Andrew Studdert-Kennedy: ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ by Andrew Hartropp

Andrew Hartropp, an Anglican Minister with doctorates in both theology and economics, has written this introductory book to help equip people to ‘live and speak for Jesus Christ in today’s world’ with the underlying conviction that doing economic justice is indeed part of this living and speaking for Christ. Its arguments are laid out clearly and the book is well written and accessible.

The balanced tone is set in the opening chapter which recognises that there are alternative foundations for justice (rights, needs and merits) and that in a pluralistic world an agreed understanding of justice can be elusive. Accordingly, Hartropp outlines a biblical understanding of economic justice which provides the framework for the book as a whole. It’s an understanding that rests on the claims that justice, including economic justice, is rooted in who God is, that God has built justice into creation and that the Bible discloses to us what justice is (page 12).

Hartropp identifies four key aspects of a biblical understanding of economic justice. ‘It means treating people appropriately, according to the norms and principles given by God; it requires a special concern for people who are poor, needy and economically weak; it emphasizes the quality of relationships – notably one-to-one relationships; and it means that everyone participates in God’s blessings, including material blessings’ (page 148).

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Part One of the book looks at how we do economic justice in our own relationships as consumers, in the workplace and in local church communities.

The reader is challenged to look critically at the dominance of consumerism in today’s culture and to be aware of how this is at variance with God’s values before considering how their money should be spent. In the workplace, the emphasis is on the relationship with the whole person and the requirement for employees to be treated with respect, to have a fair wage, good working conditions and opportunities for personal development. At the same time the responsibility of the Christian employee to work hard and give of their best because their work will be pleasing to the Lord (Colossians 3) is a valuable reminder that doing economic justice entails mutual obligations between employee and employer (page 66) and also between borrower and lender (Psalm 37.21 page 25). The prompt settlement of invoices could have been included amongst these mutual responsibilities.

The second part of the book focuses on doing economic justice in wider society and the influence ‘that followers of Christ can have in and through the organizations and structures of which they are a part’ (page 89). In successive chapters, Hartropp looks at what this might mean in firms and corporations, banks and financial institutions and the place of government both nationally and globally.

The principles that were earlier espoused in the workplace are played out again on a larger scale when looking at firms and corporations. There is an admirably even-handed discussion about flexible working and zero hours contracts (page 108) and disquiet at, though not outright condemnation of, the levels of Chief Executive Officer pay in UK companies and the huge pay ratio between them and the average employee – 148:1 in 2014 among FTSE 100 CEOs (page 111).

When looking at banks and other financial institutions, the author includes a useful summary of the run-up to the 2007-8 financial crisis and helps us see excessive lending, borrowing and debt as a failure of the kind of relational justice that biblical economic justice requires. He seeks to adapt and apply the ancient biblical principle of Jubilee as a way of restoring relationships and offering hope for those trapped with burdensome debt and he is realistic about the way that a prevailing culture preys on fallen humanity’s susceptibility for greed, pride and folly. Wisely, there is no guide for a banking policy but rather the chapter aims to equip people with ways of thinking about some of the major challenges of finance (page 142).

This same caution is displayed when exploring the role of government in tackling the challenges of poverty and inequality both in the UK and globally. Returning to the four principles of biblical economic justice, Hartropp writes, ‘The call to do justice is to all people. Therefore it is not intrinsic to doing economic justice that the state must have a part to play’ (page 148, my emphasis). At the same time, he does not adopt a libertarian position but rather argues that, adhering to biblical principles, leaders should uphold relational economic justice, focus on the poor and act against economic oppression (page 163), an oppression which may or may not have been caused by market failure. In a brief section towards the end of the book, there is reference to Catholic Social Teaching and how its notion of subsidiarity can challenge the centralizing tendency of modern government (page 167).

The book introduces the reader to complex subjects and never over-reaches itself. It is balanced and has plenty of reminders not just of the obligations that fall on the economically advantaged, but also the responsibilities that remain with the disadvantaged. It is aware of prevailing culture and calls on Christians to counter aspects of it, not least by daring to believe that all work is for the glory of God.

Since, as the author says, ‘Much of what the Bible teaches about economic justice is common sense’ (page 19), it is not entirely clear who the book is for. Even if our common sense does sometimes desert us, the thoughtful reader – Christian or otherwise – will surely have worked out already many of the principles espoused in the first part of the book.

The second part of the book, looking at wider society or the ‘Public Square’, avoids any attempt to be a manual, but to help people in their thinking would have benefitted from a deeper consideration of economic forces at work. In particular, the potentially idolatrous nature of money, the way it is ‘made’ and the way it functions  makes it such an important part of today’s culture that it cannot be ignored. Likewise, the ever-expanding role of the state and the consequences of government debt are matters that need illumination.

The author can rightly point out that this was deliberately beyond the remit of the book and also that this review in 2024 is of a book first published in 2019. The prevailing culture which so shapes us has changed considerably since then, all of which would encourage an updated and expanded second edition of this introductory book which the author is well qualified to produce.

‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ by Andrew Hartropp was published in 2019 by Inter Varsity Press (ISBN: 978-1-78359-764-2). 215pp.


Rev Canon Andrew Studdert-Kennedy is Team Rector of Uxbridge in the Diocese of London. Before ordination, he studied PPE at Oxford and during the 1980s worked in the City and as a Researcher for two MPs. He has retained his interest in such matters.

Catherine Cowley: ‘Sustainable Investing: What Everyone Needs to Know’ by H. Kent Baker, Hunter M. Holzhauer and John R. Nofsinger

The authors’ stated intention is to demystify sustainable investing for the ‘average’ individual retail investor who is motivated to achieve the dual goals of profit and purpose. They do this through a detailed examination of the many forms such investment might take, the provision of extensive on-line resources for investigating possibilities and the use of ‘Takeaways’ at the end of each chapter. These are a series of bullet points setting out the main points which the reader should note from the chapter, together with questions that they need to answer for themselves. The reader is encouraged to clarify their thinking as they go along, for example, the values that they wish to promote, their risk preferences and time horizon.

The authors are clearly masters of their subject. Yet unlike many experts writing on a complex subject, their language is clear and jargon-free throughout. The points that they make are illustrated through a wide range of examples. They make no assumptions about what investors’ values might be, and hence what they might think about issues such as the environment or investment in armaments. Instead they give advice on various places to look in order to invest in accordance with one’s values, including, say, strong support of the Second Amendment: the right to bear arms. They seek to provide a balanced explanation of the broad issues associated with sustainable investing concisely but authoritatively. Over the course of six chapters they aim to provide the thoughtful and conscientious reader with all the information they need to begin this form of investing.

Chapter One provides the context by examining the changing investment landscape and lays the foundation for the rest of the book. Chapter Two looks at corporate social responsibility and the evolving expectations about that and the obligations which follow. Chapter Three examines the social and religious values which shape sustainable investing. Chapter Four lays out the myriad investment options available. Chapter Five reviews the performance implications of sustainable investing. Finally, Chapter Six focuses on building a portfolio with a purpose.

The authors are clearly supportive of the concept of sustainable investing, which leads to them not challenging some of the common assumptions. They expect large corporations to be involved in significant social change without acknowledging some important questions. This would include the lack of democratic accountability, together with some corporate visions diverging widely from general social norms or even reality. One example would be the Gemini AI tool which, based on ideas about inclusivity, refused to depict images of white Vikings or Nazis, or only provided an image of the Pope as an Asian woman. Gemini was withdrawn within a month. The authors, however, seem to see corporations and social change as a seamless, wholly good thing.

There is not sufficient acknowledgement that there is no agreed definition of ESG (Environment, Social, Governance), what factors to include or what weighting is to be given to the different factors. The authors devote a paragraph (page 114) where inconsistent methods and ratings are mentioned, and then the investor is told to ensure that the rating provider’s approach is consistent with their preferences. This is unlikely to be helpful advice to the non-specialist. This lack of an agreed definition results in a range of dubious claims.  Owing to the time at which the authors finished writing (2021 at the latest) they do not cover the increasing regulatory scrutiny of ESG claims which has resulted in many products having to be withdrawn. It is still the case, however, that there remains such a divergence of approach that it is difficult for a retail investor to be sure of what is actually going on.

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Because the authors seek to cover every type of investment, many potential retail investors may feel overwhelmed by the astonishingly wide and conflicting possibilities available, particularly as set out in Chapter Four. This is one reason why I found the authors’ suggestion that readers can dip in and out of chapters depending on the topic unlikely to be helpful. Without previous explanation, much of the discussion would be impenetrable to the non-professional. The exception to this is Chapter Five, on performance. This might have been better placed as Chapter Two, as it gives a broad perspective within which the reader can locate some of the specifics, as well as reassuring an inexperienced investor worried that sustainable investment will inevitably result in poor performance.

It is not clear to me exactly who Chapter Six is aimed at. Building a portfolio is a complex task with multiple decision points. Certainly the material covers the necessary elements, but I considered it unlikely to be of particular value to the intended reader. High net worth individuals will almost certainly leave the detailed asset selection to their financial advisor.  Most other retail investors will not have sufficient funds to achieve the appropriate diversification that a portfolio brings, nor have the necessary knowledge and experience to stock pick. I would have liked to have seen a focussed discussion of the pros and cons of a bespoke portfolio versus buying into an existing fund.

The authors are based in the US, which inevitably means that this is their prime focus. This shows in their cultural, social and political assumptions. Most of their business examples are American; the extensive on-line resources cited are located there and focus on that market.  This reduces the pertinence of the book to those located elsewhere. Some of the options they suggest are not available in other markets or are in a different form. Regulatory and pension frameworks also differ. This is not to say that their work is not informative for non-US investors, but it does mean that potential investors will need to do more extensive personal research to find relevant information. The book does not quite live up to its sub-title: What Everyone Needs to Know.

A readership which might benefit would be financial advisors – not because they don’t already have the information, though there may be lacunae which could be filled – but because this book gives a clear, jargon-free route to explaining sustainable investment to a retail investor. Professionals can overlook the reality of expert and exclusive language which prevents some investors making a genuinely informed decision. If they had done nothing else, demystifying the language justifies the book’s publication. They have, however, also provided a useful resource for  potential investors. For readers prepared to make some effort to grasp the detail, this is a book which can inform their decisions and ably assist them to achieve their objective of investing for profit and in line with their values.

 

‘Sustainable Investing: What Everyone Needs to Know’ by H. Kent Baker, Hunter M. Holzhauer and John R. Nofsinger was published in 2022 by Oxford University Press (ISBN: 978-0-1976-4378-5). 272 pp.


Catherine Cowley has for more than 30 years been a Trustee of the Religious of the Assumption with particular responsibility for Investments.  Her doctoral thesis was on Ethics in the Financial Sector, and this remained the focus of her research, together with the application of Catholic Social Thought to business practice. Before retiring she taught Ethics at Heythrop College, University of London.

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Turnbull: “Deeply Responsible Business” by Geoffrey Jones

Geoffrey Jones is Isidor Strauss Professor of Business History at Harvard Business School and a fellow of the Academy of International Business. He is the author of several books in the broad field of business ethics from a historical perspective.

The author offers us a fascinating and informative historical review of what he calls “deeply responsible business”, a term which provides the framework for the book but which is, perhaps, slightly overworked. 

Jones uses the term “deep responsibility” to characterize the set of values of those “who have seen business as a way of improving society, and even solving the world’s problems” (page 4). He distinguishes his approach from both those who seek to rewrite the rules of the game, as he puts it, and also from the now somewhat discredited approaches of corporate social responsibility (although I could offer some defence of philanthropy in this regard). His central thesis “is that deeply responsible business leaders are motivated by a set of values that shape their practice” (page 5). Some might find that defining characteristic rather weak, but I welcome it, because it enables a proper discussion of values-based business approaches in a realistic way, dealing with character, integrity, wisdom and spirituality, without embracing neo-Marxist opposition to the market economy per se. Indeed, Jones specifically contests any idea that a manager in a for-profit business could never be virtuous.

 The book brings several important and significant insights.  Its most noteworthy contribution is placing the quest for responsible business into a longer historical view. Jones comprehensively demonstrates that it is not simply a recent phenomenon, but one with a long history that has exercised business leaders since industrialisation. He also helpfully places “deeply responsible business” into a global context, reminding us of the pitfalls of a simply western focus.

The book consists of ten chapters divided into three parts. The first four chapters are encompassed together under the heading “A Question of Responsibility.” Here Jones looks at some significant historical figures in business leadership and history. He covers George Cadbury, Edward Filene (the Boston businessman and pioneer of credit unions), Robert Bosch and examples from India (J.N. Tata) and Japan (Shibusawa Eiichi). This is the strongest, most insightful and interesting part of the book.

The first two chapters tell gripping stories, one of which I am very familiar with, and the other of which I knew nothing about. The first chapter deals with the story of the entrepreneurial Quaker, George Cadbury, who together with his brother, Richard, pioneered a moral approach to business. As Jones argues, given “this emphasis on trust and honesty, it is not surprising that Quaker enterprises became some of the earliest examples of socially responsible business” (page 25). Jones notes the central role of spirituality (here and elsewhere in the book in various forms), the importance of housing, welfare and flourishing of the workforce, the challenges of raising capital and the ownership structure and Cadbury’s wider commitment to the community. Virtue, wisdom and spirituality lay at the heart.

The second chapter was less familiar territory for me but I was captivated by the story. Edward Filene, born in 1860, ran the family retail business in Boston with his brother, Lincoln, and pioneered many business practices. Among his ethical approaches, he introduced employee training, paid high wages whilst seeking to keep prices low and was actively concerned with not only employee welfare, but also employee involvement. He introduced health and illness insurance and banking services for employees. Although Filene did not share their faith perspective, there are several crosscurrents here with the Quakers.

Geoffrey Jones quotes Filene that the purpose of business was to:

“serve people, not merely to support the business man concerned in it. I was not an idealist. I wanted profits. I even had a strong preference for becoming rich. Nevertheless, this discovery of what business really is did strange things to me. It made me want to serve” (page 53).

Of real interest was the story of Filene’s involvement in the development and promotion of the credit union network, which is a much more significant feature of the American financial landscape than, for example, in the UK. He was involved in the 1914 launch of the Massachusetts Credit Union and helped draft a series of eight principles of good practice (page 64). He launched the Massachusetts Credit Union Association in 1921 to promote the idea of credit unions which spread rapidly, although there was always some tension between state and federal provision. Filene was elected the first president of the Credit Union National Association in 1935, with 3,600 credit unions and 750,000 members. Those numbers had grown to 7,500 retail credit unions with 92 million members by 2010.

Part 2, “Turbulence” begins with a fascinating chapter on the history of Harvard Business School and its second dean, Wallace Donham, who had called in 1927 for business leaders to adopt what he called a higher level of responsibility (a further and helpful reminder of placing these ideas in historical context). Further chapters deal with the desire to reduce wealth disparities as an aim of business leaders, consumerism and some other matters. In these chapters the book slightly loses its way. They are the least convincing part of the book and certainly, on occasion, fall into virtue-signalling around business leaders’ personal political objectives and detracted from the really significant insights of the book. In particular, chapter 9, entitled “Social Three-Folding”, seems quite disconnected.

In Part 3, Geoffrey Jones brings us back to more contemporary debates with three chapters dealing with the rise of value driven business right through to the issues around ESG (“environmental, social and governance”) and B Corps. He provides a balanced overview of the strengths and challenges of these movements. He is particularly helpful with his supportive critique of B Corps – though there was no mention of the UK’s B Corp movement, which has made some advances. 

In his conclusion Jones reminds us of the reason why his book makes a good and useful contribution:

“As we delved into the history of deep responsibility, we saw many examples of business leaders across time and space who combined making profits and pursuing positive social impact” (page 342).

Jones argues that deeply responsible business will select an industry which does no harm (though that might be easier to define in some instances than others), will engage with stakeholders with respect and humility and support communities. He notes that affecting “a single city might be less glamorous than “reimagining capitalism”, but it can greatly enhance the lives of generations of people” (page 345).

Jones should be congratulated for recognising that a values-based approach to business has a long and honourable history but is not a panacea and that there are weaknesses as well as strengths. In this he is a realist and enhances his overall arguments. He recognises the values which shape character, virtue and spirituality and the need to convince the mainstream of business rather than simply movements on the margin. This is a good book, which I recommend, albeit slightly disappointed with the middle chapters.

 

“Deeply Responsible Business,” by Geoffrey Jones was published in 2023 by Harvard University Press (ISBN: 978-0-674-91653-1). 431pp.


Richard%20Turnbullweb#1# (2)Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.

 

 

 

 

Richard Turnbull: “The Moral Case for Profit Maximization,” by Robert White

Robert White is dean of faculty and assistant professor of philosophy at the American University in Bulgaria. He was previously Chair and dean of the Faculty of Business. He teaches courses on business ethics and the philosophy of capitalism and has previously written on Adam Smith and also on aspects of the idea of profit. He is thus well-qualified to write on the moral case for profit maximization.

The book consists of 7 chapters, but in reality is a book of two halves around the pivotal chapter 4 which provides brief portraits of businessmen as examples of virtue and character necessary for the moral basis for profit maximization. The first three chapters deal with the more theoretical basis, identifying the questions (chapter 1), the moral basis (chapter 2) and the notion of objective value (chapter 3). The last three chapters turn to clarifications around the concept (chapter 5), incomplete defences (chapter 6) and finally a critique of Corporate Social Responsibility (chapter 7).

In a context of frequent confusion over the proper role of business, together with the emergence of differing approaches to purpose from B-Corps to mutuality, this book makes a welcome case for the morality of profit maximization. The author brings out some important points that are frequently lost in the discussion, not least the emphasis on the moral rather than simply the economic case. In doing so he brings the topic back to a philosophical debate about both value and values.

The writing, however, is somewhat repetitive, circular, occasionally “preachy” and rather laborious which consequently loses some of the impact. The second half is increasingly polemic and hence likely to alienate some readers, apart from an excellent discussion in chapter 6 on Milton Friedman, to which I will return. It concludes with a rather wasted last chapter attacking corporate social responsibility.

The real strength of Robert White’s approach is brought out in the first half of the book. The moral case for profit maximization is based on the value of what business produces and the virtue of how it is produced. This is a useful couplet in discussions around profit, shareholder value and so on and I would have liked a more reflective discussion on the relationship between the two. In summary, White argues that “Profit maximization is moral because profit is a businessman’s reward for creating goods or services that are of objective value” (page 62). He goes on to cite the wheel, the refrigerator and the shipping container as examples of goods produced of objective value that significantly contributed to human life and well-being.

White makes the important point that profit maximization does not mean either that it is prioritized above all other values or that unethical or suspect business practices are an inevitable consequence of a quest for it – such behaviours would fail the virtue test. He makes a crucial distinction between profit maximization and profit prioritization, the latter would require a businessman to act against his values which would be contrary to White’s concept of profit maximization. However, the sorts of examples that White quotes are often, though not exclusively, those of personal morality (for example, pornography, page 122); a more comprehensive discussion of how this distinction operates in the area of competing business or economic values would have been helpful.

The book takes a slightly different turn in chapter 4 with profiles of several historically prominent business figures, J.P. Morgan (1837-1913), John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) and Thomas Edison (1847-1931) together with the research scientist Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). He offers these as examples of virtuous businessmen and “models for a well-lived life” (page 96). To use just one example, that of Rockefeller, Robert White argues that through his Standard Oil company he both raised the quality of oil and reduced the price and, therefore, through this provision of fuel enhanced the quality of lives of millions of people. The point that we often overlook is the basic improvement in human life brought about through the efficient operation of the profit-maximizing corporation.

It is certainly true that Rockefeller identified goods of objective value that he was able to produce efficiently and effectively and that they contributed to the public good. In that sense a moral case is made.  It would nonetheless have been helpful for White to set out explicitly why, in this example, there is an inextricably link to profit maximization.

We do, however, see traces in this chapter of the beginnings of some of the polemic that emerges in the second half of the book. White turns in the second half of chapter 4 to deal with what he calls unjust accusations against his selected examples. Clearly he chose some contested figures, which he acknowledges. There are a number of “straw targets” set up to be shot down. For example, Rockefeller obtaining preferential rates from the railroads is seen not as an example of oligopolistic power but a consequence of a mixed rather than market economy (page 113). White accepts his examples were mixed characters but the comparison is always with their personal lives rather than business practices.

Chapters 5 and 6 approach the debate about the morality of profit maximization from a negative perspective, concentrating on what profit maximization is not more than its positive presentation. This makes for a more defensive reading and reasoning. The highlight of these chapters is an excellent discussion in chapter 6 around Milton Friedman’s famous maxim, in his 1970 New York Times article, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is To Increase Its Profits”. White notes that Friedman argued that the business corporation and its executives had an absolute responsibility to the owners of the business on whose behalf they acted and points out that this is not profit maximization as such and, if the owners had different, or mixed objectives, then the corporation and its executives must serve those aims – Friedman’s real argument is for the rights of shareholders to determine a corporation’s direction (page 154).

I agree with a good deal of the critique of Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) set out in chapter 7. However, this chapter sits somewhat ill-at-ease with the rest of the book and, in particular, falls into polemic. Why choose CSR for such treatment? The questions of business purpose and responsibility have rather moved on from the CSR approach. This chapter made the book feel somewhat dated and the chapter reads like an add-on, and, occasionally a rant. Why not an overview of alternative approaches to the morality of profit maximization?

This is an important book with a distinctive and creative approach to the question of the morality of profit maximization. It establishes a sound basic framework and asks some central questions. The book is, however, unnecessarily unbalanced, allowing polemic to emerge in defence of a rationale and well-founded set of ideas. It would have been improved by a more rigorous engagement with alternatives. The conclusion could, of course, remain, that there is a strong moral case for profit maximization rightly understood.

 

“The Moral Case for Profit Maximization,” by Robert White was published in 2020 by Lexington Books (ISBN: 978-1-4985-4265-4). 231pp.


Richard%20Turnbullweb#1# (2)Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Kroencke: “Complicit: How We Enable the Unethical and How to Stop” by Max Bazerman

Written by Harvard Business School professor Max Bazerman, Complicit: How We Enable the Unethical and How to Stop is published by Princeton University Press and features glowing praise from notables such as Cass Sunstein and Steven Pinker. Given this background, one expects a far different book than the one that it is.

The basic idea of the book is that when people think about the cause of unethical actions, they often fail to consider the many people who enabled the actions through various degrees of complicity. Relatedly, those who enable bad actors don’t think about their own role and the aggregate role of others in similar positions. At the outset, Bazerman claims, “In contrast to past accounts of these stories, Complicit will focus on the overlooked importance of others who were complicit in the bad behaviour.” (page 6) This is a sensible perspective, and one that I hoped would be investigated with sensitivity and precision. However, the book deals with an interesting ethical topic in a way that staggers in both senses of the word. 

The book consists of 11 chapters divided into three sections. After an introductory chapter, the first seven chapters present readers with profiles of complicit actors arranged by the type of complicity. Bazerman begins the book with two chapters on those who are most clearly complicit in extremely unethical acts (“true partners” and “collaborators”). As the book progresses through the second section, the degree of complicity declines with five chapters on “those who benefit from privilege, those who are true believers, those who defer to authority and loyalty, those who rely on their trust of others, and those who create and accept unethical systems” (page 12). The final section has one chapter on the psychology of complicity (though this is also covered in some of the chapters) before ending with two applied chapters: one on dealing with complicity on a personal level and another on developing institutional strategies to prevent complicity.

The march through the case studies might have worked if the case studies weren’t as high-profile and there were more of a focus on each example. Or, perhaps, if they were interspersed with the potential methods to stop a particular type of complicity shown in an example. Instead, the reader is left lurching as the author discusses, among others: Hitler, Trump (my worries began when the two were separated by seven words and a semi-colon in the introduction), the Sacklers, Weinstein, Elizabeth Holmes and Adam Neumann, along with many somewhat lesser-known figures. There is great range in the type of misdeed committed and the types of complicity that enabled the misdeed. The institutions in which these figures operated, and the incentives faced by those surrounding them varied considerably as well. Despite the often-enthralling stories presented, the reader is left adrift without much real explanation or robust ideas about how to stop complicity.

Much of the book is written in a way that suggests genuine concern with the misdeeds presented in the case studies and the various degrees of complicity that enabled them. This is often good, but in some cases, like the chapter “Benefiting from Privilege,” it reads like an older colleague trying to signal his ability to adjust to a changing landscape. This is part of a broader identity crisis for the book, which covers a lot but explains little about each of the wide range of ways that complicity can present itself in different contexts.

I held out hope for more specifics to be dealt with in the final chapters (pages 157–216) but was for the most part disappointed. These chapters dealing with the theoretical explanations for complicity and tangible steps that one can take to reduce it are themselves as meandering and full of journalistic anecdotes as the earlier chapters. After another bizarre introduction about Hitler and Trump, the first chapter of this final section of the book suggests it will elaborate on the psychological reasons for complicity. While it offers some detail and academic research, the things offered as explanations include the perceived differences between commission and omission, fear of retaliation, and a slippery slope of smaller misdeeds slowly escalating. These basic explanations might be sufficient had they been pursued in some depth, but they are dealt with cursorily. The following chapter offers some more tangible insights into strategies at the individual level for stopping complicity (reducing the risks to speaking up, deliberating more in advance, recognizing blind spots, and enlarging our circle of concern). But here again, the second part of the chapter is padded out with profiles of whistleblowers and others who actively overcame the tendency to become complicit. The final and perhaps most interesting chapter looks at the structural reasons for complicity and organizational tactics for preventing it.

Despite the weaknesses of the book, there are sections that are of real interest. Besides the most famous and compelling stories of Theranos and Purdue Pharma, the comparatively less well-known examples from later in the book may offer more relevant examples for readers. For instance, it is interesting to learn about the level of complicity involved in the Volkswagen emissions testing scandal, where senior members of the regional German government and trade unions were aware of the fraud but overwhelmed by their interests.

Separately, Bazerman’s personal role in the still ongoing scandals in psychology and behavioural economics where researchers such as Dan Ariely managed to secure global fame and permanent positions at top universities with research that is now clearly discredited in some cases because of outright data fraud. The personal email correspondence with his fellow coauthors (including Ariely) that Bazerman reproduces offer a new and interesting look at the topic. But even here he steers clear of the more interesting questions about the broader institutional context of the academy.

The most interesting parts of the book are those that deal with complicity encouraged by systems and relatedly institutional solutions to complicity. Part of Chapter 8 deals with the compelling topic of goal setting in organizations namely how explicit goals can overwhelm more tacit ethical standards and how conflicts of interest can create ripe situations for complicity. In some situations, the systemic problems were intentionally created, but in many of these scenarios, they only occurred because of accidental confluences of interests rather than conspiracy. Both are of interest and ripe for hard thinking about solutions. The most thoughtful solutions are offered in Chapter 11, but I came away thinking that the viability of any institutional solution requires a specificity that couldn’t be achieved by the scattershot approach of the book.

Sadly, even the more useful and relevant aspects of the book are drowned out by the repeated and sustained focus on lighting rods. A search of the text reveals that variations of “Trump” appear in the main text of the book nearly as much as any variation of “complicit.” “Nazi” appears 26 times. Even beyond this, after all the pages over which Bazerman has journalistically recounted the many, many examples of complicity, there is bizarrely little sustained explanation or ideas for how to structure organizations to prevent complicity. Readers should not seek out Complicit.

 

“Complicit: How We Enable the Unethical and How to Stop” by Max Bazerman was published in 2023 (UK) by Princeton University Press (ISBN: 978-0691236544) 264 pp.

Andrei Rogobete: “Faith Driven Investing – Every Investment Has an Impact–What’s Yours?” by Henry Kaestner, Timothy Keller et al.

At first glance some readers (myself included), might be mistaken to assume that Faith Driven Investing is another “how to” guide on ethical investing – it is not. In fact, the book has very little to say about investing per say and rather focuses on the “faith driven” investors themselves and the wider role of the Christian faith: What makes a Christian investor? What drives them? How do they influence change? How should a Christian think about risk? How are Christians in the financial sector or in business called to engage with the capital markets and money more generally? (pages 3-4).

These broader questions are tackled in the book by a collection of authors (seventeen to be exact). The contributors are mostly prominent practitioners within the field such as Cathie Wood, Luke Rousch and Richard Okello, as well as those with more of a theological/pastoral background such as Timothy Keller and Andy Crouch.

The structure of the book therefore comprises fourteen chapters representing individual essays that are collated within two larger sections. The first is called “Faith Driven Investors are…” while the second is titled “Therefore, They…”, reflecting the overarching intention of exploring who faith driven investors are and what they are called to do. The main audience of the book is Christian investors and entrepreneurs but those with a wider general interest in business as a force for good will find it worthwhile. The various essays use minimal technical jargon (be that in respect to theology or finance), making the book accessible to the layperson and specialist alike.

Timothy Keller (1950-2023), the late pastor and theologian from New York opens up the discussion in Chapter 1 with an intriguing take on personal identity and what it means to have an identity that is rooted in Christ. Keller writes that “…an identity that flows from who he is and what he has done for us changes everything. It radically transforms the way we work, the way we invest, the way we view money, all of it” (page 14). He then goes on to list four different ways in which this happens. We won’t enumerate all here but the third makes an interesting and important point: God (being omnipotent) could provide for our material needs directly yet he chooses not to do so and instead uses human work as a means of provision (page 15). This raises profound implications for the nature and value of work which, according to Keller, means that: 1. All work carries great dignity, even the most menial; 2. Through work we are “…God’s hands and fingers, sustaining and caring for his world”; 3. One of the main ways of pleasing God is simply to do our work well (page 16).  These assertions are consistent with the historic Protestant view of work of which Martin Luther was an early advocate.  Those who wish to explore them further could read other books reviewed on our website such as Why Business Matters to God, Business for the Common Good and Tides of Life.

In Chapter 4 Luke Rousch, cofounder of Sovereign Capital brings a fresh challenge to some established normative positions that many Christian investors take. Rousch spent his entire career in large scale business commercialisation and development and argues that for too long faith driven investors have become known for what they are against, rather than what they are for (page 59). He rightly points out that this is a missed opportunity for Christian investors to become better known for what they stand for in the world and not merely for what they stand against. Part of the problem, Rousch argues, is “that it’s easier to avoid things than it is to engage with them. That’s also true in life, not just investing” (page 62). Avoiding “sinful” industries altogether such as tobacco, adult entertainment and so on is perhaps the most obvious example. The risk is that we end up steep in legalism and behaving like the Pharisees did. Sure, negative screening is important when it comes to constructing an investment portfolio but “…we are called to lean in, with truth shared in love, and celebrate the great things God is doing in and through the marketplace. We must seek out, embrace, and pour ourselves into the creation of new things” (page 62). Rousch thus argues for a more proactive approach where we should seek “…a balance between negative screens, positive screens and active engagement” (page 63).

Casey Crawford, CEO and founder of Movement Mortgage concludes the discussion with a reminder to seek God’s larger perspective rather than our own, “…are we working for our return of for God’s return?” (page 198). In the Parable of the Tenants we have the example of the tenant who did nothing with what was given to him, Crawford argues that we must maintain an attitude of expectancy of the coming new Kingdom. This doesn’t necessarily mean “…working harder so we’ll have more success to show God. It’s about seeking our work as an act of service to the Master” (page 199).

In summary, “Faith Driven Investing: Investment Has an Impact–What’s Yours?” is not a “how to” guide on ethical investing and those seeking investment strategies or advice should look elsewhere. It is however a compelling collection of essays that stand at the intersection of finance, theology, and the broader implications of truly living out the Christian faith. A thoroughly recommended read for all those with an interest in the subject.

 

“Faith Driven Investing – Every Investment Has an Impact–What’s Yours?” by Henry Kaestner, Timothy Keller et al. was published in 2022 by Tyndale House Publishers (ISBN 1496474481, 9781496474483), 240pp.


Andrei E. Rogobete is Associate Director at the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

 

 

Andrew Studdert-Kennedy: “The Power of Regret” by Daniel Pink

The American social psychology author, Daniel Pink, has written a number of best-selling books concerning human motivation, performance and innovation. The Power of Regret- How looking Backward Moves Us Forward continues the genre and, filled as it is with both anecdote and analysis, is an engaging and enjoyable read. A wide range of people will benefit from reading it, not just those who have to deal with regret on the part of both themselves and those for whom they are responsible in a business context.

Noting that there are over 50 books in the US Library of Congress with the title, No Regrets, Pink aims to challenge the US obsession with positivity and reclaim regret not just as an unavoidable part of mature human living but also as a means of improving decision making and performance.

The book draws on Pink’s own work with the American Regret Project and the World Regret Survey, which between them have collected and examined more than 20,000 regrets from around the world.

 

Pink identifies Four Core Regrets:

Foundation regrets stem from our failure to build a stable platform for our lives; the schoolwork we shirked, the debt we accrued, the drinks we enjoyed. Excess, too much or too little, often features. A simple summary of a Foundation regret is If only I had done the work.

Boldness regrets, as the name suggests, concern the chances we didn’t take, the courage we lacked. Evidence suggests that past inactions that can haunt us rather more than a past action – If only I had taken the risk.

The third category, Moral regrets, are those times when we know we have behaved badly – deceiving a spouse, cheating in a test. At the time of the act, we may convince ourselves it wasn’t so bad, but over the passage of time, we see that this is not the case. In this category (the smallest of the four) it is a past action rather than inaction that troubles us – if only I had done the right thing.

The final category (the largest of the four) is Connection regrets, which “arise from relationships that have come undone or remain incomplete” (page133). What Pink has in mind here are friendships allowed to wither, kindnesses that were not shown or interest in other people that was not expressed – If only I had reached out.

Looking further at the four regrets, Pink suggests that each of them “reveal a need and yield a lesson” (page 96). Foundation regrets, he argues reveal the need for stability whilst the lesson they yield is “Think ahead. Do the work. Start now” (page 96). Boldness regrets reveal the human need for growth and the lesson they yield “Speak up. Ask him out. Take that trip. Start that business” (page 111). Moral regrets reveal the need for goodness, the lesson is “when in doubt do the right thing” (page 129). Finally, Connection regrets reveal the need for love and the lesson they yield is “to do better next time … and (if the door is open) do something now” (page146)

Having analysed regret in this way, the final section of the book, Regret Remade “describes how to turn the negative emotion of regret into a positive instrument for improving your life”. (page 15)

The advice here consists of taking steps to undo a particular action, for example by making an apology, and where this isn’t possible to seek a silver lining to the regret. This entails being grateful that the mistake wasn’t worse and saying to ourselves “At least…” That way, writes Pink, “At Leasts can turn regret into relief(page 165).

When regrets do threaten to become overwhelming, Pink suggests that talking about what is on our mind, not being too harsh on ourselves and putting the anxieties in perspective, through imagining others confronted with the same challenge, can be beneficial. “Looking backward can move us forward, but only if we do it right. The sequence of self-disclosure, self-compassion and self-distancing offers a simple yet systematic way to transform regret into a powerful force for stability, achievement and purpose” (page 182)

Whilst regret is a retrospective emotion, Pink describes the way in which by anticipating regret most effectively, what he calls optimizing regret, we can improve our decision making and hone our strategy for pursuing the good life.

As this outline of the book suggests, there are plenty of instances when it seems to be telling us things we already know. In some ways this is its strength. For it is a book about human behaviour and we recognize ourselves in it. Accordingly, the selected survey samples and different stories that Pink uses as illustrations are satisfying to read because we feel we know in advance what they will tell us. We find ourselves in the story.

At the same time, some of the analysis of the regrets and the responses to them can seem rather laboured. Mistakes are an everyday part of life, and we learn from them with varying degrees of effectiveness. Sometimes we will never do such a thing again whilst at other times we find ourselves being repeat offenders.

Some readers will warm to the systematic approach that Pink outlines and may change their behaviour accordingly. Others will recognize themselves in the illustrations he offers and carry on as before.

Pink focusses on the positive power of regret and, although he is aware of regret’s negative power, the book could have benefitted from further exploration of this. A sermon in which the preacher said, “To regret something is to lose the battle a second time” comes to mind. What lies behind this claim is not a refusal to learn from mistakes so much as an acceptance of who we are and where we find ourselves.

The four core regrets that Pink outlines all express themselves through “if only” and the danger of this is that it could lead to someone saying “if only I were someone else”. For there lies behind Pink’s writing an unspoken assumption that we all desire effective, high achieving and purposeful lives which are to be achieved through a combination of self-will and self-discipline. There must surely come a time when, for example, the person who has failed to be as bold as they might have been needs not just to accept that this is who they are but delight in it. In other words, their value and distinctiveness lie outside the parameters which are so often laid down by others.

Perhaps as a priest, I was bound to find this a short-coming of a book which does indeed reclaim regret and seeks to improve human living but does so from a secular perspective.

 

 

“The Power of Regret”  by Daniel Pink was published in Great Britain in 2022 by Cannongate Books (ISBN-13: 978 1 83885 706 6), 240pp.


Revd Canon Andrew Studdert-Kennedy is Team Rector & Vicar of St Andrew’s, Uxbridge.

Andrei Rogobete: “Business Ethics: What Everyone Needs to Know” by J. S. Nelson and Lynn A. Stout

Business Ethics: what everyone needs to know by Josephine Nelson and Lynn Stout brings a distinctive angle to the discussion by interweaving the field of business ethics with components of law and legal practice. It also branches out into wider peripheral subjects such as philosophy, psychology, and organisational management. Josephine Nelson is Professor of Law at the Charles Widger School of Law at Villanova University, she specialises in how legal frameworks affect individual behaviour within organizations. The late Lynn Stout was Distinguished Professor of Corporate & Business Law at Cornell Law School. Her previous book, The Shareholder Value Myth was also reviewed on this website and proved to be a popular choice amongst our readers.

The ambition of the book is laid out from the onset – that is, to survey “not only moral philosophy, behavioural science, economic principles, and other contributions, but to make business-law concepts accessible and understandable to businesspeople and students of law, business, and ethics” (page xi). Fortunately, the language of the book fulfils this aim. It is clearly written and accessible to the layperson and makes only limited use of technical jargon. In instances where more specialised terms are indeed discussed (particularly in chapters referring to legal concepts), ample explanation is usually provided to assist the reader.

The book is comprised of 15 chapters and whilst at first glance may appear to be long, one third of its contents (168 pages of 513) are dedicated to an appendix of “Additional Resources and People You Can Reach Out To” (including notes). As the title suggests, the appendix offers additional resources and information for those wishing to delve deeper in the subject – some readers will certainly find this useful.

Chapters 1 through 4 open the discussion by focusing on the broader field of business ethics itself, which is defined as a “…set of moral principles that govern behaviour in a specific sphere of life: the world of business” (page 1). The authors dismiss the popularised idea that business is a cut-throat environment where individuals seek their self-advancement at the expense of others. They view this as “…misleading and inaccurate” whilst acknowledging that “…there are instances of bad behaviour” (ibid). Yet these instances are not dissimilar to other areas of life but just happen to also be occurring in the world of business. The majority of people in the private sector “…will tell you that sound ethics are integral to a successful business career” (Ibid). The book goes on to elaborate why it might be beneficial for a business to think and act ethically. The premise here is the ethics within an organisation not only benefit the organisation itself and its employees but the wider array of stakeholders and indeed society itself – ethics has a multiplier effect.

Chapters 5 through 10 bring in elements of law and legal practice and take a more practical approach to applying them in specific business scenarios. For instance, Chapter 5 addresses questions such as: “What does it mean to owe a legal duty to a partner or other natural person?” (page 61), “When do I have a duty of obedience?” (page 68), “What are duties of confidentiality?” (page 79), “What are disclosure duties?” (page 83). Perhaps more interestingly, the last question asked is “Why should businesspeople act more ethically than the law requires? Isn’t the law enough?” (page 85). The response here is that the law is simply not sufficient to promote and ensure a positive ethical business culture. In some situations it can even be the case that, “legal requirements are not ethically correct” and that “ethically correct decisions are not legally required” (pages 85-86). So there is a lot of material and food for thought in these chapters – readers who are interested in legal matters will find them particularly useful.

Chapters 11 to 15 conclude with a discussion on “How to institute best practices” (chapter 13) and “Designing an ethical culture” (chapter 14). The book emphasises the need for and importance of robust “compliance and ethics programmes” and argues that most effective ones are driven by five key principles: strategy, risk management, culture, speaking up and accountability (page 281). The importance of a “speaking up” culture is stressed in arguing that it is the key indicator of an organisation’s moral environment because it reveals, “…what it feels like to work within the company, and what employees truly understand their organisation’s expectations to be” (page 291). 

The book achieves a great deal:  First, it provides a comprehensive and for the most part, compelling insight into how legal matters affect ethics in business. Second, it offers practical advice on what can be done to institute an ethical culture and prevent companies from falling into organisational malaise. Third, it succeeds at remaining accessible to both the practitioner and layperson alike. However, the book is not immune from weak points. Perhaps the most evident of these is found in Chapter 3 where the aim is overly ambitious and misses the mark. In under 12 pages, the chapter attempts to integrate major philosophical schools of thought and their relation to business ethics – these include, Aristotle’s virtue ethics, Kant’s categorical imperative, Rawls principles, communitarianism and utilitarianism. The result is an inevitably shallow account that is peppered with overgeneralisations. The book’s account of Kant’s categorical imperative is perhaps the most acute example of this which will no doubt leave some readers disappointed, and others rather perplexed.

Despite these shortcomings, Business Ethics: what everyone needs to know is a worthwhile read for those with an interest in business ethics, legal matters, and the interplay between the two. While it is predominantly aimed at business and legal practitioners, those outside the field will find it thought-provoking and worthwhile.

 

“Business ethics: what everyone needs to know” by J. S. Nelson and Lynn A. Stout was published in 2022 by Oxford University Press (ISBN: 9780190610289, 019061028X).  513pp.


Andrei E. Rogobete is the Associate Director of  the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Godden: “Spiderweb Capitalism” by Kimberly Kay Hoang

Kimberly Kay Hoang is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago. In Spiderweb Capitalism, she both describes and draws conclusions from her research into the way in which business is conducted in Vietnam and Myanmar. Some of her conclusions do not follow from her findings, her terminology and analysis is laden with ideology and the metaphor of a spider’s web that she uses throughout the book is ear-tingling but misleading. Nonetheless, the book should be read by everyone who wishes to be aware of the problems associated with business in emerging markets, especially those who are involved in making decisions as to what business they should conduct in such markets.

Hoang poses the question “How do global elites capitalise on risky frontier markets?” and says that her goal is “to uncover the structure of the networks… to examine the people who make and move the money around the world through offshore vehicles, and… to reveal how elites finesse the gray space between legal and illegal practices to establish significant social and political connections that allow them to exploit new frontiers” (page 2).

To this end, Hoang spent several years seeking to get under the skin of business in Vietnam and Myanmar, primarily by means of a large number of discussions (sometimes lasting many hours) with founders of businesses, investors, managers, fixers and various types of professional advisers, including people based both on-shore and off-shore. She provides interesting descriptions of her methodology, the challenges that she faced in conducting research without herself becoming implicated in illegal activity and the limitations that she laboured under. The limitations were significant but it is astonishing how much Hoang managed to persuade people to discuss with her. She ponders on the reasons why they were prepared to do this and recognises the possibility that it was of some assistance that she is a woman and may, perhaps, have been less threatening to some interviewees than a man might have been. She also notes that her University of Chicago connection may have helped since “The dominant reputation of [the University] often clouded my status as a ‘leftie sociologist’ critical of elites” (page 231).

The majority of the book comprises of descriptions she was told and otherwise found out during her research. These are grouped broadly around various topics (e.g. how deals are set up, types of corruption and bribery, and tax strategies). Hoang’s style is, at times, journalistic (e.g. “It was 5:00p.m., the sun was setting…”, page (xi)) and she tells her stories well. She also seeks to set the context of her various interviews and give insights into the life and character of the various people she encountered. This both makes her accounts more interesting and provides helpful context.

One of the strengths of her accounts is that she does not deal in caricatures. She comments that she “came to understand that [the individuals involved in emerging market business] were complex, multi-dimensional people” and that “Caricatures of them that I had read both in books and in the public media did not quite resonate with my experience spending hours talking to people” (page 169). It is in this spirit that Hoang seeks to understand how the various actors rationalise their activities and even, in some cases, compartmentalise their lives so as to keep a distance between their “playing in the gray” (as she calls their activities) and their home or other private lives. She also recognises a spectrum of willingness to play in the gray: “anti-corrupters”, “greasers” and “bribers” being among the possibilities.

Likewise, Hoang acknowledges that business activities in emerging markets are themselves legally and morally more complex than is sometimes suggested. For example, it is good to see her recognising that some complex structures serve “pragmatic functions beyond secrecy and evasion… [which] include privacy, tax concerns, finessing weak local banking institutions, off-shore arbitration, access to a wider pool of global investors, asset protection from law suits, easier off-shore exits, and the ability to send and receive payment in private through designated nominees”. She also appears to accept the difference between the ensuring of secrecy (because there is something nefarious to hide) and a desire for privacy.

Readers need to be on their guard in relation to Hoang’s use of terminology, which in some cases does not correspond to normal business usage. For example, she describes transfer pricing as an accounting practice designed “to legally write off parts of the costs of the business”, (page 126). She also quotes one of her contacts as saying that “a special purpose vehicle is a paper company set up off-shore” (page 4) and appears to have adopted this definition, which may be useful in the context in which she was operating but is a very narrow conception of a special purpose vehicle.

More seriously, Hoang sometimes fails adequately to distinguish legal from illegal activities and she has a tendency to overstatement. For example, although in one place she recognises that the limited partners of an investment entity may comprise pension funds and other institutions, she focuses on individuals who are limited partners, stating that “they are all global citizens who claim citizenship in one or two countries but regularly travel all around the world” (page 28), which is unhelpful since it does not reflect the reality of many investment funds or their investors. She also states that “the world is now divided between [High Net Wealth Individuals] and poor people across developed, emerging, and frontier markets around the world” (page 19), which is an extraordinary statement bearing in mind that the growth of the middle class has been one of the most notable features of economic development in South, South East and East Asia over the past generation.

Statements such as this point to the more fundamental problems with Hoang’s book. She has conducted research into a particular type of business in two emerging markets but she wants to draw conclusions of much broader applicability. Some of her conclusions may be correct but her evidence does not demonstrate this. Myanmar is by no means a typical emerging market and, although Vietnam may be regarded as more typical, it has a particular history. It is probable that some practices in these countries are replicated in other places (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa), but it is dangerous to make assumptions in relation to this. Hoang makes clear that cultural factors play an important part in the way in which business is conducted and one should not automatically assume that business practices are the same in places where the cultures are radically different.

Furthermore, one should not assume that the practices that are prevalent in relation to business start-ups and early-stage external investment in businesses prevail in relation to more mature businesses, particularly those which have major international funds and corporations among their investors. Hoang at times appears to recognise this (e.g. she notes that the people she was dealing with were involved in business ventures that were too small generally to hit the headlines and that businesses tend to spend time cleaning up their practices and accounting prior to moving on to the later stages of their development). However, this does not prevent her making sweeping contentious generalisations.

She says that her goal is to “give global capital a face” (page 9, emphasis original) and she seems to believe, without supporting evidence, that what she has found is representative of global capitalism as a whole. For example, she states that frontier markets “illustrate how most capital accumulation takes off through a set of transactions that are often considered corrupt and dirty” (page 10), which is a grave exaggeration. Likewise, she constantly refers to “global elites” as if they comprise the people she is studying whereas, in fact, many of these people could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as “elite” and the majority of those who may properly be regarded as the “elites” have very little to do with the kinds of investments that Hoang has studied.

All of this seems to be associated with Hoang’s ideological commitments. These are manifest in her use of loaded language, of which the metaphor of “spiderweb capitalism” is the most obvious example. She presses this analogy, suggesting that there are both “dominant spiders” and “subordinate spiders” and that “Some spiders build and repair the web, some subdue and organise the prey, still others work to keep the place clean” (page 22). Even more memorably, she asserts that “the ‘prey’ in spiderweb capitalism encompasses the public and all those who are snared in these capital webs” (page 24). This type of language may be picturesque but it is not what one would expect in an academic work and it obscures rather than illuminates the complexity of the relationships and activities that Hoang is analysing.

Much of what Hoang has uncovered is blatantly illegal or, at the very least, highly morally dubious and it undermines economies and healthy social structures. Many people will doubtless say that she merely confirms what they already knew or suspected but her findings nonetheless deserve to be studied carefully, particularly by western investors and professionals, some of whom may be tempted either to close their eyes to what is going on or naively to assume that all is well when it is not. Ultimately, however, Hoang appears to get carried away by her own metaphor and exaggerations.

Her ten page conclusion builds up to a crescendo that bears little connection to the preceding research. She asserts that “One consequence of these massive webs is the growing economic inequality between the rich and poor globally” (page 220), which accords far too much importance to the types of business that she has examined; she adds “These structural webs produce intersecting consequences, including poverty, climate change and environmental damage, and the out-migration of people” (page 221), assertions for which she has presented no evidence. She concludes: “Future generations must have the creative will to build a society with policies and protections in place to save our planet, reduce inequality, and prevent most people from becoming trapped, drained, and lost in these massive spider webs” (page 221), which is a disappointingly polemical ending to some interesting and thought provoking research.

 

Spiderweb Capitalism by Kimberly K Hoang was published in 2022 by Princeton University Press (ISBN: 978-0-691-22911-9). 240pp, plus notes.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 30 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world.

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and he is currently a member of the Panel. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the firm’s Executive Committee.

 

 

 

 

Richard Turnbull: “Business Ethics and Catholic Social Thought” edited by Daniel K Finn

Daniel Finn holds chairs in both Economics and Theology at St John’s University and the College of St Benedict in Minnesota. He is, therefore, both a representative and exponent of the intellectual tradition within Roman Catholic thought that seeks to apply Christian thinking to economics and business.

Finn has brought together 12 authors to contribute, singly or jointly, to this volume of essays which seeks to explore the moral assessment of business from a Catholic perspective and to do so in a deeper way than the more usual debates around personal integrity or assessments of capitalism and socialism. He argues that such an approach leaves fundamental questions unanswered, although the actual content of those questions is not entirely clear. Nevertheless, this volume presents a series of essays which seeks to address the morality of business within the tradition of Catholic social thought.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one consists of two useful chapters on the perspectives of CEOs and then a reflection on the history of commerce and communion in the history of Christian thought. Part two discusses the internal dynamics of business with three chapters dealing with matters such as agency and the technocratic paradigm. Part three looks at the wider responsibilities of business including approaches to business ethics, the idea of “good goods”, the moral ecology of business and the moral legitimacy of market decisions.

The first chapter gives fascinating insights into the perspectives of three CEOs of companies ranging from a family-owned manufacturing company to a more widely held investment and banking company, one of whom spent many years as a senior executive of a large public company.

These insights are wise, incisive and illuminating. The purpose of business lies at the heart of these senior leaders’ perspectives. Business is intended to meet real needs, profit is essential. However, trust, integrity and quality products are not by-products but central to the mission of their companies. Thomas Holloran noted that during his time with a large public company the shareholders all did very well and yet the company’s mission was not about maximising shareholder wealth. Unsurprisingly, all three opt for a stakeholder model. Although I largely agree with this approach one wonders whether we may have so caricatured the idea of profit maximization that we are in danger of missing some important aspects of the purpose of business. Mary Hirschfield, in chapter 5, dealing with the technocratic paradigm, undertakes a useful exercise in setting out the main arguments in defence of profit maximization as producing socially optimal outcomes in a logical and balanced way (pp95-98). We need more of this honest debate.

All three of the CEOs also emphasised personal responsibility, culture, virtues and the moral qualities of goods and services. Thomas Holloran points out that it is a misconception that most business people are greedy or dishonest. On the contrary, he argues, most are deeply moral (pp22-23). This is an important corrective to the notion that all business is exploitative and business executives are only interested in their own success and profits.

The remaining chapters are somewhat more of a mix tackling important individual subjects but it is not always clear how they relate to the wider picture. Too many of the chapters are stand-alone narratives (albeit with attempts to cross-refer). I would have preferred a more clearly articulated overall vision rather than Daniel Finn’s very brief introduction. However, this is a relatively minor quibble and does not take away from the importance of the collection as a whole.

The strongest chapters are those that reach out further into wider debate.

One example of this is Martin Schlag’s chapter on the responsibility of business for the moral ecology in which they operate (chapter 8). Professor Schlag engages critically with two recent critics of the market, Michael Sandel and Jean Tirole.  Schlag rejects the presumption that markets and morals are in opposition to each other, noting that for Thomas Aquinas, ‘it would be inconceivable to affirm that markets are amoral in their operations’ (p165). Schlag, then, is determined to make us work hard through involvement in the market rather than separation from the market. This is an important theological corrective to the points of view either that business is evil and to be avoided, or that our real calling is to Christianise business. Rather we should view business as part of God’s provision for humanity and a place to exercise Christian character and responsibility. Schlag also builds on Aquinas to remind us that private ownership entails obligations and this includes the owners and ownership of business. In this way business is an integral part of the wider ecology of economic life encouraging the flourishing of all.

Chapter 7, by Daniel Cloutier, dealing with “good goods” is a useful and interesting discussion around the nature of goods. The author identifies three categories of questionable goods, those that are defective, harmful or futile. However, these criteria are negative and not always straightforward (for example, in the case of weaponry). The criteria adopted for futile goods are more instructive. We might purchase futile goods for three reasons, according to the author, the pursuit of luxury, our own self-identification, or consumption as an end itself. The point is that they suggest, “an implied reversal about what is important in life” (page 151). This chapter also discusses the gig economy which sets up some interesting questions. Unfortunately, these are then not pursued leaving the reader feeling rather let down that the analysis had not been extended to a central feature of the modern economy.

One helpful feature of the book is the manner in which the authors of many of the chapters refer back to and locate their observations in the comments of the CEOs in chapter 1. This is a useful link of theory and practice.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it. The chapters were somewhat more disparate than I expected; all were interesting, some were outstanding. We can also give thanks that a group of theologically informed writers are both willing and able to engage with economics and business. Most of what was discussed was relevant to our common Christian tradition.

Daniel Finn asks an appropriate question in his opening sentence, ‘Can a religion whose founder taught love of neighbour as the most fundamental moral principle give moral approval to profit-seeking business firms in a global economy?’ (page 1). As James Heft noted in his Afterword, the CEO interviews reveal that all business leaders “face decisions that are often not black and white and who have to make practical judgments that involve inescapable trade-offs, situations where hard decisions have to be made” (page 222).

Elusive though the answers may remain we should be thankful for this group of scholars exploring these questions and dilemmas. We leave the last word to Professor Schlag:

‘The task of Catholic social thought is neither to be irenic nor cynical but realistic, with a realism that presents constructive, practical solutions not for the righteous but for reasonable people’ (page 174).

 

“Business Ethics and Catholic Social Thought,” edited by Daniel K Finn was published in 2021 by Georgetown University Press (ISBN: 978-1-64712-074-0). 245pp.


Richard%20Turnbullweb#1# (2)Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Carter: “The Biblical Entrepreneur’s Experience” by S Leigh Davis

Much of The Biblical Entrepreneur’s Experience comprises a rather simplistic and selective use of scripture to support a particular world-view, namely a North American free market system. As such, it could almost be categorised as espousing a prosperity gospel, in which correctly following biblical methods will necessarily bring success in business (see Chapter 2 for Davis’s “system”). The examples given in the book, of entrepreneurs such as Sarah Breedlove (Madam C.J. Walker), Strive Masiyiwa and Scott Harrison, tell this story in an often engaging way, but at times verge on a parody, which attempts to represent the complex riches of the Christian faith in an unreflective manner. One example is the song “The Hairdresser’s Ode to Madam C.J. Walker”, to the tune of “Onward, Christian Soldiers”, which the author cites approvingly (pages 72-73). The ‘mission’ of beautifying hair is conflated completely with the great Christian Commission in a manner that I found both disturbing and shallow.

Davis’s central metaphor, akin to a sermon illustration, is that of ‘bees and fleas’, and the author uses the bee/flea imagery to invite the reader into his world-view. BEEs (Biblical Experiential Entrepreneur) are good, and FLEAs (in-Flexible Learnt Entrepreneurial Antagonist) are bad. At the heart of Davis’s analysis is the proposition that “A BEE creates; a FLEA takes” (page 22). The book is peppered with “fun facts”, such as, “The honeybee has a heart!” (page 143), and side-bar notes, for example, “Strive – to devote serious effort or energy; to struggle in opposition” (page 115). Taken together, the above makes the overarching style of the book quite propositional and un-nuanced.

However, at times the book is also informative and every now and again I was pleased to find an interesting comment or statement that, I felt, contributed in a thoughtful way to a theological consideration of the subjects of enterprise and of entrepreneurial behaviour. For example, on the theme of entrepreneurial endeavour, Davis suggests: “It is to prepare the entrepreneur for the next life: a venture more fulfilling than its worldly counterparts” (page 5). This statement sketches out an idea which could be developed into some deep vocational thinking on the kingdom of heaven, and the place for enterprise within God’s enduring purposes. In another intriguing statement Davis comments: ‘…through grace we are given a great opportunity to provide others with a needed product or service to glorify Him – not ourselves” (page 11). Here, the themes of God’s grace, human need (not desire), and divine glory are all connected together under the umbrella of enterprise.

In Chapter 6 biblical examples are used to support the practice of “active listening”, as a way of harnessing God’s messages imparted through others, and Davis interestingly adds some thoughts about the challenges of fear and pride (pages 46-47). This “active listening” to others is to be set alongside the need for regular meditation on scripture (Chapter 15), not mere uncritical proof-texting, which appears elsewhere in the book. Separately, Chapter 10 plays with the “beehive” imagery and the way hexagons fit together perfectly, an illustration of how a project should work, a line of discussion that concludes with this communitarian statement: “…an individual cannot save the world; however a swarm of BEEs in each city can rebuild areas, then blocks of areas, followed quickly throughout a city. Multiple cities make up a country. Multiple countries make up a region. Multiple regions make up the world” (page 104).

A different book might have taken some of these statements and developed them by placing them alongside (and sometimes in tension with) the thinking set out by other authors who have considered the place for enterprise within the Christian world-view. The reader is left to do this work for themself. For example, the rich and in my mind helpful concept of the vocation of the entrepreneur, as proposed by Davis, could have been explored within a more general discussion on vocational calling, and specifically the nature of work within God’s providence.

In a way, the most inspiring section of this book for me was Section 6 (Chapters 16, 17 and 18), which describes empirical research about the distinctiveness of Christian-led and Christian-inspired businesses. Such enterprises typically have greater productivity, staff loyalty, and general outperformance. In this regard, I found the story of Walker Mowers engaging, not least the way in which the owners and directors of this business deliberately attempt to tell the story of the company within the bigger context of the story of salvation history (page 155). An enterprise is thus no longer a means to an end (profit), but is part of an over-arching narrative that embraces God’s purposes. This theme alone could have been developed into a major piece of thinking that I believe would be incredibly timely and helpful for business in today’s world.

In sum, this is a “popular” rather than “scholarly” book. It is, in the main, an easy read with occasional thought-provoking nuggets. With rather less “prosperity gospel” and rather more theological reflection on the important themes that are hinted at, it would have been much improved upon.

 

 

“The Biblical Entrepreneur’s Experience” by S Leigh Davis was published in 2021 by River Birch Press (ISBN-13: 9781951561802).  260pp.


Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

 

 

Andy Hartropp: “Business Ethics: An Economically Informed Perspective” by Christopher L. & Matthias U.

Some of the toughest and most complex challenges faced by businesses and corporations in today’s world involve ethics and morality. This is in part why the study of business ethics has now become central in MBA and other programmes.  But the very complexity of these challenges, in an increasingly pluralized as well as globalized world, present a danger that companies lose sight of the big picture – failing to see the wood for the trees.

Lutge and Uhl seek to assist here by providing a comprehensive overview of the essential concepts of business ethics related to the economy as a whole.  At the same time, they offer a wide-ranging analysis of the issues and tools that corporations need to be aware of as they consider the ethical and moral dimensions of their activities.  So, this book – Business Ethics: An Economically Informed Perspective – is distinctive and helpful in the comprehensiveness of what it offers.

Lutge and Uhl are German-based scholars who evidently have deep knowledge in these very important areas – which cover a wide range of academic disciplines.  The quality of their English writing is very good, and the book will be a valuable resource both for companies (especially medium-size and large companies), as well as individuals who have senior-level responsibility.

The authors sometimes refer to their book as a ‘textbook’. However, my impression is that is more of a comprehensive survey than a teaching book as such.

Chapter 1 sets the scene by discussing briefly the phenomenon of globalization. The authors argue that globalization poses a challenge to virtue ethics: “It is an enormous challenge to find some plausible common ground” for a meaningful ethical dialogue “if a common denominator of values does not exist” (pages 13-14).  The authors propose that a more helpful approach is offered by order ethics: the focus here is more on rules than on values.  “The key idea of order ethics is to look out for strategies on the level of rules that enable win-win solutions for all affected parties” (page 14).  The authors return to this emphasis a number of times.

Chapter 2 provides a brief analysis of the relationship between ethics and economics. The authors interpret business ethics as ethics with an economic method.  This links to the book’s subtitle: An Economically Informed Approach. Lutge and Uhl argue that, from the point of view of business ethics, “production and distribution should be recognized as interdependent and therefore only discussed simultaneously” (page 26).  Similarly, “it is only in the interplay of ethical reflection and economically informed implementation that rules and institutions can be created that are resistant to exploitation and mutually beneficial” (page 31).

Chapter 3 surveys the development of business ethics thinking in the historical context of the distinction between premodern and modern companies. The authors include a brief survey of ethical teaching in the Bible and Christian thought, as well as Hinduism and Islam. They argue that the complexity of the 21st century world means that it is insufficient to have an ethics of behaviour: one must also think about the ‘ethics of conditions’, by which they mean the rules of competition (page 52). This chapter makes a strong case for the benefits of markets and competition.  It also argues that business ethics can to some degree be regarded as a form of risk management.  “Especially in an information society…it is in the company’s own interest not to ignore the moral dimension of its own actions” (page 37).

Chapter 4 is a more lengthy survey of key models and tools of business ethics and corporate ethics.  It consists of three sections: the first looks at philosophical foundations and tools, such as deontology and consequentialism and contractual concepts (e.g., the work of Hobbes, Kant and Rawls). The second section focuses on economic and social-science foundations and tools, such as the rational actor, dilemma structures (e.g., the ‘Prisoners’ Dilemma’) and the concept of utility.  These tools are applied to concepts of justice. The third section deals with psychological foundations and tools.  Major subjects considered here include the social intuitionist model of moral judgment and the concept of bounded ethicality: a perhaps unfortunate piece of jargon which essentially refers to the study of how and why ethical decision-making can be inconsistent and thus problematic – both on the part of individuals and organizations.

It would be fair to say that the evident breadth and depth of Chapter 4 means that it is not easy reading. But this chapter does illustrate the usefulness of the book as a comprehensive survey, and thus a tool for reference and reflection.

Chapter 5 looks in depth at some of the challenges of the modern globalized world, and seeks to show how these impinge on business ethics.  This chapter considers absolute poverty and relative poverty, and then evaluates the extent to which equality is a valid goal, in ethical terms.  The authors’ overall approach is reflected in the following words: “It does not make sense to construct a fundamental trade-off between freedom and equality.  Rather, there should be a search for win-win opportunities that improve all parts of society so that no group feels systematically left behind” (page 168).

Chapter 6 is the last and most comprehensive chapter in the book, and addresses a number of aspects of corporate ethics.  In doing so, it pays due attention to the fact that companies are key players in the globalized world.  Again, this book is seen to offer a very important survey of material and perspectives that are vital, especially for larger corporations.  A number of case studies are provided (in this and other chapters) which help to highlight the practical nature of the challenges and ethical issues.

Chapter 6 provides a detailed analysis of compliance – as a minimum ethical requirement – including the limits of compliance.  It then considers different perspectives on corporate responsibility, including the relationship between profit-maximization and ethical responsibility, and corporate ethics based on the role of ‘the honourable gentleman’ – this latter approach having been recently revived through, for example, the Harvard Business School: “As one of the world’s top management schools, it is providing a prominent stage for individualistic concepts and moral codes” based on honour (page 237).  The authors are, however, sceptical and critical of this development: the question arises as to how such an approach “can be implemented in concrete terms in the context of value pluralism. Even if it were possible to agree on certain values – at least within a certain cultural sphere – there would be obvious disparities in the actual evaluation and respective weighting of particular actions” (page 238).

The authors argue, instead, that the complexity of the modern world “requires the implementation of ethical values in the form of rules and institutions” (page 239).  However, it would seem that further thought is required here: unless there really is some given moral foundation for behaviour and conduct – such as that provided by the Christian faith – then any “implementation” of ethical values is ultimately lacking in foundation.  Even though today’s world evidently exhibits some degree of moral pluralism – and hence relativism – it is still surely possible to draw people together to engage in meaningful conversation about what is right and just.

Chapter 6 concludes with a survey of concepts of corporate social responsibility, including the importance of guarding against reputational risk and loss that can arise if companies fail to act in line with ethical principles. Once again, this illustrates the usefulness of the book as a comprehensive reference, to help guide companies, and those who have senior responsibility, through the complexities that surround business ethics.

 

“Business Ethics: An Economically Informed Perspective” by Christopher Lutge and Matthias Uhl was published in 2021 by Oxford: Oxford University Press (ISBN 978-0-19-886477-6). 353pp.


Revd Dr Andy Hartropp is an economist, theologian and church minister.  He has two PhDs, one in Economics and one in Christian Ethics.  He lectured in financial economics for 5 years at Brunel University, west London.  He also worked for a year with the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge, primarily leading a team doing research on families in debt.  He trained at Oak Hill College, London, for ordained ministry in the Church of England.  His (second) PhD was published as: What is Economic Justice?  Biblical and secular perspectives contrasted (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2007).  He has spent 13 years in parish ministry.  He worked for eight years with the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, where he was the Sundo Kim Research Tutor in Mission and Economics.  In March 2016 he joined Waverley Abbey College as Director of Higher Education.  He chairs the Ethics and Social Theology Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.  He is married to Claire, and they live in Bicester, near Oxford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Andrei Rogobete: “Humans as a Service” by Jeremias Prassl

Jeremias Prassl is a Fellow of Magdalen College and an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at Oxford University. He advises public and private sector organisations on regulating the gig economy. In his book entitled Humans as a Service, Prassl re-evaluates the merits and pitfalls of the “gig economy” and seeks to discover ways that society might benefit from the gig economy without falling into “extreme forms” of labour force commodification (page 4).

For those of you wondering what the “gig economy” is, Prassl describes it as “…an ever-growing number of start-ups, […] online platforms and mobile apps [that] connect consumers, businesses, and workers – often for jobs lasting no longer than a few minutes” (page 2). The term “gig” invokes an artist’s gig for a time-limited and (usually) one-off performance.

This new and growing space labelled as the “gig economy” poses both opportunities and challenges.  On one hand the digital space has enabled an unparalleled level of growth and innovation in the exchange of goods, services and other forms of capital at instant speeds – creating value for all participants (page 3). On the other hand, critics argue that a deregulated gig economy leads to a commodification of labour whereby “those with money will be able to […] hire those without money by forcing an online bidding war to see who will charge the least for their labour” (Ibid.).

The book seems to be written with the “educated reader” in mind. The author makes extensive use of practical examples whilst limiting overuse of legal jargon, which makes the book accessible to the specialist and non-specialist alike. The contents are structured among six main chapters and while we will not detail each in part here, we will touch upon some of the key points that may warrant further discussion.

Chapters I and II lay out the foundations of the gig economy: its internal workings, the role of digitalisation, the role of regulation (or lack thereof), and so on. Prassl points out that large actors within the gig economy are mistakenly given the benefit of the doubt when found guilty of mistreating their employees (or contractors). This is largely done by hiding under the “innovation” banner and perhaps abusing the public’s perception of innovation as a natural industry disruptor. Once section in the second chapter highlights the discrepancy between the authorities’ response to Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct zero-hours contracts scandal, and the ill treatment of ride sharing drivers for Lyft & Co. in the US (page 41-42). Prassl asks, “Why, then, is it that Mike Ashley was (rightly) subjected to parliamentary humiliation, whereas the sharing economy is celebrated by its very own cross-party caucus in the US Congress?” (Ibid.).

Chapters III and IV continue the discussion and look at life within the gig economy and the dilemmas that innovation can give rise to, particularly in respect to applying the appropriate level of regulation. Prassl points out an “innovation paradox”: “…it is undoubtedly true that key elements behind the rise of the sharing economy are completely new – first and foremost, their reliance on the internet, smartphone apps and digital platforms […] When it comes to work in the on-demand economy, on the other hand, the story is a very different one” (page 72). It is the capacity to accurately differentiate between the truly novel and the outwardly novel that policymakers will need if they are to develop an appropriate regulatory framework.

Chapters V and VI conclude the discussion by looking at various approaches of harnessing the benefits of the gig economy whilst restoring and protecting workers’ rights. Prassl argues that a key element is ensuring that everyone plays by the same rules, “…we need to redress structural imbalances and create a level playing field – with employment law at its foundation” (page 119).

To conclude, Humans as a Service by Jeremias Prassl is a great overview of the opportunities and challenges that the gig economy brings for all stakeholders involved. However, (and given that this piece of work is primarily written from a legal perspective), one cannot help but feel that insufficient voice has been given to the non-legal (or non-regulatory) solutions to the problems facing the gig economy. Some of these might include: allowing for market corrections and re-structuring, online reputation management, the implications of reputation damage, the increasing role of independent reviews in online decision-making, and so on. This would encompass a much broader discussion that the book sorely misses.

That is not to say these are unequivocal answers – yet a more thorough investigation into the non-regulatory means of transforming the gig economy would have benefited the book greatly. If readers can look beyond the “regulation is the answer” approach (which no doubt, some will), Humans as a Service is a good and informative read. It is just a shame that it missed the opportunity of being an excellent read. Perhaps an economist’s response to the book would help – let’s hope that we see such endeavour in the future.

 

Prassl, Jeremias. “Humans as a Service: The Promise and Perils of Work in the Gig Economy” was first published in 2018 by Oxford University Press (ISBN:9780192517388). 199pp.


Andrei E. Rogobete is the Associate Director of  the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

 

 

 

Richard Turnbull: “Putting Purpose into Practice” Eds. Colin Mayer and Bruno Roche

This book is the product of an extensive research programme undertaken between Mars Catalyst, which is the internal think-tank of the Mars company, and the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. Professor Colin Mayer is a leading voice in the debates around business purpose and has written and spoken extensively in the field. His previous writing in this area includes Firm Commitment (OUP, 2013), and Prosperity (OUP, 2018). He is insightful and measured and this comes through in this volume. Bruno Roche was formerly the chief economist of Mars, Inc. and the head of Mars Catalyst. He brings both practical business experience and a commitment to thinking about and developing both the ideas and practices around business purpose. He developed the idea of the ‘economics of mutuality’ a surprisingly confusing concept, but one with a lengthy history in Mars. A fascinating and interesting project.

The book has four parts. The first deals with consists of an introduction and overview by the editors. Part II consists of seventeen contributions designed to deal with the core components of the ‘economics of mutuality’ including reflections on purpose, various aspects of non-financial capital (human capital, natural capital, social capital), accounting and measurement issues and the role of micro-equity, investment funds, partnerships, NGO activism and other matters. Part III includes 14 case studies and then Part IV is a conclusion.

The book contains some significant insights, offering areas for further research and useful debates on important topics, all of which build on current knowledge and research in this increasingly important area. However, the book seeks to achieve far too much and consequently ends up with disconnects between the debates in Part II and the subsequently case studies.

The book’s premise is that the classic Chicago economic model of profit/shareholder value maximization was misconceived in its very nature but that business is in a position to be a profitable force for good that transcends self-interest ‘for the benefit of people, planet and profit’ (page 4) which is labelled mutuality. There are merits, as well as flaws, in the Chicago model but few would argue with the second part of that statement.

The history of the idea of mutuality as it relates to Mars is set out by Jay Jakub in chapter 4. Forrest Mars Snr wrote, in a 1947 letter, that the aim of the company (page 57) ‘is the manufacture and distribution of food products in such manner as to promote a mutuality of service and benefits,’ listing consumers, suppliers, competitors, government, suppliers, employees and shareholders as all sharing in this mutuality.

The economics of mutuality takes specific account of a wider range of impacts on people and planet, not least through embracing human, social and natural capital (chapters 10-13). The term ‘economics of mutuality’ though is confusing. The ideas extend beyond the ideas of mutual ownership (see chapter 17) but that is what most people will immediately think of and hence might be distracted from the wider argument. The terminology cannot be readily grasped.  There remains a distinct vagueness when discussing the range and measurement of alternative forms of capital. The editors define mutuality as involving trust, a wider and more pragmatic view of the firm, measuring non-financial performance and developing simple metrics and reporting. The book would have carried more coherence if this definition had more clearly formed the shape of the book and then developed in the case studies. This would have given both a sharper and yet more in-depth analysis.

At the heart of the argument is the idea that the effective boundaries of the firm should be extended beyond the contractual definitions of the traditional corporation which then enables the establishment and pursuit of wider purposes. This argument merits much more discussion as it is a genuinely innovative and creative idea. Colin Mayer and Bruno Roche argue, ‘companies are part of larger business ecosystems and as such, have responsibilities to individuals, communities, and resources that contribute to business performance’ (page 14).  Few would disagree with that and yet extending the boundaries of the firm poses challenges for the structure and nature of the corporation and there remain several conundrums. What is the legal structure which will shape the future corporation? How will the various contractual relationships be reflected in that structure? Are there different possibilities for public, private and family companies?

Another area of significance identified and certainly in need of further research is the development of metrics of measurement for the wider range of capitals identified leading to the idea of a mutual profit and loss account. Chapters 13, 14 and 15 dealing with accounting for natural capital (Richard Barker), implementing a mutual profit and loss account (Robert Eccles and Francois Laurent) and the impact of mutual profit on business behaviour (Robert Eccles and Judith C. Stroehle) were all excellent chapters pushing at the boundaries. Yet, it remained theoretical. One was left wondering whether anyone had actually implemented this sort of accounting approach. As Eccles and Laurent note, to be ‘meaningful and effective, the mutual P&L relies on the selection of material issues and initiatives, the right metrics, and a certain degree of stability over time’ (page 197). This is essentially a rather vague and highly subjective set of criteria; accounting and measurement, however, depends on objective criteria. No concrete examples were actually given and the idea was not explored in the case study section.

The case studies are all examples of businesses which pursue wider purposes and objectives for the good of society, for people, for planet and also for profit. The examples range from supply change management, micro-equity initiatives, fair trade, alleviation of poverty and specific examples of business eco-systems designed for the good of society. Some are well-known. All are good, even inspiring examples of profitable business for good. What was much more difficult was to see the specific (rather than general) link between the earlier chapters and the case studies.

Overall this book is a helpful contribution to the wider debates and draws on a number of important areas for further development and future research. The question remains of how business, mainstream commercial business, can be refocussed in positive ways for the benefit of the various mutually inter-dependent players, rather than simply some good examples of business for good. This requires a more focused approach, reflection on legal structures, their limits and boundaries, and how to reflect new structures as well as the issues of measurement and reporting across a wider range of metrics.

 

Putting Purpose into Practice: The Economics of Mutuality, edited by Colin Mayer and Bruno Roche was published in 2021 by Oxford University Press (ISBN: 978-0-19-887070-8). 404pp.


Richard%20Turnbullweb#1# (2)Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.

 

 

 

Edward Carter: “Servant Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship and the Will to Serve” Eds. Luk Bouckaert & Steven C. van den Heuvel

This book is a collection of eighteen separate but thematically connected papers which were given at an international academic conference in Belgium in May 2018. The organising principle is an enquiry as to whether the ‘will to serve’ must always be ‘crowded out in the real economic arena of hard competition’ (page vi). The authors are very diverse, with global perspectives offered, although there is an inevitable impression at certain moments that one is eavesdropping on a room full of academics talking to one another and there is some repetition, notably when it comes to the description of what ‘servant leadership’ might be.

I found some of the papers stronger than others but I enjoyed reading all of them, and was left with ideas and questions about re-discovering a wider view of how businesses and companies operate within society. Originally the granting of ‘limited liability’ was seen as a privilege that brought responsibilities towards the community. Those responsibilities have at times been largely overlooked in the single-minded search for profit, which in turn has shaped the kind of leadership the corporate sector has embraced and this volume is a helpful contribution to a growing literature that urges a wider view of what makes for good leadership (whether described using ‘servant’ language or not), as well as a broader view of the very purpose of business and enterprise itself.

It is difficult to summarise such a diverse set of essays, and even the over-arching theme of servant leadership seemed not to be dominant. There are three sections: (1) Philosophical and Spiritual Foundations; (2) Social Entrepreneurship: Serving the Common Good; (3) Servant Leadership in the Context of Business. The general movement through the collection is from concepts to practice, although there is plenty of overlap.

 

Section 1 (Philosophical and Spiritual Foundations)

I found the most thought provoking of the seven essays in Section 1 to be Ipseistic Ethics Beyond Moralism: Rooting the “Will to Serve” in “The Reverence for Life” by Chris Doude van Troostwijk and The Dark Side of Servant Leadership: Power Abuse via Serving by Volker Kessler. 

Despite its title, the former is very readable. It uses Albert Schweitzer’s life-story as a vehicle for the author’s argument, which is an attempt to answer this question: ‘Is there a way that respects both the self-centered impetus of human life and the altruistic needs of life in general?’ (page 82) I was especially intrigued by the author’s appropriation of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theme so as to re-evaluate ‘fit’ as a social idea – the cooperation needed for someone to be a ‘good fit’ within an organisation.

Volker Kessler’s paper contrasts strongly with the others, in that the author (a practitioner with his wife Martina) draws upon a data-base of stories to describe eight mechanisms of power abuse in Christian organisations. The main issues are those of inappropriate obligations and commitments, and a culture of dependency masked as being reciprocity. This sentence stood out for me: ‘Many of the misuses listed… could be avoided if leaders would not call themselves servants.’ (page 119) Every Christian leader would benefit from reading and reflecting on this article.

Several of the other essays are also interesting. Two take a Christian perspective: Patrick Nullens’ paper (The Will to Serve: An Anthropological and Spiritual Foundation for Leadership) looks at the moral aspects of servant leadership, and makes theological links to Christian love and Christ the servant/slave. Nullens raises human fallenness, and therefore the need also for justice – a wider concept linked to the common good; and Heiko Wenzel’s essay (Reading Exodus 18 and Robert Greenleaf) refers to Exodus 18 (Moses’ leadership) as a way of exploring the differences between hierarchical leadership and a ‘first among equals’ model. Issues of organisational culture and participation, and how they are shaped, are considered. In contrast, in Simone Weil and a Critical Will to Serve Michael J. Thate draws on Simone Weil’s thought, in which the theme of ‘creative attention’ is prominent – this being attention towards the world, and a kind of ethical awareness that avoids rigidity.

The other two essays in Section 1 are disappointing. First, Servant Leadership Beyond Servant and Leader: A Buddhist Perspective on the Theory and Practice of Servant Leadership by Ernest C. H. Ng sketches out a model called ‘Interdependent Leadership’. This suggests that changes can be delivered only when confronting thoughts are transcended and any place for opposites or ‘contest’ is removed, but I struggled with understanding how this analysis might become a practical tool.  Secondly, Christianity and Servant Leadership by Peirong Lin among other things considers the concept of the ‘leadership moment’ (page 124), and the need to hold leader, follower, purpose and context together. I liked the phrase, ‘Normal things have parable character’ (page 135), borrowed from Dutch priest and professor Tjeu van Knippenberg, but overall this article felt fairly general to me.

 

Section 2 (Social Entrepreneurship: Serving the Common Good)

All six essays in Section 2 provoke thought, especially for Christians. The section opens with Emilio Di Somma pushing back against the Milton Friedman version of economics, and seeking to find a place for power-relations, politics, and human dignity within the discussion (Protecting the Weak and Creating Community). Serving is therefore mainly characterised as relinquishing power, and the example of Adriano Olivetti as an exemplary and socially responsible entrepreneur is used. I found myself arriving at the interesting conclusion that ‘making things well’ might be more important than making a profit, although the two are of course not mutually exclusive.

Foundations for Social Entrepreneurship: An Integrative Indian Perspective by Sharda S. Nandram, Puneet K. Bindlish, Harsh Purohit, Ankur Joshi, & Priti Hingorani explores the idea that entrepreneurs might be drawn towards social entrepreneurial activities because of themes lying within Indian philosophy. There is some methodology and interpretation, although I was left wanting more of this. The most interesting concept is that of the ‘public domain’, and why some entrepreneurs seem willing to gift their ideas and creativity to the world, for example Tim Berners-Lee and the world wide web.

Workplace Spirituality in Social Entrepreneurship: Motivation for Serving in the Common Good by Natasha Gjorevska describes ‘spiritual entrepreneurs’ as a category, and explores a complementary relationship between the concepts of social enterprise and workplace spiritual leadership. ‘Spiritual’ here is not necessarily ‘religious’, but embraces themes such as ‘meaningful work’, ‘purpose’, and a ‘sense of community’. However, there are plenty of resonances with Christian thinking about vocation, and the common good.

Mindful Servant Leadership for B-Corps by Kevin Jackson provides some helpful (for me) background information about B-Corps, which are essentially public benefit companies that also exhibit non-instrumental motivations: ‘…ethics for their own sake…’ (p.213). The other main strand within this paper concerns ‘mindfulness’, which keeps a leader’s view wide, and therefore overlaps with the bigger societal purposes of a B-Corp. I translated this for myself into a Christian understanding of prayerfulness, and the big-picture view of creation, and new creation in Christ. With a bit of interpretation this article would be of interest to Christian business leaders and entrepreneurs as they look to the wider purposes of their organisation.

In The Religious Leader as Social Entrepreneur, Jack Barentsen begins by raising the concern that an apparently ‘servant’ religious leader might only or mainly be motivated by the need to proselytise. However, the argument is put that this is usually not the case, and that a broader view of the common good is in mind. One specific example is peacebuilding. Barentsen notes the well-known fact that people of faith are much more likely to volunteer (‘serve’), and therefore contribute to social capital, and he has a useful section, albeit descriptive rather than analytical, on religious leaders as entrepreneurs. I liked his final question asking, are religious leaders helped and trained to be social entrepreneurs, or common-good-builders. My sense is that in the church I belong to the answer is, ‘No’.

Serving the Poor: The Case of the EoC Enterprise ‘Mercurio Net’ by Mara Del Baldo & Maria-Gabriella Baldarelli is very different from the other essays. EoC stands for ‘Economy of Communion’, which is a network of companies initiated in Brazil in 1991 by Chiara Lubich, and which connects to the Roman Catholic Focolare Movement. Lubich’s vision was based on reducing poverty and the need for a broad understanding of happiness and ‘human flowering’. (page 256) She wanted to see a new generation of companies producing wealth on behalf of those in poverty by providing good work. The authors tell us that there are now almost 1,000 EoC firms around the world. I knew none of this, and was grateful to learn, as well as being reminded that the place for servant leadership is critical when it comes to an attentiveness to the poor.

 

Section 3 (Servant Leadership in the Context of Business)

The third section of the book begins with Jakob Willem (Pim) Boven’s observation (with which I agree) that a theory of leadership (entrepreneurship) is very under-represented in the standard neo-classical economic theories (Servant Leadership in Market-Oriented Organizations, Does that Make Sense? An Evaluation from an Economic-Organization Theory Perspective). The author therefore suggests that we need to take seriously the institutional reality of the company, and he points us to the growing body of research into Organizational Economics. His main point is that there are resonances between Organizational Economics and the theme of ‘Servant Leadership’.

The next two essays in this final section seek to learn from specific situations. The first, The Importance of Calling in Realization of Life Projects: The Case of Maverick and Serial-entrepreneur Hans Nielsen Hauge with Implications for Business Education by Knut Ims, Truls Liland, & Magne Supphellen is the more analytical.  It is essentially a very interesting case study of Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824), who was an influential entrepreneur in Norway – a preacher and businessman whose impact is still felt today. I did not know his story before reading this article, and found it inspiring. Of note for me was the feudal context out of which Hauge sprang, and which he implicitly challenged, as was the link between the spiritual experience of his ‘call’ (described on page 313) and his practical entrepreneurship. The authors point to these key ingredients in Hauge’s life: self-determination (an intrinsic motivation); meaning; persistence. These combine to give prominence to a holistic view of life, rather than life as a series of attempts to optimise choices. This rallying cry towards the end of the paper seemed powerful and important to me: ‘We need a type of business education and business training, which assists students in defining life goals and life projects.’ (page 325).

Rethinking Fashion Retail: The Case of MrSale by Gabor Kovacs takes the form of a qualitative mini research project focused on a small private company called MrSale, which was founded in Budapest in 2000. Kovacs is seeking evidence about the source of genuine ethical commitment in business. The answer is to do with the motivations of serving society and contributing to social well-being, with a link to meditation and Buddhism. The often-observed benefits of an ethically run business are, in this case, seen to be those of satisfied employees, increased innovation, higher levels of trust with suppliers, growth, and ultimately profits. Case studies are always engaging, but I was hoping for more critical comment and interpretation.

The final two essays consider the thinking of two very different people: Aldous Huxley, who was famously the author of Brave New World in 1932, which took a pessimistic view of the rise of science and a mechanised economy; and John Wesley the prophetic teacher and preacher, who created a large-scale business and who had links to the world of commerce and trade.

In Aldous Huxley’s Anarchist Entrepreneurship Based on Spiritual Capital, Gerrit De Vylder plays Huxley’s fiction off against the theme of servant leadership – a creative endeavour which yields surprisingly rich results. The idea which most caught my eye was the value ascribed to localism and the link to the ‘small is beautiful’ economics of E.F. Schumacher. This paper, and indeed the entire book, pre-dates the covid-19 pandemic, but I wondered if the new post-pandemic desire to build more resilient supply chains and to reduce dependence on global trade routes might have added to the discussion.

In the final chapter of the collection (John Wesley: Prophet and Entrepreneur), Clive Murray Norris gives a concise description of John Wesley’s ministry and observes that Wesley’s prophetic voice had a dual focus: personal spiritual renewal, and the need to address the problems and injustices faced by society. This in turn meant that Wesley avoided the trap of a ‘prosperity gospel’, and instead demonstrated a strong sense of stewardship and the fruitfulness of good works in a broad, societal sense. My knowledge of John Wesley’s activities was improved by reading this paper, and the conclusion, with four points for reflection aimed at today’s social entrepreneurs, made for a fine ending to the entire book. Summarised, these are: (i) the need for a holistic view of humanity’s spiritual and physical needs; (ii) the desirability of borrowing ideas from others, accepting that not every idea will work, and focusing on practical action; (iii) the importance of having friends and partners across the community, both rich and poor; and (iv) the imperative that all share a common purpose, that all are welcome, that anything is possible, and that action must start now.

 

“Servant Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship and the Will to Serve – Spiritual Foundations and Business Applications”, edited by Luk Bouckaert and Steven C. van den Heuvel, was published in 2019 by Palgrave Macmillan (ISBN-13: 9783030299385). 394pp.


Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

 

 

 

Anne Devlin: “Reimagining Capitalism” By Rebecca Henderson

Reimagining Capitalism: How business can save the world is a very didactic, easy to read book. Unfolding like a captivating lecture, it is highly structured and each point is illustrated with a wealth of business examples taken from a wide spectrum of enterprises, old and new.

You can easily imagine Rebecca Henderson on the campus of the Harvard Business School answering the challenging questions of Millennials who fully embrace sustainability and inclusion topics. The resulting book challenges head-on the paradigm of business management theory over the last fifty years that held shareholder value maximisation as the most powerful way to increase general prosperity. She does not seek to list the shortcomings or fix the problems of the current model, rather, she is more ambitious. Tapping into her considerable experience of business consultancy and her knowledge of history of corporations and national institutions, she builds block by block a path to rethink or Reimagine Capitalism.

She takes stock of Shareholder Value Maximisation theory and highlights that the conditions deemed necessary by its early advocates are not always present: markets fail us because externalities are not properly priced, genuine freedom of opportunity is not available to many because of lack of fair access to education and health services and firms are increasingly able to fix the rules of the game in their favour. Uncontrolled free markets lead people to believe that they can do without government, “without shared social and moral commitments to the health of the entire society” on which however all market activity ultimately relies.

In her effort to build a path to “reimagine capitalism in practice”, she lays out five foundation blocks to lead us on the journey.

Firstly, she tackles the strong economic business case for creating shared value. It is somewhat abstract and ethereal as a theoretical economic concept, however, she effectively uses examples to illustrate how it can manifest itself and its importance in a business context. Reducing environmental damage and treating people well reduce reputational risk. Shared value can also help securing the long-term viability of a supply chain, increase the demand for your product and reduce costs. Achieving shared value however, is not a small feat. To help us project how shared value can be established in a company, she introduces the interesting concept of architectural innovation.

Following this logic, she highlights how the adoption by any enterprise of an authentic purpose “makes it easier to identify the kind of architectural innovations that enable the creation of shared value.” Rejecting the commonly held belief of profits and purpose being mutually exclusive, she sees purpose-driven organisations as better equipped to handle transition in disruptive market conditions. The clear sense of their mission in the world, the commitment to building an organisation in which every employee is treated with dignity and respect “release creativity, commitment and raw energy”. She does not elaborate much on the strong spiritual or political convictions that sustain “the courage and vision of the leaders necessary to manage with purpose” even though she recognises its critical importance.

She then turns her attention to the need for finance to focus on the long-term. Asset owners and asset managers might have a different appetite (and incentives) to hold assets long-term but investors in general need better data to be convinced to hold their interest longer. ESG metrics, especially those with potential significant impact on short-term profitability and long-term liabilities must continue to be rigorously developed and used. While the investment community as a whole may not yet be ready to wholeheartedly embrace the company purpose and ready to give time to its implementation, Rebecca Henderson suggests a possible limitation, even reduction of investor power to the benefit of other stakeholders. Harnessing the power and influence of investors is a key enabler to drive change at scale. The examples she cites demonstrate that this is beginning to happen within the investment community.

However, one company cannot do much on its own about genuine public good problems. Industry-wide self-regulation has been criticised in the past as a way to anticipate and diffuse the threat of government regulations or also to set up barriers to new entrants. Nevertheless, the powerful example of how Unilever and Paul Polman socialized the problem of palm oil sustainability shows that increasing everyone’s incentive to cooperate and being able to enforce cooperation can have a major impact and create collective shared value.

Her last avenue of reflection in Reimagining Capitalism is the role of government as a guarantor and enabler of a free and fair market. “While economic growth and social well-being are often enormously advanced by the presence of free markets, they are also critically dependent on a host of complementary institutions.” Denouncing the systematic campaign of the last 50 years to discredit government in the US, she suggests answers to the fundamental question she raises namely “how do we protect the institutions that have made us rich and free?”

Rebecca Henderson is determined to provide each reader with nothing less than a roadmap to find their own path forward towards changing the world. She is a staunch believer in the positive power of capitalism but is also clear about the dangers of unchecked capitalism, leading to the explosion of inequalities and the raise of populism. While the topics she develops could have justified further ethical considerations, she keeps the debate firmly in the logic of the business case, adopting a rigorous, business-like approach. She manages nevertheless to communicate and share a real passion for the issue at stake. This book is highly topical as demonstrated by the speech on March 15 2021, by the acting chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Allison Lee who stated:

“That supposed distinction—between what’s ‘good’ and what’s profitable, between what’s sustainable environmentally and what’s sustainable economically, between acting in pursuit of the public interest and acting to maximize the bottom line—is increasingly diminished,” Lee told the audience at the liberal think tank Centre for American Progress. “[There’s] no historical precedent for the magnitude of the shift in investor focus that we’ve witnessed over the last decade.”

It is overall a very interesting and relevant book, well worth reading and reflecting upon.

 

“Reimagining Capitalism: How business can save the world” by Rebecca Henderson was published in 2020 by Portfolio Penguin (ISBN-13: 978-0241379660). 336pp.


Anne Devlin is a director of Terra Solar II, a former oil trader with BP and a member of the Board of CEME.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Godden: “The World Made Otherwise” by Timothy J. Gorringe

The sub-title of The World Made Otherwise is “Sustaining Humanity in a Threatened World” and climate change or other environmental issues form the book’s starting point and backdrop. Gorringe sees climate change as creating a burning platform that makes thorough-going political, economic and social change imperative.

His prognosis is dire. He opines that “civilisational collapse is likely” (page 19) and that, together, environmental issues and current socio-political trends “could suggest the ‘new dark ages’ of which MacIntyre spoke nearly 40 years ago” (page 153). He asserts that the resulting problems are primarily moral and political and that “neither technological fixes nor tweaking of the present economic system are sufficient to address them” (page 117). Instead, he thinks that the heart of the problem lies in false values.

Much of Gorringe’s discussion relating to values will be widely applauded: he rejects the post-modern relativism that reduces discussions of values to discussions of psychology or sociology, confusing values with either societal norms or preferences linked to self-realisation; he defends the idea of universal values against those who would deny their existence (including those on the left who suggest that the very idea of human rights is a form of Western cultural imperialism); he also rejects “the claim of the neoliberal market to provide the fundamental standard for everything whatsoever” (page 57) and instead seeks to establish a value system based on the ultimate end or object of human life, which he suggests is, in essence, the creative fulfilment of human potential, “a fulfilment that is both individual and social” (page 85).

His discussion of the problems within the existing political, economic and social order also contains much that will command wide acceptance, albeit not much that is new. In particular, the history of the twentieth century supports the wisdom of his call for “a critical watchfulness” with regards to our political practices and his warning that “all claims for absolute allegiance on the part of the state are idolatrous” (pages 133/134). Likewise, his warning about making an idol of the market will be accepted by all but the most extreme free marketeers and his criticisms of the workings of modern democracies (including the basis on which people cast their vote, the role of the media and lobbying) ring true.

Unfortunately, however, time and again Gorringe gravely overstates his case and, whilst some parts of the book are closely argued, much of what he asserts is not backed up by detailed analysis or engagement with different views. For example, he asserts that “equality must mean equality of outcome” (page 163) on the basis of five lines of argument and he makes no effort to comprehend the practical and moral arguments for the market economy or recognise the different conceptions of justice that underly much current socio-political debate (as to which, see Capitalism and Democracy by Thomas Spragens). Furthermore, the version of the market economy that he attacks is extreme and he fails to acknowledge that one can be in favour of a market economy yet at the same time recognise the need for guiding values outside it. Instead, he makes a number of unsupported ex cathedra assertions that, on occasions, descend into mere left-wing jibes (e.g. his side swipe at “austerity” measures, which he defines as “making sure the bankers do not have to pay for their mistakes”, page 198, and his distinction between “genuine science” and “the spurious corporate-financed variety”, page 290).

The least satisfactory part of the book is its suggestions for change: they are almost totally lacking in specificity and are absurdly Utopian. Gorringe says that he is putting forward what he calls “rights cosmopolitanism”, which he describes as “a vision of a cosmopolitan world of federated states where all people enjoy basic rights and freedoms simply in view of their humanity” (page 147). However, the vision is vague and Gorringe gives no clue as to how it might be realised. He envisages the break-up of current nation states and talks of “a world of small and devolved, but often federated states, where economic and environmental rules would be worked out together and held to be binding by the United Nations and its agencies” (page 152); he suggests that “local economies will have shorter supply chains and keep real wealth within the community” and that they “will not import products they can produce for themselves or export local products until local needs have been met”, citing apparently with approval, Molly Scott Cato’s suggestion that there might be perhaps 20 bioregions forming the basis for a reformed economy with each bioregion having “the task of provisioning its inhabitants” (pages 233/234); and he advocates monetary reform. Yet his political proposals amount to little more than a vague idea relating to the creation of local deliberative assemblies; leaving aside a few specific proposals (e.g. to mutualise utilities and provide a basic citizen’s income), his economic ideas are packed into a bewildering four page section in which he advocates the localisation of economic life; and, apart from discussing a few examples of what are, in essence, local or restricted use currencies, he gives us no clear idea of what monetary reforms he is seeking.

Gorringe defends himself against the charge of being Utopian by suggesting, first, “that nothing is so wildly Utopian as to try and build a sustainable world on the basis of greed and competition” and, secondly, that his proposals “are actually being modelled on the ground the world over” (page 236) but this defence fails. The first of these points has no bearing on the realism of his proposals and the second fails to recognise that the only examples he gives of anything remotely resembling the kind of localised system that he advocates are very small scale and, as he himself recognises, have many problems.

It is difficult to know precisely who the book is aimed at. It is not an academic work yet it is overloaded with quotations from and references to the views of different authors (e.g. the main text in the first five pages of the chapter relating to values includes references to the views of no less than 15 different authors). These come so thick and fast that parts of the book are heavy-going and they are likely to render it inaccessible to many potential readers. Furthermore, Gorringe is a liberal Christian who is heavily influenced by Marxist thinking and these starting points pervade The World Made Otherwise. Gorringe makes no attempt to justify them, with the result is that the book is unlikely to prove persuasive to those who do not share his assumptions. Thus, whilst most Christians will welcome his reminder that God ultimately owns all things (a fact which necessarily relativizes property rights), his approach to Scriptural interpretation will baffle and alarm many. For example, his suggestion that “The Eucharist (when not fetishized) adumbrates as a sign the view that the world is gifted to all creatures and is to be shared equally between them” (page 224) is, to put it mildly, difficult to extract from the biblical text, whilst his assertion that Hebrews 13:14 (“Here we have no abiding city”) “promises us that Rome (which for us is neoliberalism) will not last forever” (page 66) is extraordinary.

Gorringe has, for a long time, passionately believed in the need for radical, political, economic and social change and environmental issues have added to the imperative tone of his appeals for such change. However, passion and urgency do not of themselves make up a viable political programme. Gorringe’s theological villain is clearly St. Augustine of Hippo, who he feels is responsible for generations of Christians believing that “the possibility of a truly different society… belongs only to the next life” (page 67). On this basis, one might expect him to show us the way to an earthly paradise but, despite its title, The World Made Otherwise fails to provide one and, whatever one’s political views, Gorringe’s diagnosis and prognosis are simply depressing.

 

The World Made Otherwise by Timothy J. Gorringe was published in 2018 by Cascade Books (ISBN: 978-1-5326-4867-0). 348 pp


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Devlin: “The Social Dilemma” by Jeff Orlowski

This documentary is structured around interviews of tech experts who were pioneers at leading social media platforms and who came to realise that something important went wrong at some point. These views are expressed through a fictitious drama showing the impact of social media on the different members of a family. It is easily accessible to non-social media aficionados and articulates issues that most of us have intuitively perceived without being able to find the common thread running through them.

This Netflix documentary opens on a sombre note with an ominous quote from Sophocles, “nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse”, which is somewhat disconcerting. Unlike Greek tragedies, The Social Dilemma finishes on a carefully hopeful note whereby with greater awareness of the problem and willingness to discuss the issues, it can be fixed. But what exactly is the problem?

The realisation that the tech industry lost its way, making no room for ethical design or even questioning the moral implications, is clearly linked to the monetisation of the social media platforms. Their business model is unveiled and brought back to its essence: if you’re not paying for the product then you are the product. As Jaron Lanier, the American computer philosophy writer, puts it: “It is the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception that is the product.” And the more you are using the platform, the more data feeds the system and therefore the better the prediction of your action. The picture starts getting really scary when you realise that cognitive psychology, especially how to persuade people, is built into the technology itself, deliberately exploiting vulnerability in human psychology. Tristan Harris puts it powerfully when he highlights that people usually recognise the danger when technology will overwhelm the human intelligence. An earlier moment is, however, perhaps more dangerous, namely when technology overwhelms human weaknesses, overpowering human nature and breeding among other things addiction, polarisation, and radicalisation.

Algorithms are originally programmed to a certain definition of success. If it is to maximise revenue, computer learning will improve and optimise towards that goal with no ethical constraints or concerns. Maximising engagement, growth and advertising targets will make algorithms ruthlessly manipulate our emotions and behaviours without us even being aware of it. As fake news travels six times faster on Twitter than the truth, the system has a bias towards disinformation as it makes more money for the company. A systematically individually customised information flow, designed by algorithms to maximise your engagement or watch time, sows division in society: people cannot hear a different opinion since they are being fed the one side of the story which their profile establishes they want to hear. Polarisation, going down rabbit holes, conspiracy theories, and radicalisation are all common manifestations of technology’s ability to destabilise the fabric of society. While we witness a technology-led assault on democracy, we should also worry about the use of technology by totalitarian regimes.

To conclude, this documentary highlights the fundamental issue that systems of algorithms are void of ethical consideration. Their ultimate goal is to maximise profit. AI cannot know what Truth is but people need to have a common perception of reality in order to live together. The positive note comes from the realisation by the tech experts, spearheaded by Tristan Harris, that they do have a moral responsibility to fix it. That starts with a conversation about what the problem is, which is exactly what this documentary succinctly achieves. It will be a difficult journey since any reform of the system will chart a collision course with the current business model of the powerful social media giants. Technology is a great force for good, but the moral dilemmas raised by the social media platforms need to be addressed transparently.

 

The Social Dilemma is directed by Jeff Orlowski and was first released on Netflix on 9th September 2020.


Anne Devlin is a director of Terra Solar II, a former oil trader with BP and a member of the Board of CEME.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Godden: “The Moral Responsibility of Firms” By Eric Orts and N. Craig Smith

Are corporations and other business organisations morally responsible for their acts and omissions? The media and popular discourse frequently assume that they are: companies are sometimes said to have “behaved disgracefully” and, in response, they “apologise”; legislators and regulators around the world seek to impose penalties on companies and justify this by reference to their alleged responsibility for wrongdoing.

But is the attribution of moral responsibility justified? Should we regard such attributions as either misconceived or merely a shorthand way of attributing responsibility to individuals within the relevant organisation? Or can one, in some sense, say that an organisation is morally responsible for its actions and, if so, with what consequences? It is these questions that The Moral Responsibility of Firms addresses.

The book originates in a 2013 conference sponsored by the Warton School of the University of Pennsylvania and INSEAD. It comprises essays by twelve authors sandwiched by contributions from the two editors. The authors comprise a distinguished array of academics from a variety of disciplines (ethics, philosophy, law, business and politics) and the editors line them up in three groups: four essays (by a total of five authors) set forth the arguments in favour of attributing moral responsibility; four (again having five authors) set forth the arguments against; and, finally, two (each with a single author) seek to point a way forward for the debate.

All the essays are of a high standard and, although they comprise serious academic work, their arguments are accessible to any educated reader who is prepared to take the time to study them carefully. Some of the authors could have used less dense language (Michael Bratman being a particular offender is this respect) and some (e.g. Philip Pettit) unhelpfully cross refer to their previous work in order to save space but these failings do not act as a serious barrier to comprehension.

Readers may find the US bias of the authors frustrating but, although a few of the issues discussed are very US specific (e.g. the question corporations are persons entitled to benefit from rights under the US constitution), these discussions are brief and the vast majority of the book is devoted to issues that are applicable to the situations in other countries. Furthermore, the authors make good use of recent corporate history to illustrate the points that they are making and the events that they refer to are generally widely known outside the USA (e.g. the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill that cost BP Plc a huge amount of money and the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster).

There are two basic approaches to the attribution of moral responsibility. The first, a metaphysical approach, is adopted by Pettit. He argues that corporations (and, indeed, many other organisations and human groups) are “conversable agents”, by which he means that “in normal unrigged circumstances [a corporation] maintains certain purposes, forms reliable representations of its environment, and acts reliably so as to satisfy its purposes according to those representations” (page 17) and “corporations can use words as the means of forming their purposes and representations” (page 19). In short, he suggests that corporations are analogous to human beings in relation to the things that he considers matter for the attribution of moral responsibility.

Bratman and Peter French agree with this. Bratman argues that a group may be held responsible for its actions even in circumstances which there is no shared intention among members of the group, whilst French suggests that the moral responsibility of an organisation may vary over time as its composition and “self-told narrative” changes.

In contrast, Waheed Hussain and Joakim Sandberg arrive at the attribution of moral responsibility by means of what they call “normative functionalism” rather than metaphysics. They expressly reject “pre-institutional” corporate moral agency (i.e. Pettit’s approach, page 66) and argue in favour of attribution of moral responsibility by asking “what forms of treatment for business corporations would serve the justifying aims of the competitive market” (page 67). Pursuing this pragmatic, positivist view of moral responsibility, they suggest that “issues about when and how to treat groups of individuals as collective agents are best understood as interpretative questions about specific social practices” (page 75). Hence, “there is no one right way to treat a group of individuals as a collective agent: different forms of treatment are appropriate in different domains and contexts” (page 76).

The authors who oppose the attribution of moral responsibility also display a diversity of approaches. For example, John Hasnas is prepared to assume that Pettit has established that corporations can be held morally responsible and he thus focuses on whether they should be, but others are less reticent. David Rönnegard and Manuel Velasquez confront Pettit’s arguments head on; Amy Sepinwall argues that blame is only appropriate in relation to those who can feel guilt and experience punishment, which a corporation cannot; and Ian Maitland trenchantly says, “I have carefully avoided entering the debate over the metaphysical or ontological status of the corporation or other collective actors. That way lies madness” (page 119).

Nonetheless, there are common themes that emerge from the essays of those in the “anti” camp. Maitland speaks for them all when he says that “the anthropomorphization of the corporation has become a source of mischief, manipulation, or abuse” (page 106) and they share a strong belief that the responsibility deficit that Pettit fears would exist if corporations were not held to be morally responsible is illusory. It is, to use Hasnas’s term, a “phantom menace” (page 94). Having examined Pettit’s arguments, Hasnas suggests that they would only hold good if the inability to assign moral responsibility to corporations precluded the assignment of any kind of responsibility. This, he points out, is patently not the case since “Moral responsibility is not a pre-requisite for the assignment of civil, administrative, or ‘metaphorical’ responsibility” (page 95).

Underlying this is a wider issue: some of the authors (e.g. Hussain and Sandberg) use the terms “moral responsibility” or “responsibility” remarkably loosely. They sometimes appear to drift into confusing legal responsibility for moral responsibility and, within the category of legal responsibility, fail to distinguish between different kinds of liability (e.g. strict, “no blame” liability versus liability based upon attributed blame and criminal versus civil liability).

These confusions disguise the fact that the authors who favour the attribution of moral responsibility fail to explain exactly what they believe the practical consequences of that attribution would be. Hasnas recognises this issue and suggests that the only practical implication would be the attribution of criminal liability. However, even this concedes too much: there is no reason why moral responsibility and criminal responsibility should be linked in this way. The criminal law does not view moral responsibility as being a necessary requirement for the imposition of liability (c.f. strict liability offences such as many motoring offences) and, in any event, the moral responsibility of an individual may be, and sometimes is, attributed to a corporation for the purposes of criminal law (c.f. the English law of fraud). It is, in fact, difficult to see that there is any practical outcome for which the imposition of moral responsibility on corporations is either a necessary or a sufficient pre-condition.

The book is not without failings. In particular, the final two chapters (by Kendy Hess and Nien-Hê Hsieh) are disappointing. They are presented as an attempt to synthesize the points made by others, to demonstrate a substantial measure of agreement between the two opposing positions and to point a way forward for the debate. However, both authors are proponents of ascribing moral responsibility to corporations and their reasoning comes across as an attempt to demonstrate that those who are against such ascription are actually in favour of it after all! For example, Hsieh states that what emerges in his discussion of the issues is “that by assuming business firms are moral agents” one can “sidestep long-standing debates about the purpose of the for-profit business firm” (page 190). Hsieh recognises the obvious problem with this, namely that it assumes moral agency, which is precisely the point at issue. However, his attempt to break out of the circle through redefining the purpose of corporations is unconvincing. Perhaps no synthesis of the opposing arguments is possible.

More seriously, taken as a whole, the essays suffer from a glaring omission: all of the authors appear expressly or impliedly to view morality as a human construct and none of the essays examines this assumption. Christians and other monotheists will take issue with this. If a personal God exists, then moral responsibility is ultimately to do with a person’s relationship with that God: to say that someone is “morally responsible” is to say that they are accountable to God in relation to their behaviour. On this basis, a corporation cannot be morally responsible. It may be legally responsible but being (at most) a human legal creation, it cannot in any meaningful sense be accountable to God.

Hence, monotheists must surely reject the metaphysical concepts of Pettit, Bratman and French and  also Hussain and Sandberg’s normative functionalism as an account of moral responsibility: if God is the source of moral responsibility then Orts’ argument that moral responsibility should be imposed on a firm “if only for pragmatic reasons” (page 218) must be rejected.

Monotheists may nonetheless agree that some of what Hussain and Sandberg say is a useful guide to the circumstances in which society might decide to impose legal responsibility on corporations. Hasnas’s insistence on a careful distinction between different kinds of responsibilities is thus crucial. However, before leaping to the conclusion that even legal responsibility should be imposed, it is essential to take account of the danger, highlighted by Hasnas, Maitland and Sepinwall, that one ends up punishing the wrong people and also to face the possibility that our desire to ascribe moral responsibility to corporations is simply a manifestation of our desire to blame someone whenever anything goes wrong.

Shareholders and, potentially, employees of corporations indirectly suffer as a result of the actions taken by regulators and law enforcement agencies on account of wrongdoing on the part of the managers of the relevant corporations. Hasnas, with pardonable exaggeration, describes this consequence as “antithetical to the fundamental tenets of liberalism” (page 94); Rönnegard and Velasquez rightly refer to the collapse of Andersen following the Enron scandal as an example of the issue, noting that tens of thousands of partners and employees suffered as a result of the indictment of Andersen on account of a few individuals; and Maitland is scathing about the modern tendency of law enforcement agencies in the USA to seek deferred prosecution agreements with corporations rather than pursuing the individuals within those corporations who have been responsible for the relevant wrongdoing (a tendency that is also manifest in the UK and elsewhere in the world), suggesting that this effectively allows those who are really to blame for a problem to use the company’s money to avoid personal responsibility. He reminds the reader of Professor John Coffee’s pithy characterisation of this as a “de facto sale of indulgencies” (page 110).

Hussain and Sandberg counter this by suggesting that imposing penalties on someone may be justified as “an incentive for them to act in a supervisory capacity”. This is true but it follows that such penalties need to be restricted to punishing the failure to exercise supervision and, clearly, should not be imposed on people who have no power to exercise it (as is the case with many shareholders and employees associated with particular corporations).

These points demonstrate the enormous breadth of the issues associated with the attribution of responsibility to corporations. The public debate about this is bedevilled by muddled thinking and ill thought through emotional responses. The Moral Responsibility of Firms is an important and high quality contribution to this debate. It deserves to be widely read.

 

“The Moral Responsibility of Firms” edited by Eric W. Orts and N. Craig Smith was published in 2017 by Oxford University Press (ISNB 978-0-19-885705-1). 223pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

Richard Godden: “The Social Licence for Financial Markets” by David Rouch

In the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis, Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England, coined the concept of a “social licence” for financial markets and, in the Forward to David Rouch’s book, he commends Rouch for the progress he has made in defining a framework for this social licence.

Rouch’s basic thesis is concisely summarised in a six-page overview at the start of the book. He acknowledges that “Capitalism in one form or another is the only realistic option for meeting a host of human needs” (page xx). However, he also recognises that there has been a breakdown of trust of the kind that Mark Carney has identified and that “the usual toolkit of laws and regulations has been powerless to heal the fracture between the financial sector and surrounding society” (page xx). He suggests that the view that financial markets are really only about money-making is wrong and that recognition of a social licence is “both an observation about the relationship between finance and society and an expression of aspiration about how it could be at its best” (page xxii). Rouch wants to ensure that this recognition becomes universal and argues that paying attention to it “has the potential to help reorientate the individual relationships that comprise the wider relationship between finance and society, by strengthening positive reciprocity” (page xxiii). This, in turn, leads to various policy proposals designed to bring an overarching “social licence” narrative to financial market practice and regulation.

The resulting book is not an easy read. Rouch expresses the hope that traders, directors, lawyers, campaigners, regulators, academics, politicians and policy makers will approach finance differently as a result of what they read in it but even many of them will find it heavy going. Some parts are highly specialist (the 22 page “Written Standards Map” at the end of Chapter 5 being an extreme example of this), the language throughout is complex and a lot of the book is devoted to discussions of psychological, sociological and philosophical issues (e.g. theories of group behaviour and human motivation and concepts of human dignity and justice).

Rouch appears to be conscious of this issue and provides what he describes as a “Fast Track” summary at the start of each chapter, which sets out the key messages of the chapter and its main implications. He also frequently reminds the reader of what has been said earlier in the book and points to the direction of travel of his argument. Unfortunately, however, these devices do not completely solve the problem and they result in both a significant amount of repetition and an over self-conscious stress on the structure of the book.

Those who persevere will, however, find much food for thought and, probably, plenty to applaud in what Rouch says. Most fundamentally, he is surely right in asserting that markets are in fact, and should be, about more than simply making money. The knee jerk reaction of people (including market participants) to the effect that they care about nothing other than money can be proved to be wrong not only by reference to modern behavioural psychology but very simply through questions and answers posed to market participants. Moreover, the suggestion that markets should have a broader purpose is consistent with most major ethical systems, whether religious or secular.

Rouch is also surely right in recognising the power of ideas, or “narratives” as he calls them. If people believe that they are operating in a dog-eats-dog world constrained only by a jumble of complex regulations, they will behave differently and they would if they believed that they were working in an environment having a broad social purpose in which the relevant rules are, however imperfectly, reflections of that purpose. Furthermore, market and corporate culture exerts its own pressure for good or for ill. In part, these things explain why good people do bad things or, conversely, why even bad people may be constrained by the culture in which they find themselves.

In this connection, it is good to see Rouch acknowledge “the idea that legally enforceable regulatory rules that overlap with aspirational standards may diminish the force of the latter” (page 189) as well as the fact that “you cannot ultimately legislate for a sense of urgency. Nor can you force people to have a healthy relationship or to be trustworthy” (page 9). It is also encouraging to see his repeated references to issues of trust, which recognise that market behaviour comes down to the actions of individuals and groups of people and that relationships are key to the achievement of desired outcomes.

That said, there is a serious problem at the heart of the book: Rouch’s definition of “the social licence for financial markets” is vague. Indeed, he himself recognises that “Defining the substance of the social licence is … challenging” (page 133). He frequently says what it is not: It is “not a ‘mere’ metaphor” (page 113), it is not a “social contract” (page 115) and it is not to be identified with the “social licence to operate” that has been perceived in relation to other industries, particularly extractive industries (page 117). Furthermore, it is not to be identified with the legal authorisations which are required in order to be a market participant. It is, on the contrary, something that is granted by society as a whole and it “can be treated as granted to the extent that those in society have given their justified trust to financial operators, trust based on solid reasons for believing that those in financial markets will carry on business in a way that is consistent with the licence” (page xxii). It comprises “a freedom to pursue just ends by just means in financial markets, where justice is a situation in which the human dignity of market participants and those affected by their activities can be experienced most fully” (page xxii, italics in the original).

Almost every element of these statements gives rise to serious issues. For example, since most members of society (including many who are well educated) will have little idea of what the financial markets do let alone how they operate, in what sense can they be said to give “their justified trust … based on solid reasons”? In any event, what society are we talking about? Rouch appears to be having regard to nation states (or, perhaps, some super-national entities like the European Union) but is that realistic in a modern globalised world? Equally seriously, since there is no common understanding of the concept of “just” behaviour in society (see, for example, “What is Economic Justice?” by Andrew Hartropp), how can this form the basis of an adequate definition of the social licence?

Rouch acknowledges some of these difficulties, including the lack of consensus in relation to some key concepts such as the nature of “justice”, (page 135) but he believes that there is sufficient high-level consensus to render the concept of the social licence itself viable. Unfortunately, however, one may legitimately doubt whether this is true and ask whether the vague language of “social licence” has the effect of generating the appearance of agreement among those who use the term, without its reality. For example, as Hartropp demonstrates, an approach to justice that is based upon rights or needs will necessarily arrive at completely different conclusions from an approach that is based on due rewards or deserts and concepts based on justice in production will talk of completely different things from a concept based on justice in distribution (which, incidentally, Rouch appears to adopt).

There also seem to be problems in evaluating the role of laws and regulations in relation to the “social licence”. Rouch regards these laws and regulations as both evidence for such a licence and, to some extent, indicative of the terms and conditions of the licence. However, it is surely arguable that ever increasing regulation is indicative of the withdrawal or, at least, restriction of the terms of the “licence” rather than evidence of its grant. Furthermore, Rouch relies heavily on written materials produced by a variety of sources as the evidence of the terms of the licence and one is left with the impression that he has simply included “soft law” and related matters within his concept without really altering the regulation-based framework which he has previously recognised to be inadequate.

Some other questionable aspects of Rouch’s underlying analysis are less fundamental but nonetheless important in relation to the impact of his proposals. In particular, he places great stress upon the need to promote “other regarding behaviour” in contrast to “self-interest”. This is obviously morally right but, as Adam Smith long ago famously demonstrated, the two categories are not completely discreet. The building of trust may involve “other regarding behaviour” but, as Rouch recognises, it is absolutely necessary in business relationships and even the most self-interested person will need to have regard to this in order to advance their own interests. Similarly, most people have a desire for the approbation of others and this too may involve behaviours that, from one perspective, are other regarding but, from another perspective, are self-interested. In places, Rouch appears to acknowledge this and he clearly does not believe that the pursuit of profit is wrong in itself but, if his goal of widespread recognition of the “social licence” is to be realised, it would be desirable to avoid an undue bifurcation of motivations and instead to ensure that the narrative recognises that self-interested and other regarding behaviour are not in opposition as often as may sometimes be thought.

As one reaches the end of the book, one is left with a nagging feeling that the concept of a “social licence” is too vague and hard to get hold of for it to be capable of comprising the compelling narrative that Rouch rightly believes to be necessary to replace the distorted narrative of unbridled self-interest that is often wheeled out even by those within the financial markets. Might it not be better to focus on a simpler narrative?

Such a narrative might commence by focussing (as the book does) on the clearly evidenced positive role of financial markets within society, thus addressing both self-esteem of those within the markets who desire to be doing something worthwhile and the misplaced hostility of some outside; it might demonstrate how the aspirations of organisations operating in the financial sector and the personal aspirations of those who work for them (including financial aspirations) are advanced rather than held back by “other regarding behaviour”, which (as Rouch also agrees) is thus not code for abandoning the pursuit of profit let alone a demand that financial institutions turn themselves into quasi-charities; and it might stress some simple ethical values that are neither obscure nor disputed among reasonable people. 

In doing this, the narrative could build on concepts that are well understood, widely accepted and of proven worth such as the hard monetary value of trust and brand reputation, the role of client/customer focus in developing this, the need for long term business sustainability and the motivational impact on staff of being an organisation that is known for its high standards, including ethical standards.

Such an approach would focus on the culture of financial services organisations rather than metaphysical concepts. It would avoid the obscure language of the “social licence” with the negative over-tones of constraint and implicit threat that may be perceived in it and replace it with a simpler and more positive narrative which invites participants in the financial markets to take pride in what they are doing and recognise that they will best prosper, both financially and otherwise, in an environment that is ultimately beneficial to society as a whole.

 

“The Social Licence for Financial Markets” by David Rouch was published in 2020 by Palgrave Macmillan (ISBN 978-3-0-30-40219-8) 327pp excluding bibliography.

 


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

 

Andrei Rogobete: “The Gospel at Work” by Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert

 

“The Gospel at Work” by Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert is a relatively recent addition (published 2018) to the cohort of literature that aims to focus on faith within the workplace. This is a topic that likely stirs interest from secular and religious audiences alike. What role does a person’s faith have at work? How should work be understood by Christians? How can we develop a biblical understanding of work? These are just a few of the main questions addressed in the book.

The authors bring together relevant and varied knowledge on the issue. Sebastian Traeger is a former technology entrepreneur and current Vice President of the International Mission Board for the Southern Baptist Convention. Greg Gilbert is the author of several books and currently serves as the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

The central message or ‘thesis’ of the book is that, regardless of your job, you are ultimately working it for God, “Who you work for is more important than what you do” (page 17). This is, as the book points out, contrary to what “the world” considers successful and important.

The premise is based on the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:7 where he calls to Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people”. Yet the focus is not just on the action itself, but also the attitude of heart. In Colossians 3:22 Paul calls people to work with “…sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord” (page 16).

“The Gospel at Work” is devised into eleven main chapters and here we will touch upon some of the main points that arise.

Chapters I and II start with a dichotomy that sets the tone for the rest of the book: “The Idolatry of Work” versus “Idleness in Work” (pages 13 & 23). Traeger and Gilbert capture well the two extremes that many Christians risk falling into: making work their idol on one end, or rejecting it as anathema to God’s purpose for their lives on the other end.

There is nothing wrong with ambition or determination in our careers. However, the authors rightly point out that “trouble starts when our pursuit of enjoyment or influence or status in our work begins to make our work the source of ultimate satisfaction or meaning for us” (page 25).

Equally damaging on the other end of the spectrum is ‘idleness’ at work. Idleness here does not necessarily mean to be idle per se (while others provide for you), but rather a more subtle expression “that has less to do with productivity of our hands and everything to do with the motives and desires of our hearts” (page 35).

Chapters III to V take the discussion further and develop guidance on issues such as the gospel in work, God’s purpose for us, and choosing a job or career path. An interesting point is made on the correct order of priorities when making career choices expressed in the form of a pyramid. God sits at the foundation, serving others is in the middle, and loving the ‘self’ is the tip of the pyramid coming third (page 75). The book recognises that in reality, these priorities are often reversed: the self comes first, pleasing others is second, and serving God is third (page 79). The authors propose that as a remedy Christians must keep the right perspective: work is temporary, God is eternal (page 81).

Chapters VI to VIII continue with practical applications such as balancing work with faith and family, managing work relationships, and what it means to be a ‘Christian boss’. A useful discussion can be found on the nature of competitiveness in the workplace where the authors (rightly) argue that, “It’s not competition the Bible forbids, but rather the world’s playbook for competition. […] Win by running faster not by tripping all your competitors” (page 106).

The final chapters IX to XI take a more outward look and consider topics such as sharing the gospel in a secular space, the value of full-time ministry, calling, and defining success. On the latter the book makes the point in not defining ‘success’ by what the world considers ‘success’ but rather in the ability to one day stand before Jesus and say “Lord, where you deployed me, I served well. I gave it my all. I worked at it with all my heart because I was working for you, not for human masters” (page 158).

In concluding, “The Gospel at Work” is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the topic of faith within the workplace. It combines practice and theory well, using clear examples and principles that are backed by scripture. One point of contention could be that the authors write with great certainty. On one level this is perhaps not bad thing but on another it does, at times, make the book read like a ‘self-help’ piece of literature – one that was made to hit bestselling charts. Problem A is solved by doing X, Y, Z. I am sure, however, that this was not the author’s intent.

It is perhaps more of an observation than a direct critique. Yet one cannot help but feel that God’s “…ways are above [our] ways…” (Isaiah 55:9). There is an element of God’s mystery in life that often cannot be solved by simply following a clear set of instructions (good and correct though they may be). This perhaps an aspect that could have been developed more in the book. Nonetheless, it is a recommended read for anyone with an interest in the subject.

 

“The Gospel at Work” by Sebastian Traeger & Greg Gilbert was published in 2018 by Zondervan, 160pp.


Andrei E. Rogobete is the Associate Director of  the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Andrei Rogobete: “The Ethical Algorithm” by Michael Kearns & Aaron Roth

The Royal Academy of Engineering predicts that algorithms or Artificial Intelligence (AI), will become prevalent in “…most, if not all, aspects of decision-making” (April 2017). Algorithms benefit from a growing presence in key areas such as government, healthcare, education, financial industries, and of course, technology. Yet this is for good reason: they are highly efficient and effective, certainly far more than the average person. This is particularly true when dealing with large amounts of data where algorithms simplify complexities and present them in a more digestible, applicable form. In sectors such healthcare, algorithms quite literally save lives.

However, increasingly complex and penetrative algorithms can lead to some less desirable outcomes. They may lack nuance to changing scenarios, they may be unable to deal with subjectivity, or in certain cases their output may appear brutish.

This raises serious ethical and moral questions: can a degree of morality or ethical values be implemented within algorithms? Can they be made to reflect societal views and norms?  Can we even agree on any particular set of ‘common values’?  If so, how or to what degree might they be implemented within the structure of algorithms? These are just a few of the broader questions raised by “The Ethical Algorithm: the science of socially aware algorithm design” by Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth.

The authors bring together a comprehensive list of credentials. Dr Kearns has spent his career in the field of computer science and worked with AT&T Bell Labs where he was appointed head of the AI department. Dr Kearns is currently a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Chair of the National Center within the Department of Computer and Information Sciences. Dr Routh also has a background in computer science and is currently Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include Data Privacy, Game Theory, Machine Learning, and Algorithms.

The aim of the book is to dive “…headfirst into the emerging science of designing social constraints directly into algorithms, and the consequences and trade-offs that emerge” (page 16). More specifically, the book argues that in order to, “…make informed decisions we need to be able to understand the consequences of deploying certain kinds of algorithms and the costs associated with constraining them in various ways” – whilst acknowledging that technology alone may not be able to “…solve complicated social problems” (ibid).

An intriguing truth is that we are the data (page 2). We are not just users of data but through our activity we become creators of data. More importantly, the data in turn is being used to make decisions about us and sometimes, as the book points out, these can be very “consequential” decisions.

The structure of the book is devised in six chapters and the language is aimed at a non-specialist audience. However, there some “technical “parts that may require more of the reader’s attention and time. This will likely cause prospective readers to go through certain sections or chapters at a differing pace.

Chapters I and II look at issues surrounding privacy and the concept of ‘fairness’ within algorithmic design. There is an interesting reflection on how Netflix has used movie preferences of users to potentially reveal highly sensitive information such as sexual orientation, political affiliation and personal interests (pages 24-26). It demonstrates how an initial privacy agreement can rather quickly escalate into a much greater issue with significant consequences.

Chapters III and IV further the discussion by attempting to analyse various social outcomes of algorithmic design. This section also considers some of the shortcomings of the scientific data on algorithms. The internal structures of common navigation apps such as Google Maps and Waze are discussed and it becomes quite intriguing to discover how they can coordinate traffic around congested areas to yield the best possible outcomes in terms of time and distance of travel. For instance, the ‘Maxwell Solution’ (page 105) poses an algorithmic conundrum: the quickest route of each individual driver is not congruent with the quickest route for all drivers collectively.

Chapter V and the Conclusions reflect on the societal and ethical implications. The authors themselves recognise that algorithms are playing an increasing role in people’s lives. In new technologies such as autonomous transportation, healthcare, or defence, there may be decisions that “…we never want algorithms to make, period – even if they make them ‘better’ than humans” (page 176). It is argued for instance that the decision to kill another human being should never be taken solely by an algorithm (page 178).

“The Ethical Algorithm” by Michael Kearns & Aaron Roth is recommended for anyone with an interest in technology and the ethical implications of our increasing use of algorithms. That is not to say that it is flawless – one can sense that at various points throughout the book the authors become overly zealous in viewing the world exclusively through a computer science lens. Everything becomes a problem that computer science can fix (or at least try).

We must be realistic that there is a fine line between automation and human input. Managed poorly, it can result in catastrophes like the crash of two brand new Boeing 737-Max 8 jets. We all want to increase efficiency but what is the exact cost of losing the ‘human touch’?  Indeed, can we even agree on exact “societal norms” and “values”? Not only are they constantly evolving concepts, but they are also highly subjective in parts. Does this mean that certain algorithms would have to be continuously updated to “reflect” society’s shared values? And who is to determine what these values are? These are questions that require careful consideration and thorough answers. It is for our benefit because one thing is for sure: algorithms will play an increasing role in the public and private spheres.

 

“The Ethical Algorithm” by Michael Kearns & Aaron Roth was published in 2019 by Oxford University Press, (ISBN 0190948205, 9780190948207), 232 pp.


Andrei Rogobete

Andrei E. Rogobete is the Associate Director of  the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord Griffiths: “The Future of Capitalism” by Sir Paul Collier

The Future of Capitalism tackles one of the big issues of our time. Its impressive author, Sir Paul Collier, CBE, FBA is a distinguished member of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford and a seasoned practitioner in development economics for which he received a knighthood. He is convinced that capitalism is the only economic system which can generate mass prosperity. Regrettably it has also divided societies, created dysfunctional democracies and posed risks to the planet. More than that he claims it is morally bankrupt. The challenge he set himself in this book is how to restore ethics within capitalism to prevent it drifting into either a totalitarian state (China) or populist nationalism (East European countries). In doing so, he eschews ideology claiming that all his policy prescriptions are based on evidence, analysis and pragmatism.

The inspiration for the book was Anthony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism, published in the 1950s, which set an agenda for the social democracy of the post war years in the UK. (To some readers Anthony Crosland might seem a minor figure out of a history book, but in his heyday he was the leading UK intellectual of the centre left and a Cabinet minister in the Wilson and Callaghan Labour Governments attempting to put his ideas into practice). Collier claims that the Crosland agenda worked well between 1945-70, even at one point describing it as the “miracle period”. It failed however because it neglected its roots in the ethical foundations of the nineteenth century cooperative movement.

 It was replaced by a combination of Utilitarian technocrats (mainly economists) intent on redistributing income to those below the poverty line (however defined) and lawyers committed to John Rawls philosophy which promoted the rights of disadvantaged groups based on race, gender, sexual preference and so on, which has become the basis for identity politics.

Both of these philosophical approaches emphasise the individual not the collective and differences between groups based on either income or disadvantage rather than the needs of persons and families. Each elevates a single moral prescription, “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” and “laws in a society must be designed for the most disadvantaged groups”. However, they neglect the normal moral instincts and values of people such as loyalty, fairness, obligation and desert which were central to the cooperative movement.

The philosophical foundation which Collier builds on is found in the writings of David Hume and Adam Smith (especially The Theory of Modern Sentiments) and the Pragmatism of nineteenth century American philosophers such as William James and Charles Peirce. After laying this down he devotes four chapters to restoring ethics within the state, firm, family and world. Then, in the final section he presents a plethora of ideas for restoring an inclusive society.

To tackle the geographical divide, he proposes taxing the metropolis and regenerating broken cities and regions through establishing local banks, local universities and business zones. Families can be strengthened by preventing them   from falling apart in the first place, supporting children in the early years, from pregnancy to the first day of school, raising standards of teaching in schools, offering improved post-school vocational education and extending home ownership. Tackling the negative effects of globalisation requires redistribution of resources to those areas which have lost out through free trade and technology.

In putting forward all these proposals he is not afraid to be controversial. He is scathing about the greed of investment banks. He argues for taxes on financial transactions and raise taxes on the incomes of highly skilled workers especially in finance and law. He wishes to see a new criminal law comparable to manslaughter which he calls bankslaughter. He backs immigration controls, strengthening traditional two parent families from whom they are genetically descended and having less state intervention through social policy dealing with the needs of children.

Although it is not fundamental to the main theme of the book I question Collier’s judgement that the period 1945-70 was as successful as he claims. It is certainly true that the new social contract devised by Beveridge, Temple and others which produced the post war Welfare State and mixed economy lasted the course. However, by the 1960s inflation was back accompanied by rising unemployment, prices and incomes policy were a failure and the nationalised industries were mired in the red, while by the end of the 50s the social infrastructure began to show signs of fraying through increased violent crime, illegitimacy and addiction. Meanwhile, some of Crosland’s policies were proving destructive; “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales. And Northern Ireland”. By the time of his early death (58 years old) he became so disillusioned with the crisis of capitalism that he thought the creation of a ‘serious revolutionary socialist party’ was worth thinking about.

One question which needs to be asked is whether he has succeeded in the task he set himself, namely restoring ethics to firms, families and states. In the case of firms he devotes an interesting chapter to the way in which ethical firms of the past which he mentions – Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), Cadbury, The Halifax Building Society – have given way to the vampire squids of today which are held in contempt as greedy, selfish and corrupt.

In order to achieve change he believes competition is an important discipline on business but increasingly limited because of the power of networks (electricity, water, railways) and the role of technology in creating unregulated natural private monopolies (Facebook, Amazon, Google, eBay and Uber). The conventional responses to these problems are regulation and public ownership, but both have severe limitations. As an alternative he suggests taxing economic rent, which by definition does not discourage productive activity or risk taking; reforming corporate law so that concern for the public interest should be mandatory for all board members, such as Public Interest Companies in the US; and introducing the new criminal offence of bankslaughter.

The problem with all these, which he recognises is that regulations can be got around by talented management, taxes reduced by clever accounting and laws fudged by legal argument.  After acknowledging that the cupboard is fairly bare he puts forward the novel suggestion that society needs to build a critical mass of ethical citizens who can judge the behaviour of companies, favourably or not. This is less than a specialised sub-police force and more a form of neighbourhood watch strengthened to have teeth. This may seem fanciful but the achievement of the women’s movement and climate change protests, based on evidence of discrimination or degradation show that great oaks grow from acorns. Post COVID-19 many questions will be asked about the future of our society, so his proposals may not be so fanciful.

To restore ethics to the state he rejects ethnicity, religion and shared values as a way to create shared identity because they are incompatible with modernity, despite the showing of how popular Judeo-Christian based ethics still remain. He plumps for a sense of belonging to place, something which is hard-wired in our psyche, especially the place in which we grew up and which we call home. Unlike Nationalism, Patriotism is an inspiring concept and he claims a good example of it is found in the politics of President Macron. A major raison d’etre of politicians should be to create narratives of shared belonging. To restore the ethical family, he suggests a greater acceptance of mutual obligations by parents in raising children rather than one focused on their own individual, personal success in work.

The one surprising weakness of the book is its treatment of religion. The book contains four references to religion and six to religious fundamentalism. All are wholly negative: religion leads to cultural separation, marriage is tainted by its religious association, it is the basis of a new nationalism, heir to fascism. Religion is almost always qualified by the adjective “extreme”. Jihad pogroms and other cultic, barbaric practices deserve the treatment he delivers and the Christian religion has many shameful episodes in its history. However, if restoring ethical behaviour in business, politics and society requires ethical citizens, ethical politicians and ethical family members, a rejection of self-aggrandisement, ‘freedom is not bound in servitude to the self but in escape from the self’ (p. 108), and strengthening a sense of obligation, surely a religion based on transcendence and true humanism must be a help to the cause.

On the evidence of nineteenth century history in the work of Gertrude Himmelfarb and Christie Davies, the irony is that ICI, Cadbury and The Halifax Building Society were deeply rooted in a late nineteenth century Christian culture, especially non-conformist, which was also an inspiration for the cooperative movement, friendly societies and the social reforms of the period. Non-conformity would also at this time have been a major force in Collier’s beloved Sheffield.

I enjoyed book but at the end it left me with a nagging question. It certainly respects the evidence, applies analysis to good effect and makes a number of interesting practical proposals. However, its conclusion is that religion has no place in the future of capitalism. In its neglect of the positive contribution of the Christian faith on British life and culture I fear it has strayed across the boundary of social science into ideology.

 

 

“The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties” by Sir Paul Collier was published in 2018 by Harper Collins (ISBN 978-0062748652). 256pp.


Brian Griffiths (Color)

Lord Griffiths is the Chairman of CEME. For more information please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Georgina Bishop: “The Ethical Capitalist” by Julian Richer

 

As an economic system, unfettered capitalism in the post-recession era has come under considerable scrutiny. Reports of business scandals and misdealings, as well as serious social inequalities, are but a few of the most cited examples. In the face of these criticisms, proponents of capitalism have come to its defence. In “The Ethical Capitalist”, entrepreneur Julian Richer joins these proponents, arguing not only that capitalism is the only viable option but also that, when pursued responsibly, it is a force for good.

The founder and owner of the remarkably successful home entertainment retailer Richer Sounds, the author is five times winner of the Which? ‘retailer of the year’ award. He has been an active supporter of the National Living Wage and has taken up the mantel against tax avoidance and in relation to the housing crisis but he maintains that capitalism can be practiced ethically.

Building on over forty years of business experience, Richer begins his book by setting out his understanding of ‘ethics.’ At this point, the reader might be forgiven for any scepticism towards his somewhat simplistic definitions which often revert to rather superficial ideas of what it means to be ethical – as well as quoting mantras such as ‘what goes around comes around’ and you ‘get nowt for nowt’ (page 29).

However, as Richer really gets going with his practical applications, we start to realise that he may just have some valid points. In the first part of the book, he explains how the ethical business should treat its key players – employees, customers and suppliers. Chapter 1 draws into focus the importance of company culture, revealing how costly practices such as employee fraud, theft and absenteeism are often learnt behaviours from management. Being ethical, therefore, involves actively pursuing a positive work culture, starting at the beginning of the hiring process with honest job adverts, which attract the right candidates. Imploring businesses to follow through with prioritising internal promotions, paying a Living Wage and providing ongoing training opportunities, he makes it clear that this is not simply an optimistic vison for business altruism. By changing the way in which a business relates to its employees, it will minimise the cost of high staff turnover and this can only be positive for profitable success.

Chapters 2 and 3 make a similar case for a more ethical approach towards customers, suppliers and supporters. The overall message is that reputation is critical, in so much as it encourages repeat custom and builds crucial relationships. At times, the examples Richer includes from his own business can almost appear too saccharine, such as the time he delivered flowers to the home of a woman after a poor customer service experience.

Some may also challenge his assumption that customers are always concerned about a company’s conduct, more so than lower prices. Could it be that consumer consciousness of certain issues is only significant in periods of high media attention? Nevertheless, businesses are indeed playing a very short-sighted game when they prioritise crisis management over risk management, in a world of increasing consumer savviness and a ruthless social media scene.

In the second part of the book, Richer goes on to tackle capitalism itself, recommending points of reform and highlighting areas where limitation is both intentional and desirable. In chapter four he demonstrates the compatibility of capitalism and the principle of a National Living Wage. Using both national and international examples, Richer argues that higher wages have not automatically equated to fewer jobs. Instead, they improve a company’s reputation, which in turn boosts profitability. The wage-profitability relationship will no doubt be a contentious issue for many readers.

Richer further argues that we need to name and shame those companies which continue to resist it. Again, the assumption that reputation is a make or break factor in consumer decisions underpins his arguments, but he does provide empirical evidence to support his view.

In chapter 5, Richer critiques Thatcherite individualism, arguing that society is very much a reality. Often conveniently forgotten is that government is essential for business, not least because it provides the very environment required for it to thrive. He argues that nobody is entirely ‘self-made’ and we’re called to consider, who runs the banking system necessary for transactions, creates the laws under which businesses operate and maintains the infrastructure which holds everything together? Here too it is suggested that naming and shaming those who purposefully avoid paying their taxes would be effective, drawing on the Scandinavian model as an example. What exactly Richer views as ‘purposefully avoiding taxes’ could benefit from a more detailed discussion.

Taken from a simple game theory perspective, one might reason that it would require more than this to produce change. Businesses may very well take the view that they can ride out an unpopular image if their product or service is valued highly enough and therefore refuse to be the first in their industry to reform. Nevertheless, if we accept that consumers are becoming ever-more discerning, Richer is right to assert that capitalism doesn’t have to equal the eradication of civil society.

Finally, in chapter 6, we are cautioned that the principles of the free market cannot and should not be applied everywhere. Using privately run prisons as a key example, Richer instead focuses on the separation between ownership and management. Whilst this is perhaps the hardest of his arguments to follow, as it is unclear where exactly we should draw the line, separating complex social needs from simplistic market equations is a refreshing message from a believer in capitalism, who recognises that it need not be all or nothing.

Richer leaves business owners with the charge to get started somewhere in making a difference – and he’s provided plenty of examples and inspiration throughout his book to get them going. Despite possible criticism that his ideas rest upon certain assumptions about motivation for human behaviour, his argument that treating people well is not only admirable but also good for business, is compelling, well-evidenced and convincingly nuanced.

 

“The Ethical Capitalist” by Julian Richer was published in 2018 by Random House (ISBN-13: 978-1847942197). 192pp.


Georgina Bishop is Senior Editorial Assistant within the Social Sciences at Routledge. She obtained her BA in History and Politics from the University of Nottingham in 2016.

Richard Godden: “Quakers, Business and Corporate Responsibility”, Nicholas Burton and Richard Turnbull (Editors)

Many books about business management or corporate responsibility use historical situations to illustrate or, at least to the satisfaction of their authors, prove their theories. Quakers, Business and Corporate Responsibility adopts the opposite approach: it examines a particular historical model of business management and corporate responsibility (that of the Quakers) and seeks to draw conclusions and raise questions that are of wider relevance.

It comprises a collection of essays relating to Quaker business practices and their economic and social views, which cover “topics that encompass both a historical and contemporary perspective” (page 1). In particular, as its sub-title (“Lessons and Cases for Responsible Management”) implies, it seeks to address the question, “What are the insights for responsible business practice that may interest contemporary scholars and practitioners?” (page 1).

This may suggest that the book will not interest less specialist readers. However, any such impression would be misleading. There is plenty in the book to engage any intelligent reader who is interested in business and social issues. Several of the essays deal with narrow subject areas (e.g. Karen Tibbals’s essay on the Quaker Employer Conference of 1918, Sue Kozel’s essay on Thomas Jefferson and Paul Anderson’s essay on John Bellers) but all of the essays, even those of limited scope, raise important issues of continuing relevance and most reward careful reading and thought. For example, Anderson provides fascinating insights into the origins of Karl Marx’s views (which may be of greater relevance today than most people would have expected or desired a few years ago).

Many of the authors are Quakers and, in a few places, one may question whether they have been sufficiently critical of the group to which they belong. However, overall the book succeeds in its aim of presenting “a sympathetic, but not uncritical view” (page 2) and, by admitting the difficulties experienced by Quaker businessmen and politicians, assisting in consideration of the problems that face business and society as a whole today.

Books comprising collections of essays by different authors are almost always of uneven quality and this one is no exception. It has obvious weaknesses. There are some simple inaccuracies, such as the statement by Donncha Kavanagh and Martin Brigham that the business innovations pioneered by Quakers include bills of exchange (page 113): medieval Italian bankers would disagree! There are also some overstatements, such as the assertion that the Quakers held “the pre-eminent position” in the commercial world for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (again in Kavanagh and Brigham’s essay, page 125) and the assertion that “Friends were far-sighted…. in anticipating centuries ago the importance of spirituality to every human being in all aspects of life including corporate life” (in Georgeanne Lamont’s essay, page 18): the pre-eminence of Quakers, whilst highly impressive, was in fact limited to certain business areas, such as banking and confectionary, and the application of spirituality to all areas of life was by no means a discovery of the last few centuries or one to which the Quakers can lay exclusive claim.

More seriously, whilst most of the essays proceed in a cautious and scholarly manner, carefully extracting tentative conclusions from their analysis, some appear to be squeezing the facts into a theory (e.g. Andrew Fincham’s competing values model, page 44) or drawing conclusions that relate only loosely to their analysis (e.g. Tibbals’s “Lessons for the Future”, page 75).

Some of the individual essays suffer from particular defects. In places, Lamont’s essay reads like an advertisement for her consultancy business, whilst Mike King, in his essay about the role of the state (“Honey I Shrunk the State”), self consciously presents his views as a middle course between extremes but defines those extremes (the views of Karl Marx and Milton Friedman, respectively) in such a way as to pre-determine a soft-left landing. He also fails to examine his unspoken assumption that the state can in fact deliver the benefits demanded of it (which history suggests it often cannot) and is prone to ex cathedra statements of a contentious nature (e.g. the statement that “The far-right libertarian assumes that the means of production can be conjured into existence by anyone if given sufficient freedom”, page 83; and his similarly unsupported statement that “the passage of time [has] endorsed the logic of Cadbury [i.e. an interventionist model] rather than Bright [i.e. a more free market approach]”, page 91).

Several of the essays also, rather irritatingly, assume that everyone agrees that “paternalism” (never defined) is a very bad thing without ever considering fairly the possibility that it was the right response to the conditions of the time. Fortunately, in his essay, Richard Turnbull spots this point and, in the context of his comments on voluntary societies, suggests that scholarly criticism of the power relationships, the paternalism and the guilt complexes of the middle class is unfair “not only because of a reading back of contemporary social values but also because it fails to recognise the real impact that such societies had” (page 106). As he then recognises, the spirit of this comment applies more generally to some of the criticism of Quaker businessmen.

Inevitably, the defects take some of the gloss off the book. However, it contains a considerable amount of fascinating and thought-provoking material. John Kimberley pithily and successfully rebuts the suggestion of Hobsbawm and Ranger that Quakerism is an ‘invented tradition’ and this paves the way for the essays that follow. Kavanagh and Brigham’s essay on “The Quakers and the Joint Stock Company”, despite the defects mentioned above, is particularly interesting. It provides a brief but fascinating overview of both Quaker contribution to business from the late seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries and of the history of the modern limited liability company. It should be of interest to anyone who would like to know a little more about these matters and to apply an historical perspective to challenge modern presuppositions about business organisation.

As might be expected of an essay from the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics, Turnbull’s essay, “Quakers, Free Trade and Social Responsibility”, performs a similar role. It begins by pointing out that there is “a conundrum” to be solved: Quaker businessmen “were compassionate employers with a genuine concern for their workforce” (page 106) yet Quakers opposed social legislation. For example, Joseph Pease and John Bright were among the leaders of the opposition to Ashley’s 1844 Factories Bill and (as King points out, page 82) Bright opposed legislation to combat food adulteration. Turnbull examines the beliefs and experiences of the Quakers, showing how these things may have led to the combination of paternalist concern and extreme libertarianism that was characteristic of Quaker thinking prior to the late nineteenth century. This leads to a conclusion that would have been suitable as a conclusion for the whole book: the Quaker businessman had many strengths; they “may not have been unique in [regard to their social concern], but that does not make them any less genuine” (page 106); some Quaker employers were more pioneering than others but, as a whole, they were among the pioneers of good employment practices; yet there were failures and blind spots of which “the most important one is the use of child labour in at least some Quaker factories against the increasingly prevailing national opinion” (page 107); more work needs to be done on specific companies but, overall, “We should neither condemn or whitewash” (page 107). We should learn!

 

“Quakers Business and Corporate Responsibility” edited by Nicholas Burton and Richard Turnbull was published in 2019 by Springer Nature Switzerland AG (ISBN – 13:978-3030-04033-8). 181pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

Lord Griffiths: “Prosperity: better business makes the greater good” by Prof. Colin Mayer

Colin Mayer is a distinguished professor at the University of Oxford, former dean of the Said Business School and a Fellow of the British Academy . Throughout his career one of his fields of interests has been the business corporation and at present he is director of the Academy’s research programme into the Future of the Corporation.

However neither the title nor sub-title of the book do justice to its contents. The book is nothing if not ambitious. In examining the business corporation the claim is that “it will take you across history, around the world, through philosophy and biology to business, law and economics, and finance to arrive at an understanding of where we have gone wrong, why, how we can put it right and what specifically we need to do about it”.

The remarkable fact is that I believe he has achieved his aim. The book is wide in scope, has considerable depth and is not superficial. It is well written, interesting to read and draws on a lifetime of research into different aspects of the business organisation.

The book is first a sustained and vigorous attack on Milton Friedman’s claim that the sole social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, subject however to doing so in open and free competitive markets, without deception or fraud, while conforming to the basic rules of the society embodied in law and custom. For Mayer the public have lost trust in business precisely because business has followed Friedman’s advice and put the interests of shareholders above other stakeholders.

In its place he proposes a total reinvention of the corporation. Corporate law should be changed so that each company is required to state its ultimate purpose over and above  profit, redefine the responsibilities of directors to deliver these new objectives, develop new measures by which they can be judged and introduce incentives to deliver them.

In exploring the purpose of business Mayer distinguishes between ‘making good’ (such as manufacturing cars, or electrical products) and ‘doing good’ (treating employees well, cleaning up the environment, enhancing the well-bring of communities). The latter has a social public-service element which goes beyond the private interests of the firm’s customers and investors, and even beyond section 172 of the 2006 UK companies Act, which already imposes duties on directors to take into account the interests of stakeholders other than shareholders.  As examples of successful and enlightened corporations he mentions with approval “industrial foundations” companies such as Bertelsmann, Bosch, Carlsberg, Tata and John Lewis which are set up as foundations or trusts.

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While I admire his ability to explore different dimensions of the business in one book, I have serious problems with his argument.

First, the pursuit of long term profitability is essential if a company wishes to prosper in the long term. Long term profit is a great discipline. This applies not just to publicly quoted companies; it applies equally to private companies, B-corps, partnerships, foundations and trusts. If companies of any kind make losses, capital will drain away and either they get taken over or go bust. This applies to all companies even those which are foundations and trusts. Not only that but long term profitability is a pre-condition of companies doing good: being able to reward employees well, help communities, develop new products and services for customers and invest to protect the natural environment. In this context it is important to distinguish between long term profitability and short term profitability.

The pursuit of short term profitability is bad business. Just recall the financial derivative products created by banks in the feverish boom years leading up to the 2008 crisis which ultimately led to some banks going bust and others being bailed out by governments. This was bad business.  British Home Stores was a classic example of short term profit maximization with inadequate investment in the business itself or the pension fund. Again short termism leading to bad business.

Pursuing long term profitability is not just a matter of management getting numbers right. Before they can do that it requires them to set out a vision which makes the firm “a great place to work”, ensures customers recognize value for money in what they buy, becomes known as an ethical organization by the way they conduct business and admired by shareholders for earning a superior long term return to capital.

A second problem with Mayer’s proposals is the sheer complexity of managing the diverse and frequently opposing interests of stakeholders. It is logically impossible to maximize in more than one dimension. If managers have to manage the interests of all stakeholders they need to be able to make meaningful tradeoffs between competing interests. Profit or change in long-term market value is a way of keeping score in the game of business. Michael Jensen and others have shown that in the long term prospective profit maximization and shareholder maximization amount to the same thing. The use by management of a balance scorecard is no better as it ultimately gives no objective way in which to weigh all of the elements in the scorecard to arrive at a single figure.

A third problem with Mayer’s argument is accountability. “Accountability to everyone means accountability to no one”. The author’s proposal is a revolutionary re-definition of property rights within a modern corporation to make it “trustworthy” but to whom is the board of this new “trustworthy” corporation responsible? And what are the rights of ownership over the funds invested in the business? Already in the US the number of publicly traded companies quoted on exchanges has roughly halved over the past 25 years. One reason is the increasing cost of regulation: another is the availability of private equity finance. If Mayer’s proposals were ever to be implemented they would constitute a major disincentive for companies to raise capital through the public markets and only accelerate the decline in stock market listings.

In Mayer’s proposal shareholders would become providers of capital to business rather than owners of the business. The general public have never had a great trust in business which is why ever since the Industrial Revolution governments have stepped in to control business through laws passed by parliament, regulation, mutualisation, nationalization and state ownership. Mayer’s proposals will downgrade the existing well defined ownership rights which exist in publicly traded companies and replace them with a form of ‘social’ decision making in which the leadership of the company is answerable to trustees but shielded from competition in the market place through take over bids. A sure way to create inefficiency.

In this respect these proposals are a far cry from an exercise in academic research, more a political statement. Far from having no objection to the existence of ‘trustworthy’ corporations as one of many different forms of corporate ownership, I welcome them. In terms of corporate structures let a hundred flowers bloom. If the author was making a case for the idea of ‘Industrial corporation’, fine. However he is doing more than that. He is making the case for eroding private property rights and restricting what companies can do, which is as much a political statement as one based on objective analysis.

 

“Prosperity: better business makes the greater good” by Colin Mayer was published in 2018 by Oxford University Press (ISBN: 978-0-1988240-08). 288pp.


Brian Griffiths (Color)

Lord Griffiths is the Chairman of CEME. For more information please click here.

Richard Godden: “Humanomics: Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations for the Twenty-First Century” by Vernon L. Smith and Bart J. Wilson

 

Economics is a social science. It relates to the behaviour of human beings and its success as a science turns to a considerable extent upon its ability credibly to model that behaviour in such a way as to enable reliable predictions to be made.

Neoclassical economists have focused on the concept of utility maximisation as a governing model (“Mr Maximise Utility” or “Max-U”). This approach has come under sustained attack in recent years and Nobel Prize winning economist Vernon Smith and his colleague at Chapman University, Bart Wilson have been at the forefront of these attacks. Humanomics is their latest salvo. It brings together in a concise form (the book being only 207 pages long) the research and thinking that they have undertaken over the past couple of decades.

Smith and Wilson accept that Max-U “served well-enough the observational demands of decision in market supply and demand experiments under perfect enforcement of property” (page 159) but they point to its failure to account for the results of two person trust game experiments of the past 30 years. They argue that a new theoretical model of the relevant human behaviour is necessary, and they seek this in Adam Smith’s first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). They suggest the theory put forward in that work both explains modern experimental results and has predictive force.

Most prospective readers of Humanomics will have heard of Adam Smith’s later and more famous work “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776) but it is likely that few will have read The Theory of Moral Sentiments and many will question whether a largely forgotten book written over 250 years ago is worthy of resurrection. However, few will have any doubts on this score once they have read what Smith and Wilson have to say about it.

The first half of Humanomics largely comprises an explanation of the perceived problem in the concept of utility maximisation, the dismissal of previous attempts to solve that problem and a detailed analysis of Adam Smith’s theory. It includes a close examination of Smith’s terminology, which is vital since some of his key concepts are no longer in everyday use (e.g. “beneficence”) and others of them are used in a sense that does not quite correspond to some modern usage (e.g. “sentiments”). Having done this, Smith and Wilson move on to extract various axioms, assumptions and principles from Smith’s work. Some of these may seem self-evident but the reader may have a sneaking suspicion that many economists have forgotten them (e.g. “Axiom 1: Human beings fellow feel with each other”, page 71). Others are less obvious but appear to correspond with everyday experience (e.g. “Axiom 4: As compared to a normal baseline condition, human beings experience an asymmetrical change between feeling something good (e.g. joy) and feeling something bad (e.g. sorrow)”, page 73 – an axiom which is evidenced by the disconcerting fact that vendettas tend to have rather longer lives than alliances).

Smith and Wilson particularly stress Adam Smith’s concepts of “fellow feeling” and “the impartial spectator”. Quoting Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeoise Equality (which is reviewed on this website), they point out that we misunderstand Adam Smith if we focus solely on his concept of the invisible economic hand of the market place: Smith saw two invisible hands, the second being the social hand of the impartial spectator (pages 5-6). We are social beings and, as Adam Smith put it, “we endeavour to examine our own conduct as we imagine any other fair and impartial spectator would examine it” (page 75).

Having set out their theoretical stall, in the second half of the book, Smith and Wilson move on to summarise the results of the trust game experiments of recent years and explain them by reference to the theory. They suggest that this provides a convincing explanation of a number of the experimental observations. For example, they suggest that it explains why many people are willing to take a financial risk by trusting another person (even an unknown stranger) to “do the right thing” and why a clear majority of people, having been trusted in this way, prove trustworthy even though they could benefit financially by being selfish and even though this selfishness would never be known to anyone other than themselves. It may even explain the counter intuitive fact that the addition to the trust game of a mechanism whereby the first person can financially punish the second if they are selfish increases rather than reduces the incidence of selfish behaviour

Humanomics is a dense book that requires detailed study. It also contains a significant amount of mathematical and quasi-mathematical propositions, which will put off some readers. However, it repays careful attention, most of the maths will be understood by those who have some experience of formal logic and, since all of the key arguments are explained verbally, other readers can skip the maths without thereby losing the thread of the argument (although, in a few places, they may worry that they have missed something).

Inevitably, the book has shortcomings. For example, in places, it betrays the fact that large parts of it comprise reworked papers published previously by the authors and other collaborators (e.g. there is a lot of repetition and the end of chapter 10 reads like the climax of the book even though three more chapters follow it). More seriously, many readers will find the explanations of the experiments so compressed as to be hard to follow, at least without reading on and then referring-back to earlier parts of the book. Furthermore, the book does not explore the economic or policy implications of the experimental results and theoretical explanations advanced in it, although it contains tantalising hints of some of these (e.g. the comment that some “features of good conduct cannot be extorted, coerced or legislated”, page xv).

More seriously, whilst the authors have done an excellent job in analysing Adam Smith’s theory of moral sentiments, they have barely scratched the surface of a critique of it. Of course, at a high level, they are arguing that its predictive power suggests that is passed the test of being a good theory. However, a close examination of their experimental results suggests that the predictive value may not be as great as they would like to believe. Furthermore, they don’t examine the origins of the sentiments that Smith finds in human beings: they accept Smith’s assertions that either “they seem to have been given us by nature” (page 46) or they arise inexorably from the process of socialisation (e.g. page 74).

For some purposes, this deficiency doesn’t matter but many Christians and other theists will wish to suggest that there is a deeper, more fundamental explanation of human nature. Furthermore, the failure to examine closely the origins of human sentiments leaves open the question whether and to what extent they may be culturally relative and thus less universal than Adam Smith believed. For example, it may be that, at the very high level of generality dealt with by the axioms, principles and assumptions identified by Smith and Wilson, human sentiments are universal. However, what humans perceive to be worthy of gratitude and resentment (to quote Axiom 3, page 71) and, more generally, what is perceived to “satisfy our social impulse” (Principle 1, page 74) may vary from time to time and place to place.

Deirdre McCloskey considers the impact of changes in ideas in works such as Bourgeoise Equality and articles such as Adam Smith Did Humanomics: So should we (2016) and Max U versus Humanomics: a critique of neo-institutionalism (2015). It is clear that her theories and those of Smith and Wilson are related but it would be interesting to explore further whether, ultimately, hers are more subtle and ultimately more persuasive than those of Smith and Wilson or, for that matter, those of the great Adam Smith himself.

That said, one should not criticise a book for not being the last word on a subject or for giving rise to questions that require further attention. Humanomics is deeply thought provoking and, although not an easy read for the non-specialist, should be read by those who want to think further about human economic behaviour.

 

“Humanomics: Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations for the Twenty-First Century” by Vernon L. Smith and Bart J. Wilson, was published in 2019 by Cambridge University Press (ISBN 978-1-316-64881-0). 207pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Godden: “Redeeming Capitalism” by Kenneth J. Barnes

Kenneth Barnes currently holds the Chair in Work Place Theology and Business Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. As might be expected, therefore, Redeeming Capitalism is about the theology and ethics of business. Its basic argument is simple: the capitalist economic system that now exists is not the same as that which has existed in the past and, specifically, is not that endorsed by Adam Smith; it suffers from serious flaws that derive from a “moral vacuum” (page 1), which is itself a product of post-modern thinking; yet no other economic system provides a better workable alternative, the thinking of writers such as Picketty and Poole is hopelessly Utopian (pages 81 and 86, respectively) and the solution does not lie in regulation (page 59); what is needed is, essentially, moral reformation and the replacement of “post-modern capitalism” (Chapter 6) with “virtuous capitalism”, being capitalism based on Aquinas’s cardinal virtues (Chapter 13).

There is little to criticise in this as an overall thesis. However, below this very high level, much of what Barnes says is superficial, questionable or simply wrong. Indeed, it is an example of the kind of thing that, a generation ago, Peter Bauer memorably described as “ecclesiastical economics”.

The book is littered with errors. Some of these are minor (e.g. the statement on page 23 that the lingua franca throughout most of the Roman empire was Greek). However, others are more serious. In particular, Barnes’ attack on the behaviour of investment banks in the run up to the Global Financial Crisis is undermined by mistakes such as his definition of derivatives as instruments predicated on the “anticipated performance, or cashflow” of the underlying assets (page 4, emphasis added) and his assertion that, whilst what people do with their own money is largely their business, the problem is that “investment banks deal with other people’s money, and the morality of gambling in the context, is at best, questionable” (page 7). The definition is only true of some derivatives; the assertion fails to recognise that it was proprietary business (i.e. banks dealing for their own account) that lay at the heart of the Global Financial Crisis, not agency business.

Overall, Barnes’ attack on modern capitalism is long on eye-catching statements and short on justification. His stark statement that “the cause of the Global Financial Crisis and the recession that followed was corporate greed and mismanagement” (page 71) is a case in point, as is his assertion that there is a “consensus that the financial services sector is rigged and that corruption and collusion between banks, central banks, regulators, and politicians is rampant” (page 75).

Furthermore, scattered through the book are remarks about particular issues that fail to engage with the underlying arguments. For example, his statement that “on average, women are paid about 20% less than men across the entire spectrum of the economy” (source unstated) followed by the assertion that “the numbers are simply too extreme not to be attributable, at least in part, to gender discrimination” (page 127) is inadequate. His statement (this time sourced) that “nearly eight per cent (7.8%) of Morgan Stanley’s employees went to Ivy League schools even though they represent less than one half of one per cent. (0.4%) of university students” (page 127) is not in itself problematic. However, he implies that the success of Ivy League students is the result of nepotism and is an “economic injustice” (page 128) but he never presents evidence to support these claims.

Barnes’ comments on the living wage are likewise superficial. He says that “Those who oppose this concept argue that it interferes with the free market and is therefore a fundamentally bad idea” (page 138) and later asserts that “It seems obvious to some … that the only real objection to the establishment of the living wage is the short-term effect it would have on company profits” (page 138). He has clearly not absorbed the writings of those like Thomas Sowell who presents cogent reasons for thinking that the living wage harms those it is supposed to protect.

A substantial part of the book is taken up by what Barnes concedes is “a very concise history” of economics (Chapter 2) and analyses of the views of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Max Weber and some modern writers (Chapters 3 to 7). These chapters contain interesting material. Barnes highlights some points raised by Adam Smith that many today forget and rightly pinpoints some serious deficiencies in the views of others. However, the result of this is that Barnes doesn’t turn to his proposals until page 91 of his 207 pages. Rather less history would have left room for rather more precision in Barnes’ analysis of the current situation and his proposed remedies.

Unfortunately, the proposed remedies rarely go below a high level of generality and such specificity as he provides is unconvincing. For example, he mentions credit unions and micro finance initiatives but clearly they cannot constitute the solution to the macro problems of the world economic system. More seriously, his suggestion that we need to move from a system based on contract to a system based on covenant is bizarre. He suggests that “covenants are sacred oaths of mutual inter-dependents and fealty between two parties dedicated to a common cause” and that “Unlike contracts, which are based upon suspicion and anticipate violation, covenants are built upon mutual respect and trust and presume co-operation” (pp 164/5). Barnes never explains what he believes should happen in the commercial world in consequence of this but, in any event, what he says is not true. One can define words to mean anything but, in the commercial world, contracts are by no means always based on suspicion and by no means always anticipate violation. Indeed, normally, they simply define with precision the subject matter of the transaction, allocate risk and generally record the mutual understandings of the parties. Disputes are the exception not the rule.

The reader is provided with no ideas as to how in practice “virtuous capitalism” might be brought into being and, having finished the book, is likely to be left wondering whether he has simply been asked to favour moral good against immorality. Indeed, the reader might wonder whether, despite Barnes’ attacks on Utopianism, he has merely had his own dream of Utopia.

Barnes may have anticipated this criticism since, right at the end of the book he asserts that “This book is not the manifesto of a movement, but is the credo of a community that refuses to underestimate the power of God to do the impossible against great odds” and continues “Redeeming capitalism is not a project; it is a mission” (page 206). Giving people the desire to effect change and the hope that it can be achieved is worthwhile yet, after 200 pages, one might have hoped for more than simply “I believe in virtuous capitalism”!

 

“Redeeming Capitalism” by Kenneth J. Barnes, was published in 2018 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (ISBN 978-0-8028-7557-0). 207pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Richard Turnbull: “Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change”, edited by Alex Nicholls

The great contribution of this book, edited by Alex Nicolls, now a Professor at the Said Business School in Oxford, is that it brings together in one place, and for the first time, the exciting stories of social entrepreneurship, analysis of issues and the academic research agenda. In doing so, the book is well-placed to look forward.

Social enterprise and the wider agenda of social entrepreneurship is a creative and innovative agenda of new initiatives to deal with social need, harnessing business approaches to social objectives. Alex Nicholls, in his introduction, notes that has been ‘an unprecedented wave of growth in social entrepreneurship globally over the last ten years’ (page 3). Indeed, as another author in the compendium says, the ‘hallmark of social entrepreneurship is its’ ability to combine social interests with business practices to effect social change’ (page 205). The sector is not only expanding but in the light of ‘government failure’ or ‘social market failure’ new partnerships between the market, the state and civil society are essential. This of course raises questions of capital, of the place of philanthropy and so on which the book begins, but only begins to address.

The book is divided into four parts: New Perspectives, New Theories, New Models and New Directions. My only quibble is it is not all ‘new’ but it is all together in one place. The first section consists of the inspiring stories, the second of the academic research base, the third of approaches and paradigms around social entrepreneurship and the fourth challenges for the future. The variety of voices is both helpful and slightly confusing. It is excellent to bring praxis and theory together, but the style and tone did sometimes seem slightly discordant between chapters. Some of the academic chapters were somewhat turgid and somewhat repetitive. Consequently, they felt the least integrated. The answer really lies in recognising this is a first-class reference book and probably not to be read cover to cover in a single sitting.

The book it at its strongest in setting out the vision of practitioners and also setting out the different structural approaches to social entrepreneurship. Muhammed Yunus gets the volume off to a visionary start. Yunus founded Grameen Bank providing credit and loans to the poorer sections of Bangladeshi society. The loans range from study loans, micro-finance for establishing small businesses to loans for housing. The record speaks for itself, Grameen Bank ‘lends out half a billion dollars a year, in loans averaging under $200 (£116) to 4.5m borrowers, without collateral, and maintains a 99 per cent repayment record’ (page 44). One cannot help wonder whether domestic debates around credit, finance and even the role of credit unions in the UK seems rather stale when compared to more market-orientated social solutions? Yunis is clear that profit is not a dirty word. Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, refers to the productivity gain by bringing together business and social systems ‘that have not talked for centuries’ (page 51).

Certainly, for those for whom this field is relatively new, chapter 10, dealing with the variety of structural models of social entrepreneurship is essential and helpful reading. The basic distinction is between embedded models (the social programme is fully expressed within the organisation’s business, for example, the provision of health education through a for-profit business model), integrated models (the programmes are linked, for example, the provision of health education to poorer communities funded by the sale of health education on commercial terms elsewhere) and external models (the programme are not linked, for example, health education is funded by the commercial sale of a different product in a different market). There are, of course, many hybrids. Amongst the more conceptual chapters the challenge of bringing social entrepreneurship to the academic table, developing curricula and inter-disciplinary rigour whilst maintain a practitioner approach was an interesting read (chapter 13).

The book raises a number of important questions for the future. Conceptually the development of the idea of ‘blended value’ is an essential building block in the development of new rapprochement between enterprises which seek an economic return and those that seek a social return. These categories are not mutually exclusive. The provision of capital and indeed the availability of appropriate financial products (e.g. social impact bonds) and investors are increasingly recognised as essential to the future development of the sector and raise questions that really belong to the period after this book’s first publication.

Alex Nicholls has done a great service in putting this material together and into the public domain. Yes, the volume is probably more of a reference resource but it is none the worse for that. To put academic research and market practice together is an important linkage too often not made. As suggested, things have developed and moved on further and it seems to me that a new volume would be beneficial. The field is an increasingly important one; and we need to do everything possible to encourage innovative thinking and the placing of this material into context, conversation and collaboration.

 

 “Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change”, edited by Alex Nicholls, was published in 2006 by Oxford University Press (ISBN – 10: 0199283885).  498pp.

 


Richard%20Turnbullweb#1# (2)Dr Richard Turnbull is the Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics (CEME). For more information about Richard please click here.

Andrei Rogobete: “Economics for the Common Good” by Jean Tirole

 

Economics for the Common Good is the latest publication by the 2014 Nobel Prize winner in economics, Jean Tirole. Among his numerous accolades, Tirole is currently the chairman of the Toulouse School of Economics and the Institute for Advanced Study at Toulouse 1 University Capitole. Some of his most notable books include The Theory of Corporate Finance (2005); Financial Crises, Liquidity and the International Monetary System (2010); and The Prudential Regulation of Banks (1994). Throughout his academic career Tirole specialised in macroeconomics, game theory, and methods of industrial organisation and competition policy (for which he was also awarded the Nobel Prize).

Economics for the Common Good stands out as thoroughly distinct from his previous work both in vision and content. First, the book is aimed at the general public rather than a specialised audience. Tirole is masterful in using simple language to convey highly complex issues. From climate change to competition policy, the digestible way in which Tirole presents these topics make them accessible to a much wider audience. Secondly, the book spends a good deal of time looking introspectively. It considers the role of economics and economists themselves within society.

So, what does Economics for the Common Good aim to achieve?

At a foundational level the book aims to educate. Tirole himself admits that the common thread of the book is a line of inquiry that is heavily based on Information Theory. This theory holds that economic actors (such as households, companies, or governments) suffer from limited, or “asymmetric information” (p. 12). They simply do not have the necessary information or knowledge to make the best decisions and produce the best outcomes. In consequence, a poor understanding leads to poor decisions. This in turn often results in bad public policy. In an age where populism seems to triumph over expertise, Tirole aims to fight back. He seeks to re-establish the role of economists in the public sphere.

At a more elevated level, the book argues for the promotion and advancement of the common good. The role of economics is ultimately to serve society by helping others understand and solve complex issues – both at the micro and macro levels. Tirole is a firm believer that markets can, and must, incorporate questions of morality. He recognises the vast benefits of a free market economy but also warns against the dangers of its abuse – particularly in areas such as healthcare, trafficking in human organs, and employee incentives.

He sees the “common good” as “our collective aspiration for society” (pp. 2-3). Tirole’s definition and use of the “common good” does not have any sociological or theological underpinning. He uses it in a rather mechanical fashion. Tirole is after all an economist and, like any good economist, he primarily looks at the form and function of a concept like the “common good.” In this sense, he prefers to leave out the private dimension (such as religion, moral values or spirituality), because regardless of the social structures, “people’s opinions differ profoundly” (ibid.). This leads Tirole to understand the common good as answering the following question: “In what social system would you like to live?” What society would be most advantageous for anyone to pursue his or her own aspirations?

Yet he also recognises the inherit subjectivism of this approach and thus, specifically places the emphasis on “what kind of social system” rather than “what kind of ideal society”? (ibid.) Economists and academics have a responsibility to work towards making the world a better place.  Tirole leaves aside the private and tries to focus on the public dimension. It is also from this birds-eye view that capitalism and the free markets can become a force for good. These systems allow people to pursue their own ends, including those inspired by faith.

Tirole is a firm believer that markets can, and must, incorporate questions of morality.

Chapter seven speaks to some length corporate governance and the social responsibility of business. First, Tirole views governance as the heart of a company’s management (p. 174). The allocation and concentration of decision-making power within a company’s structure is crucial to how that company will be run. Secondly, the social responsibility of a company can incorporate three major approaches: long-term sustainable development, ethical behaviour, and philanthropy (p. 186). Each of these offer the private sector more potential to act as a force for good. However, Tirole recognises that their exercise is subject to popular demand – that is, consumers, employees, and other stakeholders must request that corporations engage in them.

In terms of structure, Economics for the Common Good is a significant piece of work. It’s 500+ pages are divided across seventeen chapters and organised along three main sections.

The first section (chapters 1-7) looks at the role and influence of economists in society. Again, central to the message of the book, Tirole argues that “the duty of an academic is to advance knowledge … but academics must also collectively aim to make the world a better place … Consequently, they cannot refuse, as a matter of principle, to take some interest in public affairs” (p. 69).

The second section (chapters 8-12) focus on the macroeconomic challenges of our time. From climate change and the European Union, to labour markets and the financial crisis of 2008, Tirole offers a succinct but piercing analysis of each. Yet what is even more remarkable is that he refrains from overly promoting a political message or adhering to any clear-cut ideological line. He summarises the issues and allows the reader to make up his or her own mind.

On the future of Europe, for instance, Tirole argues that Europe is effectively at a crossroads. There are only two real options for the long-term: One would be a continuation of the status quo – which is primarily based on the evolution and “ever-closer union” of member states through the Maastricht Treaty. The other would be moving towards a more federal system. This would involve a greater deal of risk sharing among nation-states but could yield a more robust and resilient European banking union. At the heart of the issue is a zero-sum game between national sovereignty and greater risk-sharing (p. 290).

The third section (chapters 13-17) looks at industrial challenges, competition policy, and the future of regulation. He speaks in some depth about the dynamics of online shopping. If in the past we were limited to our local stores and shops, our newly found access to a global marketplace leads us to suffer from “too much choice, not too little” (p. 380). The digital revolution will significantly impact all sectors of the economy, from employment and innovation to our tax system (p. 423).

The book is sometimes compared to Thomas Piketty’s Capital, but the comparison is unjustified. While Capital is narrow and has one main focus – the issue of global inequality – Economics for the Common Good covers a broad spectrum of economic issues. In analysis and purpose, one could argue that Tirole’s work is head and shoulders above Capital.

In summary, clarity of thought and breadth of knowledge shine throughout the book. If there is anything to critique, it may be that Tirole is too ambitious. Maybe he tries to cover too much ground at the expense of depth (although the book was never intended to cover its themes exhaustively). It is above all an educational publication that seeks to re-affirm the role of economists in advancing the common good.

While you might not agree with Tirole on every issue, Economics for the Common Good remains an outstanding piece of work written by one of the finest minds of our time.

 

This article was first published on the Acton Institute Transatlantic Blog.

“Economics for the Common Good” was published in 2016 by Princeton University Press (ISBN 0691175160, 563 pp).


Andrei RogobeteAndrei Rogobete is a Research Fellow with the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

Steve Morris: “Entrepreneurial Leadership” by Richard Goossen and Paul Stevens

I have to begin by declaring something of an interest. Before becoming a priest in the Church of England I was an entrepreneur and writer of business books. For the majority of the time I ran my brand agency I was a non-Christian. Looking back, I think we managed to be a highly ethical business with no direct input from Christian sources. At one point I hired an ex-priest who came to work for us. I remember him saying that we were far more ethical than any Christian organisation that he had ever worked for. In fact he said that we were the most Christian place he had ever worked.

So you’ll probably realise why I have a few problems with this book by Goossen and Stevens, who at times seem to make a claim for the moral high ground for especially Christian entrepreneurial leaders.

But let’s begin at the beginning. This is certainly an admirable enterprise and it sets out to ask and answer some pertinent questions. Are entrepreneurs born, not made? What difference does a Christian faith make to being an entrepreneur? Where does leadership come from?

The book begins with some interesting section on what entrepreneurialism is – what is its essence. This is clearly an important issue for the church. There is perhaps an inherent dualism whereby church is seen as a place of holiness and work a place of toil and compromise. The authors are keen to help us torpedo this.

The authors are persuasive in their conviction that entrepreneurialism is a process more than a genetic or societal disposition. This is liberating and helps us see that we all have the ability to innovate and embrace change. They draw on the work of that great hero of modern management, Peter Drucker who argues that there is no such thing as an entrepreneurial personality. The authors suggest there are five tenets that make up the essence of entrepreneurship – innovation, seizing opportunities, enjoying it, doing risk analysis and developing good habits.

The book is interesting in its dissection of what makes a leader and the particular challenges of being a Christian leader. This is especially true when we begin to grapple with what it is to be a servant leader. There could have been much more on this – perhaps a whole book.

Goossen and Stevens move onto the thorny issue of what exactly is the difference between the Christian entrepreneurial leader and the secular one. This had me gripped and although I didn’t agree with it all, it is a discussion that needs having. The authors highlight a major difference between the two categories in terms of worldview. Thinking back to my time as a non-Christian entrepreneur, that does hold water.

The authors suggest that the worldly entrepreneur tends to spin a narrative of self-making, eliminates God from the equation and does it mainly for self-fulfilment. I wonder if this is just too partial. Many non-Christian entrepreneurs I know are driven by far more complicated and also altruistic motives for their work. It is so easy to sound self-righteous. The authors position the Christian entrepreneur thus. They,credit God, they look to their faith for ethical anchors (the ten Commandments come in handy), and they develop spiritual gifts in themselves and others for the glory of God.

The book covers much important ground. It looks at how being a Christian adds meaning and purpose the work. It gives a blueprint for how to put practical Christian entrepreneurial leadership to work. And this is perhaps the most useful and cogent part of the book. This is no trot through the Bible it is a programme for how to become the leader God wants you to become. It is in these chapters that we begin to get a sense of the author’s passion and deep scholarship.

I have a few minor quibbles. The points for reflection and discussion are a little twee and seem grafted on. But this is the case for many Christian books that try to cram a bit of interaction and perhaps to open up their market to home groups and other discussion groups.

What does work well is the tone. The book is beautifully written by people who thought long and hard and prayed about it. There could have been more about being an entrepreneur in church perhaps, but the authors are on the money when they describe the world of work and commerce as the great mission field and testing ground. You have only to spend a few hours in the City of London at rush hour and see the tens of thousands of people going to work or returning from it to wish that we had more engagement here.

The City is steaming on, the world is moving apace and we can’t afford to be stuck in churches while ignoring the great opportunities that are out there.

This book will encourage people to see their calling and to go for it. In that it is positive. I would have liked to see more credit given to non-Christian entrepreneurs but probably that’s just me being fussy. Entrepreneurialism can be Godly. Thank God for that.

 

“Entrepreneurial Leadership” by Richard j. Goossen and R. Paul Stevens was published in 2013 by IVP USA (ISBN-10;0830837731). 185pp.


Steve Morris is the parish priest at St Cuthbert’s North Wembley. In earlier days he ran a brand agency, worked as a journalist and wrote books about management.

 

Richard Godden: “A Voice to be Heard: Christian Entrepreneurs Living out Their Faith” by Richard Higginson & Kina Robertshaw

 

A Voice To Be Heard is not a systematic economic, theological or historical analysis of Christian entrepreneurship, although it contains a number of economic, theological and historical observations. Instead, it comprises ordered reflections on Christian entrepreneurship based around the stories and thoughts of 50 contemporary Christian entrepreneurs interviewed by the authors.

The authors are the well-known Director of Faith in Business at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, Richard Higginson, and the rather less well-known Zambian entrepreneur, Kina Robertshaw. They say that the book is “for actual entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone who wants to know more about them” (page xvi) but they are being unduly modest in their expectation: the book provides food for thought for all Christians and, since it is readable, interesting and important, it deserves to widely read.

It begins with pen portraits of five Christians involved in business and uses their stories to clarify what the authors mean by the term “Christian entrepreneur”. They are not referring to “entrepreneurs who happen to be Christian” but rather to “Christians who see their companies as an outworking of their faith” (page 13).

The authors then provide some brief comments on what the Bible has to say about entrepreneurship, attitudes to entrepreneurship in the UK today and the history of Christian entrepreneurship in the UK. This part of the book comprises less than 50 pages, so it is not an in-depth study. However, it is useful in framing the discussion that follows.

The heart of the book comprises an examination of a series of issues that are of particular relevance to entrepreneurs the idea of a calling to business; the question whether business may contribute to the advance of God’s Kingdom; vision and purpose; risk taking; relationships; stewardship; integrity; prayer; and perseverance. Each section combines the stories and views of those who have been interviewed with the reflections of the authors.

Fortunately, the authors have resisted the temptation to provide statistical analysis of the answers to their interview questions or to include the answers of all of their respondents to every question. They have been selective in their quotes and used them to set up a dialogue on particular issues in which they have then inserted their own thoughts. The result is that business issues are brought to life by means of stories and the related theological and ethical issues are clearly laid out.

The authors are clearly reluctant overtly to criticise those they interviewed. However, the methodology used invites the reader to evaluate what is said and the authors gently correct some views and challenge others, perhaps recognising that they should not expect those they have interviewed to be as successful as theologians as they obviously are as business people!

The most interesting part of the book is that which considers the answers that the authors received to the question “Do you see your working business as contributing to the advance of God’s Kingdom?” They tell us that the answer “was a resounding yes” (page 77) but that the answers to the follow-up question – “If so, how?”, varied hugely. Some of the entrepreneurs focussed on their belief that they are contributing to making the world a better place, some on the way in which their companies are run (i.e. the embodying of Christian values), others on the opportunities to witness provided by their businesses and still others on the opportunity to give to charitable and Christian causes. The authors suggest that the Kingdom of God is being advanced in each of these four ways and urge entrepreneurs to have “a broad view of God’s Kingdom rather than a narrow one” and “to embrace all these different categories in a holistic understanding rather than limit themselves to only one” (page 89). This is surely right: we are called on to serve God not in spite of our work or even simply in addition to it but in it and through it (see Colossians 3:23).

The authors issue an equally big challenge to the Church as a whole. This arises from the answers to the question “How do you view the attitude of the church towards you? Negative or positive?” (page 189). A mere 20% of the answers were positive and a further 30% were broadly neutral. The rest of the answers were negative, a result that demonstrates that, despite progress in recent years, Christians who have been called into business are often “made to feel like second-class citizens in God’s Kingdom” (to quote Jeff Van Duzer, in Why Business Matters to God).  Many of the entrepreneurs interviewed “often feel appreciated only for the financial support they are potentially able to provide” (page 194) and there is very little evidence of positive support being provided to Christians in business.

Of course, some of the apparent problems may be a matter of perception and it may also be that people in churches naturally offer support to those who appear obviously in need of it (perhaps even emotionally fragile), overlooking entrepreneurs since they are the kind of people who appear self-sufficient. However, the Church needs to do better and the authors suggest that there are six things that the local Church ought to do: to listen; to give entrepreneurs a voice in the Church; to pray; to make biblical teaching more relevant; to be open to the fact that God might seriously be calling people beyond the confines of the Church and to recognise that entrepreneurs may have a significant role to play in Church leadership. These are all points that deserve proper consideration and action.

Overall, the book is broad rather than deep in its analysis: there are many books that examine the relevant history and underlying theology and ethical issues in greater detail and libraries could be filled with weighty tomes examining the economics relevant to entrepreneurship. Furthermore, the book does not have incisive new insights for those who have already looked at the theory in detail. However, these comments are not criticisms: they merely indicate the nature of the book. It focusses on the practicalities and real-life issues faced by Christian entrepreneurs and it does not merely look at the easy bits: bankruptcy and difficult issues relating to integrity are addressed in an honest manner. Of course, there are things that many would take issue with (e.g. the suggestion that God resembles an entrepreneur in having “a willingness to take risks”, page 28) and some parts of the book are weaker than than others (e.g. the chapter on prayer is of a very general nature and has little that is specific to entrepreneurs). However, these points are minor quibbles: the book is well worth reading.

 

“A Voice To Be Heard Christian Entrepreneurs Living Out Their Faith” was published in 2017 by Inter-Varsity Press (ISBN: 10: 1783595655); 208 pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

 

 

 

Edward Carter: “Enlightened Entrepreneurs: business ethics in Victorian Britain” by Ian Bradley

This book’s subtitle is deceptive; it is not a volume about business ethics so much as a fascinating piece of social history. Ten great Victorian entrepreneurs are described in turn, with very little attempt to add any interpretation. The names of the ten speak for themselves: Thomas Holloway, Titus Salt, Samuel Morley, George Palmer, Jeremiah James Colman, Andrew Carnegie, George Cadbury, Joseph Rowntree, Jesse Boot, and William Hesketh Lever. Each chapter takes an essentially chronological view, with many delightful details set alongside a sweeping narrative of business-building, all within the context of the major social and economic changes that the Victorian era brought.

I was struck by how deeply these ten particular accounts of enterprise intersected with my own life history. For example, Thomas Holloway founded Holloway College in Egham, Surrey, which is very near where I grew up; the Colman factory site in Norwich, Nofolk, included nearby some purpose-built housing, one of which made a fine (albeit small) home for me and my wife when we were first married; and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) is now a member of the Church Investors Group (CIG), which I chair, and one of the CIG Trustees is a JRCT nominee. More generally, many of the household products made or retailed by these companies are still to be found on our larder shelves. This is the kind of history that really does overlap with our lives in an ordinary, down-to-earth way.

While Bradley himself does not offer much interpretation or synthesis, I found plenty of themes that emerged. First, each story included accounts of what I call ‘attentiveness’: the ability to spot an opportunity and to be persistent in following it up. The entrepreneur is not someone who will carefully construct a five-year strategic plan for the future. Rather, she or he will be alive to opportunities. For example, we read of Titus Salt: ‘One day in 1834, while on a buying visit to Liverpool docks, he noticed a pile of 300 or so dirty-looking bales lying in a corner of a warehouse. They turned out to be fleeces of the alpaca…’ (p.28). As the account unfolds we discover how an attentive entrepreneur made the most of an opportunity that started a new industry. The technological advances needed came from someone else (the inventor), while the entrepreneur had eyes on changes in society, on ways in which resources could be mobilized, and how people’s imaginations could be caught and aspirations met.

Secondly, the connection to a certain kind of Christianity is very striking. Quakerism and Congregationalism, with their focus on temperate living, self-help, lack of privilege and simple hard work had a tremendously formative influence on all these ten men. Although they were restless in seeking out profitable business opportunities and in being competitive, they were never personally greedy for riches. Their lifestyles were in many ways frugal, and they all showed extraordinary generosity as benefactors.

Thirdly, all of them were to a greater or lesser extent paternalistic. In nearly all of the businesses described there is a ‘family’ feel, whether through care of employees who fell ill or through the well-known model villages such as Saltaire, Bournville, Earswick and Port Sunlight. One of the significant things about this is the way it anchors a business in a locality, and gives depth to its history. Although Bradley does not discuss this aspect, it seems to me that this ‘rootedness’ of enterprises is one of the hallmarks of the Victorian era. These were companies that had a good sense of where they belonged, both in time and in place, something that is generally much weaker now, when production facilities are relocated because of marginal cost advantages. It is simply inconceivable that George Cadbury would have moved his Bournville factory to Eastern Europe or the Far East to reduce costs.

Fourthly, each of these ten men was involved to some extent in public life. They wanted to make a difference to society, often in local or national politics. They saw business as an integrated part of how society works, rather than an ‘external’ source of tax revenue or some kind of threat to government or the people.

I enjoyed this book, but would have valued some kind of attempt to interpret these themes. Even more interesting would have been a discussion about how entrepreneurs today might help society rediscover its roots in time and place, but without the paternalistic baggage that belongs to a different era. Although it is tempting to describe the Victorian period as a golden age for enterprise, the truth is that businesses such as Facebook and Google have stories that are just as fascinating. However, such analysis doubtless belongs in a different book.

The writing style is clear and easy to read. Most of the book was written in 1987, with additional material added in 2007. It is therefore occasionally out of date, for example when describing the Cadbury business of today.

 

“Enlightened Entrepreneurs: business ethics in Victorian Britain” was published in 2007 (Revised Ed.) by Lion Books (ISBN-10: 0745952712).


Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

 

 

Edward Carter: “Capital and the Kingdom – Theological Ethics and Economic Order” by Tim Gorringe

I first read this book shortly after it was published in 1994, at a time when I was starting to explore the interface between Christian ethics and economics. Re-reading it some twenty years later has been instructive, now that this field has been developed rather more and is taken seriously again by at least some of those involved in politics and public life.

The book is set out in four parts, preceded by a helpful introduction in which Tim Gorringe sets out his stall by explaining how he uses Karl Marx as a dialogue partner throughout. This gives a hint as to his own political leanings. Indeed, in his introduction he even locates Marx as standing within the tradition of prophecy (p. xi). This means that Gorringe works essentially with a structured view of society and of economics that draws on Marxist theories of power and domination, rather than something more dynamic or entrepreneurial, and this is the undergirding theme of Part One. However, the theme of ‘narrative’ and economic history is certainly also present here, as part of his general critique of a version of economics that is ‘at the mercy of abstract laws which only experts can fathom’ (p. 22).

Within Part One I enjoyed finding at least two sharp criticisms of Brian Griffiths, Chairman of CEME, and having heard Lord Griffiths’ more recent reflections my sense is that he might now yield a little ground to Gorringe when it comes to the place for Christianity within public policy (see p. 13), while holding fast against the Marxist view on equality and liberty (p. 54). In certain respects, the world that Gorringe describes has changed. I particularly noticed this in his discussion of a living wage, which has now been embraced across the political spectrum in the UK.

Part Two of the book has four chapters that address more focused subjects. The first of these, ‘Work, Leisure, and Human Fulfillment’, sets out a valuable survey of Christian thinking through history on this theme, with the conclusion that ‘true leisure is not utilitarian’ (p. 77), and that both work and leisure are about human realisation. As a stand-alone section this would make good reading for anyone wanting a critique of a self-contained neo-classical economic world-view. However, the other three chapters in Part Two resonate more strongly with Gorringe’s Marxist theme, as they tackle the subjects of alienation, solidarity, resistance, and social justice. Gorringe looks for a ‘rejection of the individualism which divides people and sets them against each other, affirmation that humanity consists in working together’ (p. 102). While this is indeed a hopeful broad vision to set forth, as I read these words I found myself wondering whether it takes seriously enough the way in which entrepreneurial energies operate within the economy.

Part Three is given the over-arching heading ‘The Common Treasury’, in which Gorringe explores the subjects of personal property, inequality, planning and ecology. His general approach is one that advocates a socialist ‘control’ of the economy, and at one point he states that ‘some kind of global planning is needed’ (p. 140). Part Four then consists of a single final chapter, entitled ‘Two Ways’, in which Gorringe mounts a strong attack on global capitalism. It was here that I was surprised but pleased to stumble across a reference to the economist Joseph Schumpeter. His work had been used as ammunition within a 1980s debate between the Roman Catholic bishops of the USA and some prominent Catholic lay people. Reading this section carefully, my impression was that Gorringe brackets Schumpeter with a more general neo-classical take on economic theory, and then summarily lambasts them both. However, I would argue that he has missed something here, and that a more careful look at the contrast between Schumpeterian economics and the neo-classical approach would have been fruitful. In fact, Schumpeter has been taken in a Marxist direction, notably by Paul Sweezy, and I wondered if Gorringe might have changed his line if he had been aware of this.

On almost the last page of the book I then found this sentence: ‘There is nothing intrinsically wrong with enterprise, initiative and ownership. What is wrong is when these are harnessed to profit, power, self-aggrandisement, and inequality.’ (p. 166) As a programmatic statement this felt promising to me, but I struggled to see how large parts of the book itself could be taken to support or develop it. Rather, for Gorringe any sense of enterprise or initiative seems essentially to be subsumed within a Marxist superstructure, and the need for human cooperation to be played out in a society marked by planning and control. In the end, therefore, I found this book to be a helpful foil against which I wanted to put forward different ideas connected to human enterprise. However, as a major contribution in the field of theological ethics and economic theory its importance cannot be doubted.

 

“Capital and the Kingdom: Theological Ethics and Economic Order” was published in 1994 by SPCK/Orbis Books (ISBN 10: 0-281-04773-1)


Edward Carter is Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, having previously been the Canon Theologian at Chelmsford Cathedral, a parish priest in Oxfordshire, a Minor Canon at St George’s Windsor and a curate in Norwich. Prior to ordination he worked for small companies and ran his own business.

He chairs the Church Investors Group, an ecumenical body that represents over £10bn of church money, and which engages with a wide range of publicly listed companies on ethical issues. His research interests include the theology of enterprise and of competition, and his hobbies include board-games, volleyball and film-making. He is married to Sarah and they have two adult sons.

Andrei Rogobete: “The Shareholder Value Myth” by Lynn Stout

 

They often say ‘never to judge a book by its cover’, that initial external appearances can distort or even deceive the audience from the content that lies within. Well, the principle doesn’t apply here. Lynn Stout’s The Shareholder Value Myth attempts to achieve exactly what the title entails: a pure and straight forward critique of the belief that the ultimate purpose of business is to maximise shareholder value, which often dominates the field of business management.

Author Lynn Stout is Professor of Corporate & Business Law at the Cornell Law School where her main areas of research include corporate law, securities and derivatives regulation, economics, and organisational behaviour.  Stout argues that the Shareholder Value ideology is ultimately just an ideology, not a legal requirement or a ‘practical necessity of modern-day business life’ (p3). In this sense, Shareholder Value thinking is a mistake for most companies because it indirectly forces corporate managers and executives to ‘myopically’ focus on short-term earnings at the expense of long-term stability and performance. It also ‘discourages investment and innovation, harms employees, customers, and communities; and causes companies to indulge in reckless, sociopathic, and socially irresponsible behaviours’ (p10).

The book is written clearly and concisely, predominantly using direct rhetoric and short sentences. In terms of structure, the book is broadly divided in two comprising parts: Part 1 is a direct attempt in ‘Debunking the Shareholder Value Myth’ while Part 2 is mostly an investigative endeavour into who the ‘shareholders’ are and what they actually value. Each part is made up of five shorter Chapters so let’s take a closer look into some of the main points and arguments made throughout the book.

The first half can be seen as a systematic critique of the means and (even disastrous) consequences of ‘shareholder value thinking’. Corporate scandals such as the 2010 BP Oil Spill and cases of serious fraud in large companies such as Enron, HealthSouth and Worldcom throughout the 2000s are all cited as consequences of shareholder value thinking. Professor Stout makes a compelling case that the ‘narrow’ focus on share price alone can result in ruthless management behaviour. The drive for extreme cost-cutting in the hope of increasing short term profit doesn’t just hurt the employees and the company, but the shareholders themselves.

The book provides a brief historical account of how shareholder value thinking came to dominate teaching in business schools as well as becoming the norm within the private sector itself. If in the 1800s most privately held companies were of single ownership (or a tight shared ownership), by the 1990s publicly held companies have tens of thousands of shareholders. Stout rightly argues that this replacement of the ‘single’ ownership model with an executive Board to represent the vast number of shareholders causes the Board (as well as the senior management) to assume that all the shareholders want is ‘to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible’. It rather quickly trickles down to the lowest common moral denominator, ignoring the fact that shareholders are real human beings with different investment timeframes, different priorities and different attitudes toward the well-being of others. In this sense Lynn Stout rightly argues that ‘recognising these differences reveals that the idea of a single objectively measurable “shareholder value” [i.e. solely based of share price] is not only quixotic, but intellectually incoherent’ (p60).

The second half of the book turns its attention toward the shareholders themselves: who are they? And what do they want to get out of their investment? These questions in turn give rise to a clear dichotomy within a company’s pool of shareholders: ‘short-term speculators versus long-term investors’. Again, Lynn Stout rightly points out that ‘long-term shareholders fear corporate myopia. Short-term investors embrace it – and many powerful shareholders today are short-term’ (p65). The conflict of interest generated by short vs. long-term investors indirectly forces a company’s management to take the default position and assume that every shareholder is a ‘platonic investor’ – i.e. an investor that only owns shares in company ‘X’ and the share price increase is all that they are interested in. Lynn Stout argues that in reality however, this ‘platonic investor’ does not exist. The overwhelming majority of investors today own more than just shares in company ‘X’, they are invested in the marketplace as a whole and want to protect the value of their other investments also. In this sense, the short-term focus generated by shareholder value thinking can actually work against the interests of the shareholders themselves.

The book as a whole presents a compelling critique of shareholder value thinking. Yet it’s strength is also its greatest weakness: it is just that, a critique –nothing more and nothing less. What are the solutions? The final pages of the book only tentatively touch on a possible way forward in arguing that what is needed is a more ‘complex and subtle understanding of what shareholders really want from corporations’ (p115). This all sounds great and very necessary but how do companies get there? Even if executives come to acknowledge the variations in their shareholder’s desires – is this a guarantee that the company’s approach to corporate governance will change?

I have written on this topic in the past  where I highlighted the importance of first establishing a concrete set of internal ethical values and practices. Only then does it become possible to accommodate the desires of a larger pool of shareholders and indeed, stakeholders.

A great deal remains to be written on this topic and The Shareholder Value Myth by Lynn Stout is an excellent addition to the growing body of literature that forces us to re-think the role and purpose of business in society.

A recommended read.

 

“The Shareholder Value Myth” was published in 2012 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers (ISBN 10: 1605098132). 134pp.


Andrei Rogobete

Andrei Rogobete is Associate Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Godden: “Why Business Matters to God” by Jeff Van Duzer

Why Business Matters to God” is addressed to Christians. Jeff Van Duzer, now Provost of Seattle Pacific University and formerly Dean of its School of Business and Economics, suggests that Christians in business “have often been made to feel like second-class citizens in God’s kingdom” (page 9). His aim is to counter the attitudes that underlie this by affirming the intrinsic value of business work “as work full of meaning and importance to God”, whilst at the same time challenging what he describes as the “dominant business paradigm of the day” (page 9). The result is an excellent, well-argued and thought provoking book that should be read by all Christians engaged in business.

Van Duzer undertakes his task by using a theological framework, considering in successive chapters the implications for business of the biblical accounts of creation, fall, redemption and consummation.

From the creation story, he concludes that the material world matters to God, that human beings are called to steward God’s creation and that we are made to work (i.e. that work is not a punishment or a necessary evil). He notes that society has many institutions (e.g. families, churches and governmental bodies) and asks “which aspects of the creation mandate are best suited for business to handle?” (page 41). He points to the role of business in the creation of wealth and concludes that the intrinsic purposes of business are “to provide the community with goods and services that will enable it to flourish, and … to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity” (page 42).

At this point, the reader may feel that the account of business is too rosy but this issue is squarely addressed in the next chapter, which considers the implications of the fall. Here Van Duzer parts company with the more extreme free market enthusiasts (both Christian and non-Christian) by stressing that “the market will not usher in the kingdom of God” (page 75) and suggesting that the market mechanism is an aspect of common grace that mitigates some of the consequences of the fall. He stresses that we cannot “equate market forces with God’s perfect will” (page 79).

Having done this, Van Duzer reverses the logical theological order and leaps on to consider what the biblical account of ultimate salvation (“consummation”) can teach us that is of relevance to business. In doing so, he heads into stormy theological waters as he assesses the relative merits of adoptionism and annihilationism as an explanation of how God’s new heaven and new earth will be inaugurated. He sides with the “cautious adopters” (page 94) but those who don’t take this view will be pleased to hear that it is not central to his argument and he acknowledges that “any conclusions we may reach must be held lightly” (page 83). This result is that this part of his analysis is less fruitful than other parts of it.

He next considers redemption and suggests that business must “concern itself with redemptive as well as creative work” (page 114), whilst accepting that it is operating within the “messy middle” (page 118). In this context, he rejects both the cynicism of those who suggest that “Business ethics is an oxymoron” and the optimism of those who argue that “Good ethics is good business” in the sense that there will always be a bottom line benefit for those practicing good ethics.

Van Duzer recognises that our attitude to business will turn to a considerable extent on our view of how Christians should engage with the world (what he calls our “posture of engagement”) and also upon our attitude to institutions of all kinds in the modern world. He devotes an “excursus” to each of these issues, of which the first is particularly helpful. It adopts Niebuhr’s typology (“Christ against culture”, “Christ of culture”, “Christ above culture”, “Christ and culture in paradox” and “Christ the transformer of culture”) and demonstrates how our answers to several key theological questions are likely to determine which type of cultural engagement we adopt and, specifically, our view of the role of business.

The final quarter of the book is less well structured than it might have been and parts of it would have better merged with the earlier chapters. None-the-less, it contains some worthwhile discussions of important issues such as business sustainability (in the broad sense) and, most importantly, the role of profit and enhancing shareholder value. Van Druzer recognises the essential instrumental role of profit but denies it any greater significance, specifically rejects the notion that the maximisation of profit or shareholder value is a primary goal of a business.

Although published under the IVP Academic banner, this is not an academic work. It does not interact extensively with other literature and it has no bibliography, although it makes good use of footnotes that may suggest further reading.

It is a short book and could not possible consider all of the angles on its subject. None-the-less, it would have been helpful had Van Duzer considered questions that arise from his dethroning of profit and shareholder value: Might this result in a loss of focus on efficiency and thus reduce wealth creation? How can managers be rendered accountable for the delivery of goals that cannot be quantified or otherwise clearly measured? If shareholders in a public company appoint and remove them, will the directors not always focus on the maximisation of shareholder value? Who might enforce any broader directors’ duties? Van Duzer is a lawyer by background and his views on these issues would be interesting.

Despite the final chapter’s focus on “making it real”, many readers may be left wondering how it is possible to translate Van Duzer’s vision of business into practice in a secular Western business context. This is a significant issue. However, the purpose of this book is to provide a Christian conceptual framework for business not to analyse in detail its implications in relation to day to day management. Addressing these implications would require another book and perhaps the only significant criticism that can be levelled at Van Duzer is that he hasn’t yet written it!

 

“Why Business Matters to God” was published in 2010 by InterVarsity Press (ISBN 10: 0830838880). 201pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Richard Godden: “Business for the Common Good” by Scott Rae and Kenman Wong

 

The concept of “the common good” dates back at least to Aristotle and has been used by political theorists, moral philosophers and economists down the ages, including people as diverse as Thomas Aquinas, John Locke and Adam Smith. It is a basic concept in Catholic social teaching and is easily understandable by all. However, it is not familiar today in discourse about the purpose and role of business.

Wong and Rae want to change this. They suggest that, “it is an important time to reconsider what business, and our current or future participation in it, is all about” (page 28) and they undertake this reconsideration by first considering the purpose of those engaged in business. They suggest that, “The idea that business can be a calling is becoming more widely appreciated and accepted” but that “what exactly business is a calling to needs much more exploration” (page 33; the emphasis is theirs). They then launch into the required exploration. The first part of this leads to the conclusion that business is a calling “to transformational service for the common good” (page 76) and the implications of this are then worked through.

Business for the Common Good forms part of the InterVarsity Press “Christian Worldview Integration Series” and is, thus, written primarily for Christians. However, Prabhu Guptara observes in his endorsement that “Nothing in this book prevents it enriching the lives of Hindus such as myself – or, as far as I can see, those of Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics or atheists!” He is right.  The book’s conclusions do not depend upon any theological propositions other than a general view of God and the World that will be shared, at least in its more important features, by millions of people of various faiths and, at least in relation to its view of the World, by many of no faith. Furthermore, although the Series Preface suggests that college students may be a primary target audience, the book is likely to assist a far wider audience, including those who have been in business for many years. Some readers will find its lack of interaction with other literature a downside but others will welcome the fact that it does not assume any prior reading and deals with issues from first principles.

After an over long Series Preface and their (shorter) Introduction, Wong and Rae helpfully examine the purpose of work, addressing the question whether work has merely an instrumental purpose or whether it also has an intrinsic purpose. Put simply, do we work merely to live or do we live to work? Many, perhaps most, people today would say that they work to live and for the poor this may seem obviously true but Wong and Rae seek to re-establish the idea that, as Martin Luther said, “The entire World is full of service to God, not only in the Churches but also the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop and the field of the townsfolk and farmers” (page 60). As Wong and Rae put it, “Our work can serve as an altar” (i.e. an act of worship; page 46).

On this basis, they ask whose interests business should serve. It is their analysis of this that leads to what they describe as their “Christian vision for business” (page 76) and hence to their basic proposition that the calling to business is a calling to transformational service for the common good.

Having laid these foundations, they then turn to a series of specific issues: how involvement in business can result in negative effects on our character but how it can also transform us for good (which they rightly describe as a “rarely examined question”; page 37); what our attitude towards wealth, success and ambition should be; how we should respond to globalisation; ethics in the work place; business leadership and management; marketing; and stewardship and sustainability. Finally, they turn to what they describe as “several exciting (and very inspiring) ways that emerging practices and organisations are moving business towards becoming proactive and intentional partners in solving social problems” (page 38).

This is a huge amount to cover in a relatively short book and some parts of the book may leave the reader feeling a little short changed. However, this is not a superficial book or one that deals in generalities. It is closely argued and it is careful to explain both its starting points and its logic. It is also good to see issues such as the ethics of marketing addressed head on rather than in passing and, more generally, to have work place ethics placed in the broader context of the purpose of business rather than considered in isolation.

More seriously, many may question whether it is realistic to expect society as a whole to adopt Wong and Rae’s view of the purpose of business and whether it is even worth attempting to persuade society to do so. Wong and Rae are ethicists not business people and on occasions this is revealed in a lack of sophistication in the examples of business situations that they give. Furthermore, their view of the world leans towards the optimistic end of the theological spectrum (being in Niebuhr’s “Christ the Transformer of Culture” category and, in some respects, leaning towards his “Christ of Culture” category) and many will wish to question this optimism.

Wong and Rae recognise these issues and seek to address them. Not all of what they say is wholly convincing and they leave many unexamined issues (e.g. with regard to the role of competition). However, the points that they make should at least cause those who are more pessimistic, whether from experience or theological conviction, to analyse their views and perhaps conclude that, even if they are right to be pessimistic, Wong and Rae’s basic suggestions are worth pursuing.

Business for the Common Good provides an overview of its subject matter and, if it leaves readers with many questions requiring further exploration, that is for the good. Wong and Rae state that their intention is “to plant seeds, deepen conversations and enable changed outlooks, purposes, values and practices” (page 285). Their book should achieve this goal.

 

“Business for the Common Good” was published in 2011 by InterVarsity Press (ISBN 10: 0830828168). 288pp.


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Richard Godden: “Firm Commitment” by Colin Mayer

 

Colin Mayer is Professor of Management Studies at the Saïd Business School in Oxford. He believes that “the corporation is failing us” and that dramatic changes in the rights and obligations of those who control corporations are needed. Firm Commitment explains why and makes proposals for change.

Mayer uses the term “corporation” to refer to the kind of limited company that is commonly used by large businesses. He recognises the huge benefits that corporations have brought but he considers them to be seriously flawed. Indeed, he describes his book as “both a tribute to and a condemnation of this remarkable institution that has created more prosperity and misery than could have ever been imagined”. He perceives the main problem to be that corporations are seen as the creatures of their shareholders, rather than as independent entities, and this leads to the pursuit of shareholder value over the interests of stakeholders other than shareholders. In support of this, he cites numerous well-known corporate scandals.

The primary focus of his book is the UK and Mayer appears to believe the position here is worse than elsewhere. However, he is not starry eyed about any currently available option. Notably, he recognises that family and other tightly owned companies may have their own problems and scandals (citing Parmalat) and, in any event, family ownership “is not the resolution to the 21st–century corporation’s problems”. He is also dismissive of the attempts that have been made in recent years to correct problems through regulation (which, he asserts, “promotes immoral conduct”) or through enhanced corporate governance (which, he suggests, may promote increased shareholder control to the further detriment of other stakeholders). He suggests that what we need is “to find mechanisms by which companies can demonstrate a greater degree of responsibility themselves without relying on others to do it for them”. Specifically, he suggests that “we need to establish the means by which corporations can demonstrate more commitment to their stakeholder community”.

Salvation is in what he calls “trust firms”, which would be like existing corporations subject to three adaptations: entrenched within their constitutions would be corporate values (which might reflect the values of their founders, public policy or other things); there would be trustee boards to act as custodians of these values; and the corporation would have “time dependent shares” whereby the voting rights of shareholders would depend upon the extent of their commitment to hold their shares for the longer term (e.g. a share which its holder is committed to hold for a further ten years would have ten times the voting rights of a share which the holder is only committed to hold for one more year).

Mayer does not want any compulsion to be applied in relation to this. He argues that diversity in corporate forms should be permitted. He does, however, suggest that there be tax incentives to encourage the use of trust firms.

There is a lot to applaud in this book. In particular, there is depressingly little evidence that increased regulation or the focus on corporate governance in recent years has materially improved the corporate world and, against this background, Mayer’s stress on the importance of “commitment” as opposed to “control” deserves serious consideration. It links with ideas derived from the work on “relational thinking” that has been undertaken in recent years by, amongst others, the Relationships Foundation and Tomorrow’s Company. Furthermore, the concept of a “trust firm” is an interesting one that could contribute to the development of a broader view of corporate purpose and responsibility.

Unfortunately, however, this is a flawed book. Perhaps Mayer has tried to cram too much into 250 pages. Whatever the reason, almost every page contains contentious statements or statements that require significant qualification. Although there are plenty of footnotes referring to past research, there are also many ex cathedra statements as well as many assertions and assumptions with which specialists will take issue. For example, some of the statements of law are, at best, partial and Mayer seems unaware that much of what he proposes can already be achieved through existing law (as, for example, the entrenchment of editorial independence within the constitution of The Economist Newspaper Ltd illustrates). He also accepts dubious interpretations of past events. In particular, his long description of the Cadbury takeover accepts the views of its former chairman, Sir Roger Carr, without examination. This is a pity because others involved in that takeover (including former Cadbury directors) have different views and consideration of these might have led to Mayer modifying some of his suggestions.

More seriously, Mayer’s analysis of the objective of corporations is unhelpful. He states that “shareholder value is an outcome not an objective” and even quotes former GE CEO Jack Welsh in support of his views. However, his argument only addresses the use of short term share prices as the test of shareholder value and his suggested alternative as a corporate objective is demonstrably inadequate. He asserts that a corporation’s “first and foremost objective is not to its shareholders, or to its stakeholders. It is to make, develop, and deliver things and to service people, communities, and nations”. It is unclear from where he derives this overarching normative assertion and, in any event, it is no more useful than saying that the objective of corporations is “to do things”! It does not help a corporation’s management to decide whether they should remain in heavy engineering or move to IT or whether to be a volume manufacturer or a niche player.

Finally, Mayer’s evident confidence that the trust firm does not suffer from serious flaws and is the solution to the myriad of issues that he has identified is not backed-up by careful analysis. He appears to recognise this since he says that his ideas need to be “subject to careful scrutiny”. They certainly do and, whilst they are undoubtedly worth such scrutiny, it may be seriously doubted whether they are the “cure all” that Mayer appears to believe.

That said, provided that the book is read critically, it is well worth reading.

 

“Firm Commitment” by Colin Mayer was first published in 2012 by Oxford University Press (ISBN-10: 0199669937).


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Richard Godden: “The Tides of Life” by Bill Pollard

 

The Tides of Life is impossible to categorise: it is not an autobiography, although the majority of it comprises autobiographical material; it is not a business leadership and management manual, although it contains a lot about leadership and management; and it is not a systematic work about Christian living, although it is full of guidance about just that.

Bill Pollard was for many years the CEO of ServiceMaster, the much studied and admired former Fortune 500 Company. Prior to that, he was, for a time, a practising lawyer in private practice and, for a brief period, an academic. Throughout his life he has been involved in educational projects and charities. He has seen much success, including the extraordinary growth of his company, but has also experienced the varying “tides of life”, including the early death of his father and, recently, the death of an evidently much loved grandson (who appears on the cover of this book). Now, in the evening of his life, he has written a book about what he calls the “lessons and choices in life”. Essentially, it is an overview of what he has learned through his many and varied experiences.

The result is a structured miscellany: there are reflections on what “our humanity is all about” and on God’s ordering of the world; thoughts about responsibility and stewardship; discussions of the nature of work of and purpose of business, the role of leaders and managers and how God may be served by those in business; and, last but not least, reflections on the importance and nurturing of relationships. In all cases, Bill Pollard teaches by means of stories from his own life, which are placed within the framework of a biblical world view.

Happily, in recent years there has been a considerable upsurge of interest in the calling of Christians to serve God throughout their everyday lives rather than through some detached “Christian service” element of them. Bill Pollard believes passionately in this calling and wishes to pass on what he has learned about how to put the theory into practice. He is clearly a man who has never stopped learning and, judging by the number of times he quotes what others have said to him over the years, a man who never forgets advice that he has been given. Above all, he is a man who believes in providence and who lives his life in the light of Proverbs 19:21 (“Many are the plans in a man’s heart but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails”), which is quoted at the head of one of the chapters of his book.

Arguably, he tries to cram too much into the space available. For example, the seventeen pages devoted to good corporate governance include matters as diverse as the ideal size for a corporate board and comments regarding what went wrong in the banks in the run up to the global financial crisis. Some business people will find this section of the book superficial. However, this is a quibble rather than a serious criticism.

More significantly, even having read Bill Pollard’s fierce criticism of the results of the absence of morality in the market place, some Christians may question the merits of the market economy to which he is committed and may be disappointed that he largely asserts these benefits rather than arguing for them in an academic manner. He similarly asserts his Christian world view rather than seeking to defend it. This, however, merely reflects the nature of the book: it does not purport to be a work of free market or Christian apologetics. It is thus unlikely to persuade a reader to accept its basic premises. However, it demonstrates how these premises may be lived out in practice and may cause sceptics to ask themselves whether this might indeed be the way that we should live our lives. Furthermore, if like me you agree with the premises, you will find here a mine of practical Christian teaching and advice.

This is not a book to read quickly. It is worth reading in short sections over a prolonged period of time, reflecting on each part of it before moving on to the next part. It may be impossible to categorise but it is none the worse for that.

 

“The Tides of Life” by Bill Pollard was first published in 2014 by Crossway Publishing (ISBN 1433541742, 9781433541742).


Richard Godden is a Lawyer and has been a Partner with Linklaters for over 25 years during which time he has advised on a wide range of transactions and issues in various parts of the world. 

Richard’s experience includes his time as Secretary at the UK Takeover Panel and a secondment to Linklaters’ Hong Kong office. He also served as Global Head of Client Sectors, responsible for Linklaters’ industry sector groups, and was a member of the Global Executive Committee.

Andrei Rogobete: “Who cares wins – why good business is better business by David Jones

Who cares wins – why good business is better business” by David Jones is a welcome addition to the emerging cohort of literature on the impact of Social Media on 21st Century contemporary life. The book seeks to address one the most pressing questions of our time: how is the internet and more specifically, Social Media, shaping the future of business activity?

David Jones speaks from a wealth of experience in digital marketing, being the CEO of both Hanvas and Euro RSCG Worldwide – two prominent marketing agencies. He also helped in driving Kofi Annan’s ‘tck tck tck’ Campaign for Climate Justice and is also a Co-founder of One Young World, a non-profit organisation that gives a voice to up-and-coming leaders around the globe.

The book starts from the premise that today’s consumers are no longer just consumers, but prosumers – empowered by the vast amount of publicly found online information to make informed, moral decisions about their purchasing intentions. Decisions that are in line with each ‘prosumers’ set of values and beliefs. In this respect David Jones argues that businesses have to change their behaviour if they are to build long-term success in the digitalised marketplace, “Today, consumers, employees and now shareholders expect business to be more socially responsible. They are frustrated with how things are. They want change…Social media is creating what I believe will be a bigger transformation for business than the arrival of television”.

The book is written clearly and concisely, using a straightforward vocabulary that makes it accessible to a wide audience of readers – even those for whom English may not be the first language. Chapters 1 to 3 lay the groundwork in building the case for the advancement socially responsible business. Here David Jones argues that in our ever-changing, globalised marketplace, companies should strive to out-behave the competition, ‘transparency, authenticity and speed are the rules of modern business’. In this environment, a global company that pursues profit for profit’s sake is running a very risky business model. The consequences of unethical practices being exposed online may cause significant financial damage and in some cases, unrepairable reputational damage. Therefore, the most successful businesses in the future will be those that are most socially responsible.

The author continues to build the argument for ‘good business’ throughout the remainder of the book. Chapters 4 through 6 he discusses the idea of the rise of a new breed of entrepreneur, the social entrepreneur. A ‘social entrepreneur’ is an entrepreneur that puts social responsibility at the core of their business model. Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia clothing or Anita Roddick of the Body Shop fall into this category. In this sense the author rightly argues that the key to making social responsibility mainstream is to ensure that it is both sustainable and financially profitable.

David Jones concludes in pressing the idea that today’s social media, data-driven digital world, access to new information is just a few clicks away. Therefore, it is increasingly likely that the most profitable and successful companies will be ones that operate and add value to their business ecosystem in a socially responsible way.

All being said, “Who cares wins – why good business is better business” by David Jones, builds a compelling empirical argument for good business. Critics might argue that it lacks any significant academic or theoretical analysis. However, the highly relevant case studies and practical examples make up for what it may lack in other departments.

A highly recommended read for anyone interested in understanding how the digital age is changing our world – hopefully for the better.

 

“Who cares wins – why good business is better business” by David Jones was first published in 2013 by Pearson (ISBN, 0273762974, 9780273762973).


Andrei Rogobete

Andrei Rogobete is the Associate Director of  the Centre for Enterprise, Markets & Ethics. For more information about Andrei please click here.

Jeremy Marshall: “Quaker capitalism – Lessons for today” by Richard Turnbull

Today the role of the Christian church in business seems to be mainly, in England anyway, as a vocal critic of the capitalist system. Business and wealth creation– let alone the dreaded banking industry –  is viewed with suspicion in many Christian circles. The role of addressing the ills of society seems, as far as I can understand the Church of England’s views, to be the responsibility of the state, not business and certainly not Christians in business.  Sadly, we have lost our Christian history. For there was a time when a rather small and one might say unusual group of Christians had a profound impact on England’s’ business, banking and society. These were the Quakers, the subject of this new book. Quaker business had an impact out of all proportion to the size of its community which was but a few thousand. For out of the Quakers came  banks – Barclays, Lloyds, food – Cadbury, Rowntree’s, Fry’s, insurance – Friends Life manufacturing – huge numbers of iron businesses following Abraham Derby, shoes – Clarks and many more in chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other sectors. Not only were these businesses successful they treated their employees and customers with an unusual degree of care and concern: in fact one might say they were successful precisely because they applied Christian values in this way.

This short and insightful book is by Richard Turnbull, previously Principal of Wycliffe Hall and now Director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics (CEME). CEME has been set up by Brian Griffiths and others to try and apply Christian principles to business and wealth creation. Turnbull not only covers the history detailed above but more importantly draws some thought provoking lessons for today. Firstly, the Quakers had a living Christian faith. Quakerism had both the “inner light” thinking of its founder George Fox but also, up until around 1850, a strongly biblical “evangelical” side, which may come as a surprise to those of us more familiar with modern Quaker thinking. This was personified by the Gurneys, one of the main families who founded Barclays and the biblical thinking from the evangelical wing provided an objective biblical framework for business –  a clear moral code. Secondly, they were highly successful family businesses working in a rich network of other family businesses. The sense of shared values and making money to use it for the good of society characterised their thinking and came directly from their family ownership. “The idea of (the) family encapsulates both purpose (for today) and stewardship (for tomorrow)” says Richard Turnbull. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, they believed that business has a moral responsibility to create wealth, not for its own sake, let alone to be spent selfishly, but as stewards of God to use their wealth for the good of others. Hence the Quakers intense interest in education and model housing (Bournville being the most famous example).

The Quakers were not perfect, the book points out. Ironically much of their drive and network came because they were discriminated against and excluded from Oxbridge and the professions (some might think that not going to Oxbridge was precisely why they were successful in business!) As the evangelical fire waned during the C19th and as they became richer and more successful, some of the sense of stewardship was lost. Sadly, many of the most vociferous opponent of Lord Shaftsbury’s factory reforms – such as stopping small children as young as 6 or 7 going down mines –  were the Quakers. Their businesses became larger and the families often lost interest, selling out and losing their shared values. The introduction of limited liability in 1856, notes Turnbull, was a particular turning point. (The very idea of limited liability was originally regarded as “immoral” – as was advertising!) The whole movement began to weaken and many family businesses sold up, the most obvious example of course is the sad fate of Cadburys. But this interesting, concise and well researched book by a leading expert in applying Christian thinking to business points out that there are important lessons we can learn from the Quakers, whether Christians or not. Even for the person who would not call themselves a Christian, then the Quaker formula – which we might say is shared moral values + common purpose + discipline + building trust and treating customers and staff well + family businesses with owners who view their wealth as for the good of society = good business – will never go out of fashion.

 

“Quaker capitalism: Lessons for today” by Richard Turnbull was first published in 2014 by the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics (ISBN 1-910666-00-5).


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Jeremy Marshall is the Director and Chief Executive of C. Hoare & Co private bank.