a new earth, and all its cities, cities of God.’
- The focus of economics should be on the benefit and the bounty that the economy produces, on how to let this bounty increase, and how to share the benefits justly among the people for the common good, removing the evils that hinder this process. Moreover, economic investigation should be accompanied by research into subjects such as anthropology, philosophy and most importantly, theology, to give insight into man’s own mystery, as no economic theory or no economist can say who man is, where he comes from or where he is going. Mankind must be respected as the centre of creation and not relegated by more short term economic interests.
- 'Economic rationality’ in the shape of neo-liberal globalisation is socially and politically suicidal. Justice and democracy are sacrificed on the altar of a mythical market as forces outside society rather than creations of it. However, free markets do not exist in a vacuum. They require a set of impartiality in government, honesty, justice, and public spiritedness in business. The best safeguard against fraud, theft, and injustice in markets are the cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, fortitude, and prudence, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
- Every apparently economic choice is, in reality, a social choice. We can choose a society of basic rights – education, health, housing, child support and a dignified pension – or greed, pandemic inequality, ecological vandalism, civic chaos and social despair. Modern neo-liberal economics ignores the first and promotes the second path as the way to achieve economic efficiency and growth.
- The moral crises of global economic injustice today are integrally spiritual: they signal something terribly amiss in the relationship between human beings and God.
- Where the moral life and the mystery of God’s presence are held in one breath – because the moral life is the same as the mystical life – the moral agency may be found for establishing paths towards a more just, compassionate and sustainable way of living. ‘Moral agency’ is the active love of creation (for oneself as well as for other people and for the non-human creation); it is the will to orient life around the ongoing well-being of communities and of the global community, prioritising the needs of the most vulnerable; it is the will to create social structures and policies that ensure social justice and ecological sustainability.
- In contrast to this sensibility, which weds spirituality and morality, stands modern economics’ persistent tendency to divorce the two, in particular to dissociate the intimate personal experience of a close relationship with God from public moral power.
- It is the belief in collective responsibility and collective endeavour that allows individual freedom to flourish. This can only be realised when we commit ourselves to the common good and begin to serve it.
- There are three justifications for the common good which are not commonly discussed in economics:
- Human beings need human contact, or sociability. The quality of that interaction is important, quite apart from any material benefits it may bring.
- Human beings are formed in the community – their education and training in virtue (their preferences) are elements of the common good.
- A healthy love for the common good is a necessary component of a fully developed personality.
- The marketplace is not just an economic sphere, ‘it is a region of the human spirit’. Profound economic questions are divine in nature; in contrast to what is assumed today, they should be concerned with the world of the heart and spirit. Although selfinterest is an important source of human motivation, driving the decisions we make in the marketplace every day, those decisions nevertheless have a moral, ethical and spiritual content, because each decision we make affects not only ourselves but others too. We must combine the need for economic efficiency with the need for social justice and environmental sustainability.
- The greatest achievement of modern globalisation will eventually come to be seen as the opening up of possibilities to build a humane and spiritually enriched globalised world through the universalising and globalising of compassion. But for ‘others’ to become ‘us’, for the world to become intimate with itself, we have to get to know each other better than we do now. Prejudices have to disappear: we have to see that the cultural, religious and ethnic differences reflect an ultimate creative principle. For this to happen, the great cultures and religions need to enter into genuine dialogue with each other.
It has been my pleasure and honour to put into practice these discoveries by founding the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative.