Copyright 2014 by Henry Mintzberg Common access on www.mintzberg.org Posted 28 February 2014
There’s a tea party going on all right. This one is for big business, under the slogan: “No taxation with representation. ”
The year was 1989 and capitalism had triumphed. Or so, at least, concluded pundits in the West as the communist regimes of Eastern Europe began to collapse. These pundits were wrong—dead wrong—and the consequences of their mistake are now proving fateful. This “electronic pamphlet” describes these consequences and suggests what we can do about them. I offer this as a member of my communities and of this world, concerned about the trends that I see around me: the degradation of our environment, the demise of our democracies, and the denigration of ourselves, with greed having been raised to some sort of high calling. We need to replace this distorting dogma with a liberating worldview that can engage us in grassroots actions for constructive change. Many people are concerned about all this, far more than have taken to the streets. The will is there; the appreciation of what is happening, and how to deal with it, is not. We are mired in disparate explanations and disjointed solutions. I pull a number of these into a single framework, to suggest a comprehensive way forward. This is called an e-pamphlet because it is available to anyone, on www.mintzberg.org.
“We have it in our power to begin the world over again. ” (Tom Paine, in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense)
I. THE TRIUMPH OF IMBALANCE............................................. 5 II. FROM EXPLOITING RESOURCES TO EXPLORING OUR RESOURCEFULNESS................................ 23 III. THREE PILLARS TO SUPPORT A BALANCED SOCIETY......... 29
IV. RADICAL RENEWAL............................................................ 53
V. YOU, ME, AND WE IN THIS TROUBLED WORLD.................. 71
APPENDIX: Boiling in our Own Water (a rant, with some suggestions).......................................... 77
About these Pamphlets, About this Author...................... 107
References.........................................................................113 General references in text................................................ 113 References to the author’s publications.......................... 121 Sources of cited U.S. Statistics........................................ 124
I. THE TRIUMPH OF IMBALANCE A society that fails to balance its three basic sectors—public, private, and plural (“civil society”)—can be ripe for revolution. The problem with revolution is that it usually replaces one form of imbalance with another. As some people among the disenfranchised gain power through force, they tend to carry their society toward some new extreme. This is clearly the story of the Russian Revolution, and arguably that of the American Revolution as well.
Russia Immediately, America Eventually Soon after the Russian Revolution of 1917 came that country’s new imbalance, from which it has yet to escape fully. A so-called democracy of the “proletariat”1 concentrated power in the political institutions of government, controlled by the communist party. This attended to certain collective needs, but at the expense of individual liberties. In 1989, 1. Following Joseph Weydemeyer, Lenin wrote about the “dictatorship of the proletariat. But ” he believed this to be the highest form of democracy, in contrast to that of the “bourgeoisie. ”
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Russia’s empire, the Soviet Union, began to unravel, with the ironic consequence of hastening America’s free fall to imbalance. The American Revolution had tilted that country in the opposite direction, thanks to the “checks and balances” of its constitution. The American people had revolted against the authoritarian rule of the British monarchy, and so its leaders made sure to check the power of their own government, by ensuring balance across its main institutions—executive, legislative, and judicial. But this had the effect of weakening government overall, in favor of autonomy for non-state institutions and liberties for individuals, especially those with economic wealth. By curbing power in one place, the constitution over-concentrated it in another.
The Rise of the Business Corporation These non-state institutions were of two main types: private businesses, for profit, and community associations, not for profit. In his landmark study of Democracy in America (1835/1840), Alexis de Tocqueville recognized the latter as not only significant and characteristically American, but also key to the country’s new democracy: “Civil associations facilitate political association, but on the other hand, political association regularly strengthens and improves associations for civil purposes” (1990:115). De Tocqueville favored the word “association” for these institutions, but “corporation” was also in common usage, for these as well as business institutions. Indeed, a decision in 1819 by the U.S. Supreme Court, that “began the process of creating a distinct legal status for corporations” (Nace, 2003: 235-236), pertained to Dartmouth College. But as businesses gained increasing influence in America, the word corporation came to be associated more exclusively with them. The American Constitution made no mention of corporations, let alone granting them liberties. The liberties it affirmed were for individual persons, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words in the Declaration of Independence that “We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal. ”
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At the time, all men meant all white and propertied men, although these genFrom the liberties der, color, and pecuniary restrictions were for individuals eventually eliminated. But before that enshrined in happened another ruling by the Supreme the American Court, in 1886, reinforced property rights Constitution with a vengeance: corporations were recsprang the ognized as “persons” with “equal protec, entitlements for tion of the laws” accorded in the Fourcorporations. teenth Amendment (which was enacted to protect the emancipated slaves).2 And this has made all the difference. From the liberties for individuals enshrined in the American Constitution sprang the entitlements for corporations. This proved to be a major step in America’s long march toward imbalance, some of the milestones of which are reviewed in the accompanying box.
America’s Long March toward Imbalance: 1789 – 1989 The American nation was barely 40 years old when Thomas Jefferson expressed the “hope [that] we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country. ” 2. This recognition was not, in fact, discussed, debated, or even decided by the court so much as assumed. In fact, the passage in question, inserted in the ruling as a headnote, was written by a court reporter, himself the president of a private railroad. Such headnotes were later agreed to have no legal force, but by then the precedent had been established. See Ted Nace’s (2003) book Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy, where he probed deeply into this and related issues, concluding that “In general, Supreme Court decisions have granted new corporate rights with virtually no supporting argument, or alternatively have used a strange medley of rationales. The result has been “a full-fledged ” legal super-person” (pp. 241, 246).
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A half century later, in 1864, Abraham Lincoln saw “a crisis approaching that… causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the civil war, “corporations have been ” enthroned” and “the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the republic is destroyed…. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless. ” That He did not do. Instead, 22 years later the Supreme Court granted personhood to the corporations, which eventually enabled them, as we shall discuss, to undermine certain rights of real persons. This grant happened amidst the rise of the great business trusts, with their monopoly positions in industries such as oil, steel, banking, and railroading. These trusts were eventually beaten back by two anti-trust acts, and corporate power was further restrained by the New Deal legislation enacted during the depression of the 1930s. But then came World War II, followed by the Cold War, and it was back to Lincoln’s great fear. Defense companies benefitted greatly from the ostensible confrontation of capitalist America with communist Russia. By the mid-1960s, the U.S. arsenal comprised 31,225 nuclear weapons—one for every 4000 Russians. Defense spending in the United States eventually grew to equal that of the rest of the world combined. And so a third American president, Republican like the other two, weighed in on the excessive power of the corporations. A few days before leaving office, Dwight David Eisenhower pointed to a “militaryindustrial complex” as having “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power…” In the late 1960s, protestors took to the streets of America, as they did in many other countries. Kurt Andersen looked back on this in a New York Times commentary of 2012: “…from the
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beginning, the American idea embodied a tension between radical individualism and the demands of the commonwealth. But ” from the late 1960s, and over the next two decades, American individualism was fully unleashed. Andersen characterized this as a kind of “tacit bargain...between the counterculture and the establishment”: the “forever-young” could “indulge their…hedonic impulses” while the “capitalists in return” were “free to indulge their own animal spirits, with reduced regulations and ” lower taxes, thanks to the presidency of Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1989. All this while, the globalization movement was challenging the authority of governments everywhere, on behalf of largely unregulated international corporations, a significant number of them American.
In 1989, 200 years after the U.S. Constitution went into effect, the stage was set for America’s free-fall into imbalance. The only thing required was a push. That came as the Cold War ended, indeed because the Cold War ended. Communism, and the political left more broadly, had served as a modest constraint on capitalism, by harping on its weaknesses. But this constraint collapsed alongside those regimes of Eastern Europe: if governments under communism proved bad, then surely all governments had to be constrained. “Capitalism has triumphed!” declared pundits in the West, drawing on the economic dogma of the day to explain what was happening in Eastern Europe. They were dead wrong.
The Dogma of Justification Supporting this march toward imbalance, especially in the last half century, has been an economic perspective (e.g. Hayek, 1945; Friedman, 1962) that has grown into a prevailing dogma. In its boldest form,
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this centers on an “economic man” for whom greed is good, property is sacred, markets are sufficient, and governments are suspect. As one view of human society, this makes some sense; as the view of human society, it is nonsense.3 Yet it carries merrily along. This dogma, together with the entitlements that it Greed is good, justifies, has formed an implicit but powproperty is erful alliance, in America and worldwide, sacred, markets that dominates a great deal of our thinkare sufficient, and ing and acting today (Korten, 1995:72). governments are The fall of communism was made-to-orsuspect. As one der for this alliance. view of humanity, We discuss below the “end of history, ” this makes some a claim made about the so-called triumph sense; as the view of capitalism. The unfortunate reality is of humanity, it is that history has kept going… toward the nonsense. triumph of imbalance.
The End of Thinking: 1989–___? The Berlin Wall was still standing when an article in the American magazine National Interest proclaimed “the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy…the unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism. Under the title “The End of History?”4 Francis Fukuy” , ama (1989) declared capitalism, not only the best system then, or even the best system ever, but the best system forever. What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period 3. Saul Alinsky quoted Justice Learned Hand that “the mark of a free man is that ever-gnawing inner uncertainty as to whether or not he is right. Alinsky added: “Having no fixed truth ” he has no final answers, no dogma, no formula, no panacea” (1969:xiii). 4. The title of the subsequent book of 1992 dropped the question mark.
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of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. (p. 1) Karl Marx was dead and so long live Adam Smith, or at least one passage from Smith’s 1776 book about an “invisible hand” that drove butchers, brewers, and bakers—free men in the marketplace—to serve society by serving themselves. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. Mankind—for all of this was about ” that “economic man”—had reached perfection, thanks to this relentless greed. The floodgates to private power were now wide open. Never mind that by 1989 Americans were receiving much of their meat, beer, and bread from giant corporations with paramount positions in their marketplaces. Never mind that these corporations were able to exert significant influence over the lives of the millions of people who butchered, brewed, and baked for them, as well as over the governments that these people elected. Adam Smith’s world may have long since passed, but not the quaint belief in this one passage of his. As John Kay, a British economist who maintained his sanity through all this, observed: “Every success of capitalism was, for Marxists, further evidence of its inherent contradictions. Every failure of capitalism is, for supporters of the American business model, further evidence of its inevitable triumph” (2003: 382). It was not history that had ended, but thinking, as all we economic men and women were spared the burden of contemplating our future. Even by the standards of neo-conservative America, Fukuyama’s arrogance was monumental. But he was hardly alone. The ostensibly moderate economist, Paul Krugman, winner of one of those Bank
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of Sweden Prizes in Economic Sciences (erroneously called Nobel5), concurred under the subheading of a Fortune Magazine article that read “Economic man is free at last”: “Here, on the millennial cusp, both the American economy and the free-market system it epitomizes seem everywhere triumphant. …any future claims about a system that trumps the free market are going to face severe skepticism. The year ” was 2000, and Krugman added, all too prophetically: …policy makers and the public are now willing… to stick with markets even when they misbehave. …basically companies will be allowed to make money as best they can in the belief that the invisible hand will direct them to more or less the right place. What both Krugman and Fukuyama failed to address is a simple question, which This pamphlet also comes from John Kay: “Did Marxchallenges the ism fail because it was the wrong grand dogma that sees design, or because all grand designs for us all driven to economic systems are misconceived?” compete, collect, (2003: 192). Put differently, might we soand consume our cial people be grander than economic way to neurotic theory? oblivion. This pamphlet challenges the dogma that sees us all driven to compete, collect, and consume our way to neurotic oblivion. That some of us choose to 5. Alfred Nobel was long dead when the Bank of Sweden created “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Even if they did not mean it to be ” confused with the real Nobel Prizes, a sloppy press, hardly discouraged by otherwise proper economists, has done it for them. The homepage of www.Nobelprize.org until recently listed the five “Nobel Prizes” followed by “Prize in Economic Sciences. (It would be interesting to , ” know why this has just been changed.) Would psychologists have gotten away with this had they created such a prize for themselves?
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do so is indisputable. That many of us doing so poses a threat to our collective survival has likewise become indisputable. In place of the dogma, this pamphlet offers an integrating framework, built on the social, political, and economic predispositions of most of us, to suggest how we may be able to attain and maintain a dynamic balance in society.
Over the Edge: from 1989 In 1989, the United States of America was 200 years old. The following words were themselves written about 200 years ago: The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage. America had gone through most of these stages by 1989, while retaining characteristics of each. The most evident exception was the last stage, of a return to bondage. Is that happening now?6 What triumphed in 1989, relatively speaking, was balance. The communist regimes of Eastern Europe were utterly out of balance, with so much power concentrated in their public sectors. These regimes collapsed under their own dead weight, even if they were pushed by an aggressive America. In contrast, at that time the successful countries 6. These words have been attributed to the Scotsman Alexander Fraser Tytler (circa 1810). The original source has not been found, although the wording would seem to be his (see Collins, 2009). The American Library of Congress cites this as “Tytler, unverified” But does the dispute . over their exact origin diminish the significance of the words themselves?
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called Western exhibited a balance of power across the three main sectors of society—public, private, and plural—more or less.7 More was the case in countries such as Germany, Sweden, and Canada, less in the United States. Yet compared with what has followed, the U.S. still mitigated the forces of markets and individualism with, for example, extensive welfare services, substantial regulation of business, and significant levels of taxation for wealthy individuals and corporations. As David Brooks, a moderately conservative columnist for The New York Times, wrote in 2010: “the American story is not just the story of limited governments; it is the story of limited but energetic governments that used aggressive federal power to promote growth and social mobility. He referred to efforts that regard “every new bit ” of government action as a step on the road to serfdom” as potentially amounting to “a political tragedy. ” It was not the collapse of the Eastern European regimes that sent the United States over the tipping point so much as a misunderstanding of the cause of that collapse. For if capitalism had triumphed, then the economists had it right and the corporations were the heroes. They saved the world from the communist menace: why stop them at that point? But if it was balance that triumphed, then their excesses had to be stopped right then and there. The opposite happened. It is not that corporations have been waging some kind of orchestrated conspiracy. True, they have sometimes acted in concert to enhance their influence, as when business associations have lobbied for lower taxes. But of far greater effect has been the steady pull of so many private forces, each pursuing its own interests—creation of tax loopholes, extension of government subsidies, loosened enforcement of regulations, and so on—pitted against a public sector that has become decreasingly able, and inclined, to resist them. Add up the 7. “…America emerged from World War II with government, market, and civil society working together in a healthier, more dynamic, and more creative balance than at any time since pre-Civil War years” (Korten, 1995:88).
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consequences of so many deliberate but disparate actions—all the lobbying and Adam Smith’s litigating, maneuvering and manipulatinvisible hand ing—and the country has ended up with in the American the equivalent of a coup d’état. Adam marketplace Smith’s invisible hand in the American has become a marketplace has become a visible claw in visible claw in 8 the American Congress. De Tocqueville the American identified the genius of American society Congress. as “self-interest rightly understood. Now ” the country funds itself overwhelmed by self-interest fatefully misunderstood.9 Nace has written of corporations “bending the world by tiny steps to suit themselves” which “over time…have resulted…in the wholesome transformation of society” (2003: 296). Reflect on the extent to which American society has been transformed since 1989. Think about the impact of Supreme Court rulings on the rights of corporations to make political donations. Have a look at the figures on how skewed the distribution of income and wealth have become in America. Consider that “only a generation ago, excluding corporations from the political area was not only thinkable and debatable but was also the law in some [American] states” (Nace, 2003: 233). Moreover “In the mid1980s, President Ronald Reagan overhauled the tax system after learning that General Electric…was among dozens of corporations that had been using accounting gamesmanship to avoid paying taxes. ‘I didn’t 8. Not that Smith was unaware of such shenanigans: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices” (1776/1997: 145). 9. “The Americans…are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of self-interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist one another and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state;” or later, to “save the rest” (1840 [1990: 222, 223]). On the next page however, de Tocqueville added: “… but it remains to be seen how each man will understand his personal interest” (p. 224).
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realize that things had gotten that far out of line’” he said, closing loop, holes (Kocieniewski, 2011a). Have a look at how far out of line they are now. On the global level, in 1987 the Montreal Protocol successfully addressed the problem of the ozone layer, as a “result of unprecedented international cooperation” (Bruce, 2012). Could this happen today? The answer lies in a string of recent international conferences on global warming. (These and other such excesses are reviewed in the Appendix, alongside some of their social consequences in the United States.)
Market Economies or Corporate Societies? Back to bondage. It has been said that the final stage of slavery is when you no longer realize that you are a slave. The Eastern Europeans under communism never reached that stage. They understood full well how enslaved they were by their system of governance. But how many of us now realize the extent to which we have become the slaves of our own economic structures? Do we recognize the extent to which our so-called market econoWhen the mies have become corporate societies, enterprises are wherein business as usual has become free, the people hardly anything but business? One little are not. “s” has slipped into our lives with enormous consequences: economies of free enterprise have become societies of free enterprises. When the enterprises are free, the people are not.10 10. Concerning laissez-faire and the market economy, Karl Polanyi has written: “However natural it may appear to us to make [the assumption of the market economy], it is unjustified: market economy is an institutional structure which, as we all too easily forget, has been present at no time except our own, and even then it was only partially present. ...free markets could never have come into being merely by allowing things to take their course. Just as cotton manufacturers—the leading free trade industry—were created by the help of protective tariffs, export bounties, and indirect wage subsidies, laissez-faire itself was enforced by the state....Even free trade and competition required intervention to be workable” (1994: 37, 139, 150).
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As the Berlin Wall fell, it took with it much of the left side of the political spectrum of countries all over the world. As the governments of Eastern Europe were discredited, people were persuaded to see all governments as discredited. This has been especially so in the United States, where there has long been widespread suspicions about government. Such suspicions are one thing—we all share a dose of that— but a collective misunderstanding of the role of the state in a balanced society is quite another. Voters who thoughtlessly dismiss government usually get the governments they deserve. (Publications of mine that elaborate on this and some other issues are listed in a section of the References.) It is telling that “socialism” has become a dirty word in America, leaving the impression that there is something wrong with things social, while the word “capitalism” has come to represent all things right. In fact, what might be called adjectival capitalism has become fashionable—“sustainable capitalism” “caring capitalism” “breakthrough , , capitalism” “conscious capitalism” “regenerative capitalism”—as if, , , somehow, if we can just get capitalism right, all will be well again. How did a word coined to describe the creation and funding of private enterprises, themselves intended to supply us with commercial goods and services, come to represent the be-all and end-all of our existence? Is capitalism any way to run public services or judge their effectiveness, any way to understand the needs of education and health care, any way to organize our social lives and express our values as human beings? Capitalism was intended to serve us. Why are so many of us now serving it? Or as Pope Francis put it recently, “Money must serve, not rule. ” The private sector now dominates American society to such an extent that no established form of political activity is likely to dislodge it. The restoration of balance will thus require some form of renewal unprecedented in American history.
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Only in America? After I gave a talk on these ideas in India a short time ago, a Swede came up to ask why I placed so much emphasis on the United States. Surely his country was in a better state. Maybe so, I replied, but for how long? The U.S. may be in the forefront of imbalance, but it is hardly alone. The rise of the dogmatic right, out of the ashes of the dogmatic left, has been throwing a great many countries out of balance. Thanks to American influence, and a globalization movement that is suppressing so many things local, the rich of many countries are getting exponentially richer while income levels for the rest stagnate and social problems fester.11 I am a citizen of Canada, a country that used to be known for its tolerance, its peacekeeping, and the effectiveness of its government services, such as comprehensive Medicare. As noted earlier, we were rather balanced in 1989. No longer. Thanks to a neo-conservative government and other factors, we too have become cheerleaders for the economic dogma in alliance with corporate entitlements. Indeed, it is a Canadian media figure and businessman, Kevin O’Leary, who may have expressed the situation best (on CBC radio, 2011): “I’m not in it for the money, I’m in it for the freedom. In this world, you need money to be free. (That is true enough—because the wealthy have made it ” true.) If Canada has so succumbed, can Sweden be far behind? See the accompanying box. So no matter where you live, if you wish to sustain whatever balance remains in your own country, and help to stop what could well be the end of our history, I suggest that you understand what is happening in the United States—especially if you are American.
11. More recently an American who grew up in Oregon raised the same point about his relatively progressive state. I gave him the same answer.
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Public Rights or Private Profits? In the mid-1990s, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) promoted a Multilateral Agreement on Investment that would have allowed private investors to sue governments in what were then called “independent settlement mechanisms” Widespread outrage stopped that, so attention . turned to accomplishing the same thing in bilateral agreements. That has largely succeeded: a number of subsequent trade pacts have included special courts of arbitration that enable private companies to sue sovereign states whose laws or regulations— even in matters relating to health, culture, and environment— they see as having reduced “the value of [their] profits or expected future profits” (Nace 2003: 257). Corporations have used these courts, not only to sue states, but more simply to threaten them with such suits, which has had a “chilling effect on legislation” (Monbiot, 2013). In December of 2013, The New York Times ran an article and editorial about how “big tobacco” has been using litigation to “intimidate” and “bully” poor countries around the world into rescinding regulations intended to control the use of tobacco. The health minister of Namibia referred to having “bundles and bundles of letters” from the industry about its attempts to curb smoking rates among young women” (Tavernise, 2013). But these efforts have not been restricted to poor countries. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has such a court. Recently, after Canadian courts revoked two of Eli Lilly’s patents for want of enough evidence to support “the beneficial effects it claimed, [the company sued] the Canadian government for $500 million, and demand[ed] that Canada’s patent laws be changed. One Canadian official has reported seeing ”
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“the letters from the New York and DC law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years” (Monbiot, 2013). In his article in the Guardian, entitled “This trans-Atlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy, Monbiot wrote: ” The rules are enforced by panels which have none of the safeguards we expect in our own courts. The hearings are held in secret. The judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities affected by their decisions have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal… One NGO labeled this “a privatized justice system for global corporations” while a judge on these courts was quoted as saying , that “it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to [such] arbitration at all…” As I write this, the European Union is negotiating a trade pact with the United States. As a consequence, the lop-sided lobbying so prevalent in the United States has come to Brussels with full force, a good deal of it from newly-installed American law firms (Lipton and Hakim, 2013). Aside from representing the usual global players—in pharmaceuticals, petroleum, finance, and so on—these firms are lobbying to have courts of arbitration included. If they succeed, these “negotiations could…become de facto global standards” (Hakim and Lipton, 2013), since the EU and the US account for almost half the world’s trade. In other words, power could end up tipping so far in favor of corporations that no nation may be able to counter it.
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If, however, the Europeans stand their ground, this could instead become a turning point, away from the massive private entitlements, toward balance. Then, perhaps, the national courts of other countries will dismiss these courts of arbitration as outrageous violations of citizens’ rights.
A Rant against Imbalance, not Business If the above, and the Appendix, sound like a rant, then let me assure you that they are, for good reason. All of this is the tip of a metaphorical iceberg that is threatening our world. When an iceberg goes out of balance and flips over, the effects on what’s around it can be catastrophic. What’s around this iceberg is everything that we know—our lives and our planet. But please do not take this as a rant against business. I cherish businesses that compete responsibly to bring me worthwhile products and services. I eat at wonderful restaurants, work with dedicated publishers, buy some strikingly creative products. Like most people, but perhaps more so because studying organizations is what I do for a living, I have a deep respect for the companies America, and that respect me. Thankfully there remain the rest of the many of these, big and small. world, are having But I have an equally deep disdain for a tea party all the companies that try to exploit me: by right. This one their bamboozle pricing, shoddy prodis being hosted ucts, indifferent services, and phony adby powerful vertising. Unfortunately these are on the corporations, increase, thanks in good part to the reunder the motto: lentless drive for growth forced on pub“No taxation, with licly-traded companies by frenetic stock representation.” markets. And then there are the increas-
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ing numbers of companies that seek to exploit us: by political advertising to sway opinions on public issues; taking government handouts in the name of free enterprise; and spending vast sums on lobbying to enhance already privileged positions, for example through tax concessions. In 1952, 32% of all taxes in the U.S. were paid by corporations; by 2010 that figure was down to 9%. There’s a tea party going on all right. This one is for big business, under the slogan: “No taxation with representation. ” Those executives who truly wish to be socially responsible can start by getting their companies out of our governments. Claiming that government must not meddle in the affairs of business while business meddles in the affairs of government is a hypocrisy that distorts and degrades our societies. Every citizen has the right to make his or her concerns known. But no citizen, let alone any artificial person, has a moral right to use private wealth to influence public policies, not in any society that wishes to call itself democratic.
II.FROM EXPLOITING RESOURCES TO EXPLORING OUR RESOURCEFULNESS The dogma that dominates our thinking sees this as a world of resources to be exploited, be they land, water, air, or the creatures that inhabit them, including ourselves as “human resources. Let’s contrast ” this with a world that explores our human resourcefulness. 12
A World that Exploits Resources In every economy can be found enterprises that are more inclined to explore and others more inclined to exploit. By innovating, the explorers energize the marketplace and the workplace. The exploiters, at their best, help to disseminate these innovations while bringing down their prices. There have always been other kinds of exploiters too, for example tourist-trap restaurants that know they will never see the customers 12. In a 1991 paper, James G. March contrasted “the exploration of new possibilities” with “the exploitation of old certainties” concluding that the latter may be “effective in the short run , but self-destructive in the long run” (p. 7).
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again. The problem is that such exploitative behaviors have become far more prevalent in large enterprises. Many acquire rivals to dominate markets, while squeezing their workers, suppliers, and customers instead of building sustainable relationships with them (see Meyerson, 2013). In a healthy economy, the younger, faster, exploring enterprises displace the older, slower, exploiting ones. Too much of the opposite is now taking place. Witness the bailouts of some of America’s sickest companies alongside continuing subsidies and tax breaks for some of its richest. Read the daily revelations about fraud and other forms of corporate malfeasance, most of which go unpunished. (If you are going to commit a crime in today’s world, wear a white collar, not a blue one.) There remain many large enterprises renowned for their exploration, albeit with some exploitation too—for example, the Apples of America. The problem is that the exploiters have become sustainable: they are hogging too much of the nation’s wealth. That is why the American economy has been faltering in recent years. But don’t wait for economists to fix it. They work in the upper reaches of abstract theories and aggregated statistics, while the economy functions on the ground, where products are made and customers are served. Here is where the problems are festering: in the mismanagement of so many large enterprises, for the sake of quick gains. And so here is where the economy will have to be fixed, with patience and determination, enterprise by enterprise. (I have elaborated on this in “Rebuilding American Enterprise, available on www.mintzberg.org/enterprise.) ”
Exploiting the Externalities In a world of exploitation, I can do as I please with my property, the social and environmental consequences be damned. The economists have a convenient word for these damned consequences: externalities. It means that while a company gains from the tangible benefits of what it owns, everyone else pays for their intangible costs—for example the air polluted by its factories and the
From Exploiting our Resources to Exploring our Resourcefulness | 25
breakdown in the families of workers it “downsizes. (This fancy word ” for firing people in great numbers has become the bloodletting of our age: the cure for every corporate ill.) But don’t think it’s just them. It’s us too. Take garbage. Where I live it costs me nothDig beneath these ing: I can throw out as much as I like. Why two foundations should I even bother with recycling—that of economic takes effort.The fatal flaw in this thinking is theory—our right that there are no human activities without both to consume externalities, and these are accumulating whatever we at unsustainable rates. Garbage may be can afford and free for you and me, but it’s not free for to slough off the us. What each of us can afford our planet externalities— cannot. We have to think beyond our indiand have a look vidual needs because our micro behaviors at the behaviors are creating macro destruction. that are crawling Economists tell us that if we can afford underneath. it, we can do it: drive gas-guzzling cars, amass possessions beyond anything we can possibly use, eat gluttonously while our neighbors starve. Supply and demand will take care of the problem. (Go tell that to a starving neighbor.) What happens to life on earth when so many of us can afford such indulgences and many more are intent on joining the party? Will supply and demand kick in after it’s too late? Dig beneath these two foundations of economic theory—our right both to consume whatever we can afford and to slough off the externalities— and have a look at the behaviors that are crawling underneath. Competitive markets are wonderful—so long as, in the spirit of Adam Smith, they benefit many of us while serving some of us. What we are seeing instead are markets of entitlement, which benefit some of us at the expense of many of us: markets for subprime mortgages, markets for executive compensation, markets for housing that favor absentee
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owners over local residents, markets that are destroying the planet by what they alIn the name of low us to ignore as externalities. liberty we are Choose your story of market failure: the suffering from newspapers are full of them. Here is a parindividualism: ticularly callous one, under the title “Movevery person and ing Piles of Aluminum is a Bonanza for every institution Wall Street. In a full page of investigative ” striving to get the reporting, Kocieniewski (2013a) described most for him, her, the “dance...choreographed by Goldman or itself, over the Sachs to exploit pricing regulations set needs of society up by an overseas commodity exchange, ” and a threatened during which the company stored and planet. shuffled aluminum bars around uselessly. The report says that this has cost more than $5 billion over three years to American consumers. Imagine if such behavior was treated as robbery, not just legal corruption. John Maynard Keynes famously declared that “In the long run, we are all dead. By “we” he meant each of us, individually. There is no col” , lective we in mainstream economics, no acknowledgement of community. But it is the collective we that is now threatened—ecologically, politically, socially, and economically—and the long run is getting shorter. In the name of liberty we are suffering from individualism: every person and every institution striving to get the most for him, her, or itself, over the needs of society and a threatened planet.13 Enough of the clever words of Keynes, enough of self-interest fatefully misunderstood. We need to heed the wise words of Chief Seattle, the aboriginal elder who declared that “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. ” 13. “…individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life: but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness” (de Tocqueville, 1840: 98).
From Exploiting our Resources to Exploring our Resourcefulness | 27
A World that Explores Our Resourcefulness In “Little Gidding”T.S. Eliot wrote famously that: , We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Today we need to cease from exploitation, so that we can arrive where we started and know our place for the first time. Enough of all those “isms” that have empowered the few while disempowering the many. After royalism and feudalism came capitalism and communism, and later fascism. Now capitalism has become the end of history. Under Russian communism, the apparatchiks hijacked that country’s democracy of the “proletariat”; under American capitalism, the free enterprises are hijacking the democracy of free people. Both are labels for systems that promote undeserved privilege. To paraphrase an earlier Russia expression: “Communism is the exploitation of man by man. Capitalism is the opposite. ” We can get beyond these isms by exploring our resourcefulness— individually and collectively. We human beings are in no small measure explorers—by which I mean for creative ideas, not crude oil—and in the process appreciate ourselves and our world that much more profoundly. Exploring can also render us more productive, because while exploitation exhausts our resources, exploration energizes our resourcefulness. (See the accompanying box.)
The Fresh Air of Resourcefulness Mary Parker Follett presented a paper in 1925 about three ways to deal with conflict, only one of which she favored.
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The first she called domination: the victory of one side over the other. The problem is that the other “will simply wait for its chance to dominate. We have seen domination in various revo” lutions and see too much of it in our current imbalance. A second she called compromise: “each side gives up a little in order to have peace. But with neither side satisfied, she claimed, the ” conflict will keep coming back. Of this also we have been seeing too much. Follett favored a third way, which she called integration: moving the debate to another place, going back to basics to find common ground. Integration involves invention….and the clever thing is to recognize this and not to let one’s thinking stay within the boundaries of two alternatives which are mutually exclusive. In other words, never let yourself be bullied by an either-or situation…Find a third way. Follett used a simple example. She was in a small room in a library when someone wanted the window open, for fresh air. But she wanted it closed, to avoid the draft. So they opened a window in the next room. This was hardly a brilliant or creative solution, just a resourceful one. All it took was two open minds and some good will. We desperately need more such fresh air today.
In a robust economy, growth is judged by the qualities enhanced, not just measured by the quantities produced. Such an economy does not merely expand; it develops, qualitatively as well as quantitatively, socially as well as economically.
III. THREE PILLARS TO SUPPORT A BALANCED SOCIETY In James Clavell’s novel Shogun, the Japanese woman tells her British lover, confused by the strange world into which he has been shipwrecked, that “It’s all so simple, Anjin-san. Just change your concept of the world. To regain balance, we too just need to change our con” cept of the world. A good place to start is by reframing the political dichotomy that for two centuries has narrowed our thinking along one straight line.
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The Consequences of Left and Right Since the late 18th century, when the commoners sat to the left of the speakers in the French legislatures and the “ancien régime” to the right, we have been mired in this great debate between left and right, governments Left or right, and markets, nationalization and privatimany voters see zation, communism and capitalism, and everything as on and on. A pox on both these houses. black and white. We have had more than enough of sliding back and forth along the assumed line between two unacceptable extremes.14 Capitalism is not good because communism proved bad. Carried to their dogmatic limits, both are fatally flawed. “So long as the only choice is between a voracious market and a regulatory state, we will be stuck in a demoralizing downward spiral” (Bollier and Rowe, 2011: 3). Too many countries now swing between left and right, while others sit paralyzed in the political center.
Pendulum Politics and Paralyzed Politics It is surprising how many voters now line up obediently on one side or the other of the political spectrum: left or right, they see everything as black and white. It is even more surprising how many countries are split so evenly between such voters.15 That leaves a few in the center, who determine the outcomes. They want moderation, but by having to cast their votes one way or the other, too often they get domination: the elected party carries the country far beyond what its vote justifies, to serve its minority while ignoring the majority. Egyptians in 2012 got the biases of the Muslim Brother14. On 8 December 2011, Semyon Bocharov wrote to me: “Here is in Russia, where Marx was our past and Smith is our present, we all want to see suggestions for the future” (used with permission). 15. For example, “Between 1996 and 2004 [Americans] lived in a 50-50 nation in which the overall party vote totals barely budged five elections in a row” (Brooks, 2011e). Now it is seven in a row.
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hood, while Americans in 2000 got George W. Bush with a promise of “compassionate conservatism” that gave them a tragic war in Iraq. The swing voters eventually get fed up and switch, so the country ends up in pendulum politics: up goes the right and down goes the left, until up goes the left and down goes the right, as each side cancels out the accomplishments of the other. Countries with larger numbers of moderate voters get more moderate politics, with governments closer to the center. This may be a better, more tolerant place, with its penchant for compromise. But as Follett pointed out, that has its own problems. Coalitions of compromise, de facto or de jure, have to negotiate everything, left and right. At best the country gets micro solutions for its macro problems: at worst it ends up in political gridlock.16 Power to the Entitled Paralyzed politics or fruitless swinging does not paralyze society. Quite the contrary, both license powerful private institutions to do as they please. While the politicians dither, debating marginal changes in their tiresome legislatures at home and offering great pronouncements at their grand conferences abroad, those corporations so inclined bolster their entitlements, by busting unions, reinforcing cartels, manipulating governments to serve their needs,17 and escaping whatever taxes and regulations happen to remain. All the while, they are cheered on by economists who revel in such freedom of the marketplace, as the world continues its ceaseless march to imbalance.
Protesting what is while confusing what should be In recent years, protests have erupted in various parts of the world— for example in the Middle East over dictatorships and in Brazil over 16. “The center is not just paralyzed. It is also blinkered. It has no meaningful story, no new narrative that gel people together apart from stock phrases and hackneyed expressions. (Far” zad Khan, in personal correspondence). 17. “…the neoliberal reforms…are not designed to shrink the state…but to strengthen state institutions to serve even more than before the needs of the substantial people” (Chomsky, 2006: 218 citing Ocampo).
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corruption. For its part, the United States has experienced occupations on one side of the political spectrum and tea parties on the other. Both have been clear about what they oppose, but are confused about what to propose. For example, Included in the “Non-negotiable Core Beliefs” on the Tea Party website in 2013 were the following: “Gun ownership is sacred” and “Special interests must be eliminated. The gun ” lobby is apparently not a special interest.18 The protestors on the streets of the Middle East have not been confused. Beside jobs and dignity, they have been out for freedom, liberty, democracy, in the first instance the right to elect their leaders. Yet this is precisely what the occupiers of the streets of America have been rejecting: the freedom of free enterprises, the liberty of the 1%, the democracy of legal corruption. Those in Egypt got their democracy all right: open elections that put the Muslim Brotherhood into power. Welcome to 21st century democracy! So back they went into the streets, clearer on what they didn’t want than what they did. The army removed the Brotherhood, with consequences that have so far proved dire. I hope that well-meaning Egyptians will work this out, because many of us in Canada, and elsewhere, have the same concern: how to get governments that integrate legitimate wants, instead of favoring narrow ones. A number of the pundits in the West who were quick to understand the early protests in the Middle East pronounced themselves confused by the protests closer to home. “Got a gripe? Welcome to the cause” headlined the International Herald Tribune sarcastically (Lacey, 2011).19 Yes, the gripes have varied—unemployment, income disparities, bank18. “…the ideologues who dominate the political conversation are unable to think in holistic, emergent ways. They pick out the one factor that best conforms to their preformed prejudices and, like blind men grabbing a piece of the elephant, they persuade themselves they understand the whole thing” (Brooks, 2011d). 19. To its credit, The New York Times, owner of the International Herald Tribune, in an editorial on 8 October 2011 criticized such attitudes by “the chattering classes” claiming that “the , message—and the solutions—should be obvious to anyone paying attention. The Protestors ” “have been giving voice to a generation of lost opportunity. ”
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er bonuses, global warming. But what has been behind most of the protests— east and west, north and south, left and right—should be obvious to anyone who cares to get it. People have had it with social imbalance.20 To sum up, no thank you to a compromised center that reinforces imbalance any more than to the pendulum politics of left and right that goes nowhere. It’s all so simple: we just need to change our concept of the political world.
What has been behind most of the protests—east and west, north and south, left and right—should be obvious to anyone who cares to get it. People have had it with social imbalance.
Public, Private, and Plural Sectors Fold down the ends of that political straight line, to take it to a circle, as shown in the accompanying figure. This way we can see the left and the right, not as two sides of politics, but as two sectors, representing governments and markets, joined by a third, representing communities. Strength in all three is necessary in a balanced society. Imagine them as the sturdy legs—pillars if you wish—of a stool on which a bal20. In a column in The New York Times, Anand Giridharadas (2011) mused about whether Sarah Palin’s detractors would notice if she said “something intelligent and wise and fresh about the American condition. In a talk, she had made “three interlacing points”: ” First, that the United States is now governed by a “permanent political class” drawn from both parties, that is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people. Second that these Republicans and Democrats have allied with big business to mutual advantage to create what she called “corporate crony capitalism. Third, that the real political divide in the United States may ” no longer be between friends and foes of Big Government, but between friends and foes of vast, remote, unaccountable institutions (both public and private). Palin went on to condemn corporate lobbyists, special interests, and “the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest” and to distin, guish good from bad capitalists, meaning small ones that take risks from big ones that live off bailouts and dodge taxes, while not creating jobs. Was Palin on the left or the right in making these comments, so similar to ones made here? (See Freeland, 2013.)
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anced society has to be supported: a public sector of political forces rooted in respected governments; a private sector of economic forces based on responsible businesses, and a plural sector of social forces manifested in robust communities. PLURAL SECTOR
R a l) liti c C T O E
PR (e c o IVA nom ic TE SEC ) TOR
Expressed differently, a democratic society balances individual, collective, and communal needs. As individuals in our economies, we require responsible enterprises for some of our employment and most of our consumption. As citizens of our nations and the world, we require respected governments, especially for many of our protections. And as members of our groups, we require robust communities for many of our social affiliations. So even if we work in only one sector, every one of us functions in all the sectors.
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Communism and capitalism have each tried to balance society on one leg. It doesn’t work. Nor can it be balanced on two legs, as the compromised politics of centrist politics has often tried to do. I believe that the key to renewal is the third leg, the plural sector. By taking its place alongside the other two, this sector can not only help to maintain balance in society, but also drive the restoration of balance in the first place. The plural sector is hardly absent in society. In fact it is pervasive: many of its institutions are prominent, and renowned, for example in education and health care. Co-operatives are also prime institutions of the plural sector: the United States alone is home to about 30,000 of them, with 350 million memberships, more than one for every man, woman, and child in the country. Yet the sector itself has been surprisingly overshadowed by the machinations of left and right.21 Consider “privatization, which has generally been seen as taking ” place from the public sector to the private sector, even though the plural sector offers a better fit for many of the services that have been in government. Likewise, the much talked about PPPs refer to partnerships between public and private institutions. Why not with ones in the plural sector? In health care, the great debate has been about the provision of services in markets, for the sake of choice, versus those by governments, for the sake of equality. Where is recognition of the plural sector, whose strength is in the delivery of quality?22 In fact, think of 21. In the United States “We still have one party that talks the language of government and one that talks the language of the market. We have no party that is comfortable with civil society, no party that understands the ways government and the market can both crush and nurture community, no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together” (Brooks, 2013a). 22. Some years ago, an article in Vanity Fair (Hitchens, 1998) quoted a right wing activist who had been a vociferous opponent of Hillary Clinton’s public sector initiative in health care: “I was the pit bull for the attack out here…. But I never imagined that the government would implode and leave the field to the insurance industry and the corporations that got in on the first floor. The author added: “…nobody voted for [this market-medicine HMO system]; nobody ” was consulted about it; nobody elected it. Yet it…is accountable only to itself and to unforeseeable fluctuations in the stock market. No mention was made of the plural sector. ”
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the hospitals you admire most. Are they public? Or private?
Welcome to the Plural Sector “If men are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve” (de Tocqueville, 1840/1990:10). So let’s take a good look at what distinguishes the sector that best encourages this. Why “Plural”? First, labeling. There are a number of reasons why this sector gets marginalized, one discussed already (the obsession with left and right), two to be discussed soon. Another reason, which may seem insignificant but is not so, is the variety of unfortunate labels by which this sector has identified itself. These include (a) the “third sector, as if ” it is third rate, an afterthought; (b) the home of “not-for-profit” organizations, as if governments are for-profit, and of “non-governmental organizations” (NGOs), as if businesses are governmental; (c) the “voluntary sector, as if this is a place of casual employment; and (d) “civil society, ” ” the oldest, yet perhaps most confusing label, hardly descriptive in and of itself (in contrast to uncivil society?)23 At a meeting I attended recently of scholars dedicated to this sector, I heard mention of most of these labels in the course of one hour. If the experts can’t get their vocabulary straight, how are the rest of us to take this sector seriously? I propose the term plural because of the variety of associations in this sector, also the plurality of their membership and ownership.24 Not incidental is that the word starts with a “p”: when I have introduced it 23. See Swift (1999) on the ups and downs of “civil society. Another, related problem is the ” lack of any widely recognized author and book associated with this sector. The private sector has Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations—or at least that one paragraph mentioned earlier—reinforced by the writings of Hayek and Friedman. And the public sector, at its extreme, has had Karl Marx and his Das Kapital. My nomination for the plural sector is Karl Polanyi and his book The Great Transformation (1944), although sections of de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835/40-1990) could well take their place alongside Smith and Marx. 24. “… the landscape of the third sector is untidy but wonderfully exuberant” (de Oliveria and Tandon, quoted in Edwards, 2004:32). “It promotes pluralism by enabling multiple interests to be represented, different functions to be performed, and a range of capacities to be developed” (p. 32).
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in discussion groups, “plural” has taken a natural place in the conversations alongside “public” and “private”25 . Plural Sector Associations It is most evidently in their ownership that plural sector associations26 differ from private sector businesses. Some are owned by their members, in equal shares, as in worker co-operatives. And others are owned by no-one: they are constituted as “trusts. This includes many of the most prestigious hospitals and ” universities in the United States as well as service organizations such as the Red Cross and activist organizations such as Greenpeace (see Mintzberg et al., 2001). Both forms can function in what is called the social economy, which means that they sell products and services, as does the Red Cross with its swimming lessons (Neamtan, 2005). Then there are all the activities of this sector that are less formally organized: a book club among friends, a community that self-organizes to deal with a disaster, a protest group that challenges some environmental spill, a service unit that organizes to feed the poor in their community. Some of these are social movements and others create social initiatives. A movement, usually larger, raises consciousness about some issue, as did the Egyptians who gathered in Tahrir Square to confront the power of their president. An initiative usually starts in a smaller group, often within a community, to initiate some social change, as did the Grameen Bank when it established micro financing to help poor village women in Bangladesh. A movement, if you like, happens in the streets while an initiative functions on the ground. Common Property in the Plural Sector Besides ownership, really beyond it, is a particular form of property. For centuries, property has been seen as absolute, based on some 25. We could also call this the “social sector, but in comparison with the other sectors la” beled political and economic. 26. As noted earlier, this was de Tocqueville’s preferred word: People with “a common interest in some concern… meet, they combine, and thus, by degrees, they become familiar with the principle of association” (1840/1990: 115).
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sort of natural law, even God-given— whether obtained by hard work, purCommunism chase, or inheritance. Today the business taught us that corporation is seen as the property of a society with shareholders, even if they are day tradhardly any ers, while employees who devote their private property working lives to it have no legal stake in cannot function it. Marjorie Kelly (2001) has likened this to effectively. ownership in feudal times.27 Capitalism is In fact, “property rights” have always teaching us that a been established by human actions, society with hardly whether according to the law of the junanything but gle or the laws of the state, the latter usuprivate property ally written by people with considerable may not be much property of their own.28 better. Communism taught us that a society with hardly any private property cannot function effectively. Capitalism is teaching us that a society with hardly anything but private property may not be much better. Now we hear a great deal about “intellectual property”: if you have an idea, patent it if you can in order to “monetize” it, even if your claim is dubious. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, have sometimes succeeded in patenting herbal medicines that long served people in traditional cultures. 27. “…stockholders gain omnipotent powers: they can take massive corporations, break them apart, load them with debt, sell them, shut them down, and drive out human beings— while employees and communities remain powerless to stop them. Power of this sort…comes down to us from that time when the landed class was the privileged class, by virtue of its wealth in property. To own land, was to be master…[the] lords could own serfs, like so much livestock” (Kelly, 2001:41). 28. “Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent [of wealth] in America when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office” (Stiglitz, 2011). Could that be why so many of them vigorously oppose tax increases for wealthy Americans?
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Benjamin Franklin had another idea: he refused to patent what become his famous stove (which remains in wide use today), with the comment that “We should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any innovation of ours…” Jonas Salk concurred, with more significant consequences: “Who owns my polio vaccine? The people. Can you patent the sun?”29 Think of all the children around the world today who are healthy thanks to not having to bear the burden of that pharmaceutical market. Franklin and Salk chose to be what today we call social entrepreneurs. Were they foolish to forego all that money? Maybe the real fools are the ones who constantly have to accumulate in order to keep score. Think of Franklin and Salk’s sense of self-worth, beyond the material worth they might have accumulated. “The determination to do something because it is the right thing to do, not because we are told to do it by governments or enticed to do it by the market, is what makes associational life a force for good, [and] provides fuel for change…” (Edwards, 2004: 111). If this stove and vaccine were not registered as private property, and were not public property—owned by the state—what were they? The answer is common property, which used to be quite common, although it has since disappeared from public perception.30 The Boston Common, for example, now a prominent park, was once the place where the landless of that city could graze their cows. A sign at its en29. Maybe not. But one company has managed to patent a couple of our human genes, with the consequence that it has been able to charge more than $3000 for a breast cancer test (Pollack, 2011). 30. Biologist Garritt Hardin published an article in 1968 entitled “The Tragedy of the Commons” which became a kind of tragedy in its own right when economists took it up to dismiss , the viability of this form of property. “Eventually [however] Hardin himself had to modify his stance. He acknowledged that the problem is not common ownership per se but rather open access—that is, commons in which there are no social structures or formal rules to govern access and use” (Rowe, 2008: 142). Of course, the real tragedies were the exploitative seizures of common property: “Enclosures have appropriately been called a revolution of the rich against the poor. The lords and nobles were upsetting the social order, breaking down ancient law and custom, sometimes by means of violence, often by pressure and intimidation. They were literally robbing the poor of their share in the common…”(Polanyi, 1944:35).
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trance makes no mention of that origin. Common property is associated with the plural sector, in that it is communal: shared but not owned, held by people “jointly and together rather than separately and apart” (Rowe, 2008:2; see also Ostrom, 1990 and 1999). It still exists, for example in the air we breathe—try to own that—also in the water farmers share for irrigation in many parts of the world. Now in fact we are seeing a resurgence of common property in a variety of interesting ways. Most evident are open source systems, such as Wikipedia, which is a non-owned organization whose users determine and share the contents. Today [the common property] model is reappearing in many precincts of the economy at large—from the revival of traditional main streets, public spaces, and community gardens to the resistance to the corporate enclosure of university research and the genetic substrate of material life. (Rowe: 2008: 139) So the commons is coming back. Believe in it—replace the lens of economics with that of anthropology—and you will see it all over the place.31 “Communityship” in the Plural Sector If the private sector is about individual ownership and the public sector is about collective citizenship, then the plural sector is about joint communityship, whereby people pull together to get things done. Between our individualized and collective natures, we are social beings who crave relationships: we need to affili31. In Governing the Commons, Elinor Ostrom (1990) observed that “neither the state nor the market is uniformly successful in enabling individuals to sustain long-term, productive use of natural resource systems…. Both centralization advocates and privatization advocates accept as a central tenet that institutional change must come from outside and be imposed on the individuals affected. Both frequently advocate oversimplified idealized institutions” (pp. 1, 14, 22). Ostrom specified in considerable detail the conditions under which common and other forms of property work most effectively. She also noted that “a competitive market—the epitome of private institutions—is itself a public good” (p. 15).
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ate, belong, identify. Here is where the associations of the plural sector are of particular relevance, especially those with compelling missions, such as treating the ill or protecting the environment. ”At its best, civil society is the story of ordinary people living extraordinary lives through their relationships with each other…” (Edwards, 2004: 112). Community is central here in two aspects. First, many plural sector institutions—non-owned local hospitals, for The more we example—are embedded in specific geoobsess about graphic communities. And second, peoleadership, the ple working inside these institutions can less of it we get. feel a sense of community. Free of presAs one hero sures to maximize “value” for shareholdgoes down the ers they never met, or as civil servants black hole of to submit to the controls so prevalent in leadership, a government departments, they are able desperate search to function more like members with a begins for the purpose than employees in a job. Instead next one. of empowerment—some kind of gift from managers on high—can come their natural engagement, in producing goods and services of high quality. That is why so many of the renowned hospitals and universities of America function in the plural sector. Think of their professional staff, also the enthusiastic volunteers in Red Cross chapters and social movements. Think moreover of the people who would like to work in this sector if only they could get jobs there. The belief that employment in the private sector is somehow better for an economy is another of the myths that we have to get past if we are to make full use of human resourcefulness. Of course, not all plural sector organizations take full advantage of this potential. Many have lost their way, forced by their boards or CEOs to adopt unsuitable business practices, or else driven by funders (foundations, governments) to apply excessively centralized controls. In fact,
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indicative of this problem is the very use of the term “CEO” alongside , “business plan” “customers, and the rest of the business vocabulary.32 , ” These days the fashionable practices of big business are considered to be the “one best way” to manage everything: The most effective grow relentlessly, measure obsessively, organizations plan strategically, often lead narcissistigenerally function cally too. Much of this has become dysas communities functional for business itself, let alone for of human beings, plural as well as public sector organizanot collections of tions that ape it. There is no one best way human resources. to manage anything: each organization has to be true to its own needs.33 And Leadership? Leadership is all the rage these days. Have a look at the thousands of books about it on Amazon, and then look for the few on followership. Yet the more we obsess about leadership, the less of it we get. As one hero goes down the black hole of leadership, a desperate search begins for the next one. Can the very concept of leadership be flawed? Yes, in at least two ways. First is the overemphasis on the individual. Mention the word leadership and up comes the image of a single person, no matter how determined he or she may be to involve others. In this world, we need more attention to shared communityship, served by the leadership. Or, if you like, think about communityship as collective leadership. The most effective organizations generally function as 32. “U.S. Civil Society has moved from “membership to management” over the last forty years… This is partly because the liberal establishment tends to be divorced from grass roots activism… There has been a worldwide professionalization of the non-profit sector and a gradual distancing of associations from their social base…” (Edwards, 2004: 35). 33. Now some of the big financial institutions are jumping on a bandwagon of stocks and bonds for nonprofits. Goldman Sachs, for example, has a social impact fund, designed to “make the nonprofit world more efficient at fundraising… [If] donors thought about their charity as an investment, literally, it would transform the nonprofit sector. (Sorkin, 2013). No ques” tion of that!
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communities of human beings, not collections of human resources. Second is the fashionable but detrimental distinction between leaders and managers. One is grand, “does the right things”; the other is ordinary, “does things right” (Bennis, 1989; see also Zaleznik, 1977). Try doing the right things without doing them right. Indeed, try leading an organization without managing it, as has become so common: you won’t know what’s going on. So enough of the hubris of so-called leaders who are anointed in the business schools and go on to impress “superiors” while failing to connect with “subordinates” Management is a practice, learned on . the job and rooted in the institution. Leadership, intertwined with management, is earned on the job, not appointed by the sprinkling of holy water from on high.
The Fall (and Rise?) of the Plural Sector Two centuries ago, de Tocqueville characterized the United States as replete with community associations.34 Their preference for limiting government encouraged Americans to organize for themselves, into associations no less than businesses. More recently, Robert Putnam (1995, 2000) has written metaphorically about “bowling alone” in America. Why has there been a steady “erosion of the community institutions that we all depend on, such as schools, libraries, and parks ” (Collins, 2012: 8)? The rising influence of the private sector has certainly been a factor, for example in the demutualization of insurance companies, namely their conversion from customer-owned co-operatives into shareholder-owned companies. But perhaps of far greater influence have been forces of both a political and technological nature. 34. “The political associations that exist in the United States are only a single feature in the midst of the immense assemblage of associations in that country. Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations…. Whenever at the head of some undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association” (de Tocqueville, 1840/1990:106).
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Besieged from Left and Right It is evident that in those countries where they have dominated, communism debilitated the private sector and capitalism has been co-opting the public sector. Less evident is that both have relentlessly undermined the plural sector. To achieve balance in society, we need to understand why this has been so. Communist governments have never been great fans of community associations—we still see this in China—for good Community reason: these associations are a threat to figures hardly at
all in a prevailing dogma that favors economic scale, no matter what are the social consequences.
their omnipotence. The first real crack in Soviet communism arguably came because of two plural sector organizations in Poland: the Solidarity Union, which found its opening thanks to the survival of the Catholic Church in that country. “… a despot easily forgives his subjects for not loving him, provided they do not love one another” (de Tocqueville, 1840: 102). In robust communities, people respect each other even if they do not necessarily love one another. But elected governments have often been hard on community associations as well. Sometimes for nothing more than the convenience of their administrators, governments have forced mergers of community hospitals into regional ones and amalgamations of small towns into bigger cities. Community figures hardly at all in a prevailing dogma that favors economic scale, no matter what are the social consequences. We see much the same pressures, for similar reasons, emanating from large private corporations, especially in the global arena. Consider the treatment of unions by companies such as Walmart, and how global corporations have pitted local communities against each other in deciding where to put their operations.35 Likewise, fast food chains 35. “Western development enterprise has been about separating people from their tradi-
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are hardly promoters of local cuisines, and global clothing retailers of local dress. There is a homogenizing effect in globalization that is antithetical to the distinctiveness of communities. Undermined by New Technologies Perhaps even more detrimental to the plural sector has been a succession of new technologies, from the automobile and the telephone to the computer and the internet. All have reinforced personal individualism at the exMany people are pense of social engagement. so busy texting Consider the automobile: wrap its and tweeting that sheets of metal around many of us, put they barely have this on a highway, and out comes road time for meeting rage. Compare this with walking in a comand reading. munity: have you ever experienced sidewalk rage? Indeed, have you ever been tailgated by someone walking behind you on a sidewalk—unless, of course, he or she was texting on a cell phone? Telephones help us to keep us “in touch”—at least with an ear, the only thing literally touched. They connect us with people far away, but can distance us from people close by. It’s easier to call than to drop in. I lived in France at a time when telephones were difficult to get. People just came over and knocked on the door. That certainly helped to cement our friendships. As for the newer electronic devices, they take us further away. They put our fingers in touch, with a keyboard, while the rest of us sit there, often for hours, typing alone. No time even for bowling. The new social media—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter—certainly connect us to the people on the other end of the line, some of whom we have never even met. But don’t confuse networks with communities. tional means of livelihood and breaking down the bonds of security provided by family and community to create dependence on the jobs and products that modern corporations produce” (Korten, 1995:251).
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(If you do, try to get your Facebook “friends” to help you repaint your house, let alone rebuild your barn.)36 These new technologies are extending our social networks in amazing ways, but often at the expense of our personal relationships. Many people are so busy texting and tweeting that they barely have time for meeting and reading.37 In his New York Times column, Thomas Friedman (2012) reported asking an Egyptian friend about the protest movements in that country: “Facebook really helped people to communicate, but not to collaborate, he replied, Friedman added that “at their worst, [these so” cial media] can become addictive substitutes for real action. That is ” why, while larger social movements may raise consciousness about the need for renewal, it is smaller social initiatives, developed in community groups, that do much of the renewing. Indeed this may be why movements such as Occupy Wall Street have fizzled: they were not rooted in significant community relationships. These new technologies have mostly been propagated by global corporations, albeit with the intention of strengthening themselves rather than weakening communities. But both have been the inevitable consequences: the private sector has been expanding globally while the plural sector has been withering locally. Of course, there is another side to these new media: by facilitating the connections among people, they can help those with common cause to find each other, even in the same urban area. Moreover 36. In fact, the word “community” has become fashionable to describe what are really networks, as in the “business community” or the “medical community”—”people with common interests [but] not common values, history, or memory. ” Go back a century or two…and you see rather different usage of “community. The word then seemed to connote a specific group of people, from a ” particular patch of earth, who knew and judged and kept an eye on one another, who shared habits and history and memories, and could at times be persuaded to act as a whole on behalf of a part. (Giridharadas, 2013). 37. See Marche’s (2012) article in The Atlantic “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” He claimed that, thanks largely to ourselves, “we suffer from unprecedented alienation…. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. The ” demise of local newspapers, partly as a consequence of the rise of these social media, has been another factor. We may read them alone, but much of the content is about community.
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these media make it possible for community groups to connect with each other globally, and so carry their initiatives into worldwide movements. Will this make up for the debilitating effects the new technologies have had on traditional forms of associating? Maybe so, since we are social animals who will find our affiliations one way or another. I certainly hope so. Thus, once again, please welcome the plural sector. But be careful.
Beyond Crude, Crass, and Closed The benefits of the plural sector should now be evident, I hope as evident as those of the private and public sectors. But this sector is no more a holy grail than are the other two. We have had more than enough dogma from communism and capitalism, thank you. The plural sector is not a “third way” between the other two sectors, but, to repeat what needs repeating, one of three ways required to rebalance society. Each sector suffers from a potentially fatal flaw. Governments can be crude. Markets can be crass. And communities can be closed, at the limit xenophobic. A simple example of crude: a 60 year old man recently had to show proof of his age to buy liquor at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. After all, governments have to ensure that all citizens are treated equally, no? Worse, at security, he had to remove his shoes and his belt, empty his pockets, pack his liquids. Every time a terrorist gets a new idea, governments force millions of people to endure new humiliations. A simple example of crass: in 2012 Air Canada advertised a seat sale: Montreal to London, return, for $274. What a bargain—leaving aside the “taxes, fees, charges, and surcharges, which raised the ” total to $916. (A CNN.com report [Macguire, 2012] referred to this as “common industry practice. That’s the very point.) A simple example ” of closed can be had by attending the sermon of one of those priests, pastors, imams, or rabbis who exhort people to belong to the club without ever explaining why.
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These examples may be mundane. Far more serious excesses occur when one sector dominates a society. Under Eastern European communism, the crudeness of the public sectors was overwhelming. And with the dominance now of private sectors under a predatory form of capitalism, many of us are living in societies that are increasingly crass. “Caveat emptor”—let the buyer beware—even if that is a child watching advertisements on television. “Charge what the market will bear, even if sick people have to die for want of available medicines. ” As for the plural sector, populism seems to be its most evident political manifestation, with roots in mass movements outside the established institutions of government and business. When a populist government takes power, and exercises it in an inclusive way, to engage different segments of the population, it can offer hope for renewed democracy (see Alderman, 2014). But not when that power is exercised dogmatically--closed to all but its own constituency. And when such use of power becomes oppressive, populism can turn into fascism, as it did in Nazi Germany, and those 17th Century New England towns that went on witch hunts. Populism on the Rise Recent years have seen the election of a number of populist governments: in Venezuela, Thailand (earlier headed by one of the country’s richest men, now by his sister), Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood), and Ukraine (representing the Russian-oriented east, its leader having been supported by business oligarchs there). Each of these governments has been fiercely resisted by other segments of the population, including many established citizens. Think about this: four governments, on four continents, all with similar patterns of election and resistance. This amounts to a new kind of political swing, toward a more dangerous form of paralysis. Here the outs take power while the ins take to the streets, with resulting violence. Those in the streets see the new leaders as using their power for partisan advantage, whether corruptly, for themselves, or despotically, for their supporters. But to these sup-
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porters, the protesters may look more like elites determined to take, or retake, power, usually to bring in a Western economic liberalism that they consider undemocratic. A similar populism is on the rise in many wealthy countries as well, for example in France with its Front National and the United States with its Tea Party movement (apparently backed by a pair of billionaire brothers [Monbiot 2010]). How all this will end up is hardly clear. But one thing does seem evident: “Democracy” is breaking down while conflict is heating up. People are lashing out, but at what? What if your tormentor turns out to be your own leadership? What if your opponent shares your angst? Can you solve a problem without having a solution? Or with a solution that is the problem? Everyone seems to be on the move but no one seems to know where this is headed—except, perhaps, that entitled 1%. The Sectors in their Place Crudeness, crassness, and closed-ness are countered when each sector takes its appropriate place in society, cooperating with the other two while helping to keep them and their institutions in check. I am delighted to get many of my goods and services from the private sector and much of my protection and infrastructure (policing, regulations, roads) from the public sector. And I generally look to the plural sector for the best of my professional services (higher education, hospital care), even when they are funded by the public sector and supplied by the private sector. We just have to be careful not to mix these sectors up, by allowing the dogma of the day to carry activities away from the sector where they function most appropriately. I no more want a private company to patrol my streets than I want a government department to grow my cucumbers.
Is Balance Even Possible? Are we hardwired to favor privilege, where power always has to concentrate in a few hands—some inevitable 1%? In a sense, yes. History
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bears witness to a steady parade of kings and subjects, nobles and vassals, lords and peasants, owners and slaves, commissars and the proletariat, shareholders and workers. On and on it has gone, unstoppable for millennia, to this day. “Stockholders claim wealth they do little to create, much as nobles claimed privilege they did not earn” (Kelly, 2001: 29).38 Perfect balance is unattainable: some people will always end up on top. Initially that can be for good reason: they have earned it, by protecting other people from threats, exploring new ways to do things, or creating better employment. Their status was deserved; in a fundamental sense, it was legitimate. The problem is that status earned has too often become status abused: those who remained in power too long, or inherited it for no better reason than birth, have engaged in reckless wars, bullied their own people, or built themselves extravagant monuments. But there was no way to throw the scoundrels out, short of assassination, coup d’état, or civil war. Then along came democracy circa 1776. Finally a way, not only to throw them out, but also to constrain their shenanigans. All men created equal had a say in who led them. This hardly ended privilege—it begins with how we are nourished in the womb, and continues through the rest of life. But with the sovereigns and the titles gone, at least all those men had a shot at getting to the top themselves. This became the great American dream, known as social mobility. Of course, things were never quite like that in America. But they were close enough to sustain the myth. And that produced the most remarkable period of growth in human history, socially and politically as well as economically: two hundred years worth, with the four decades after World War II being the crowning glory. Fast forward to today and have a look at social mobility in America. The reports are shocking. One from the OECD in 2010 put the Nordic 38. See her book The Divine Right of Capital for figures about investing that back this up.
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countries plus Australia, Canada, Germany, and Spain well ahead of the United States. For example, a son’s advantage in having a higherearning father was 47% in the U.S., 19% in Canada. In the U.S., “Your parents’ income correlates more closely with your chance of finishing college than your SAT scores do—class matters more than how you do in class” (Freeland, 2012). So the expectations raised sky high by the American dream now go increasingly unmet, although the myth of social mobility carries on. That is because it is not a myth for the success stories that continue to exist and are widely trumpeted. It’s just that the odds have changed, and the losers—so many now outside the dream—are the prime casualties of the escalating exploitation. Yet they have remained passive, hardly protesting, let alone becoming revolutionaries. Most of the world has rid itself of insane emperors, bloodthirsty conquerors, and voracious colonizers. But not greedy acquirers—quite the contrary. America, like other countries, has its scoundrels, most now outside of government, where there is no legitimate way to get rid of them. Of course, competitive markets are supposed to do that: those who don’t serve get replaced in a proper marketplace by those who do. The trouble is that we are becoming overwhelmed by improper ones—markets of entitlement—where exploitation is depended upon to reinforce privileged positions. Even elected officials, who should be chasing some of these scoundrels out, or putting them in jail, instead cater to them, out of fear of losing their political donations. Almost two hundred years ago (1835/1990:6) de Tocqueville asked: “Can it be believed that the democracy which has overthrown the feudal system and vanquished kings will retreat before tradesmen and capitalists?” Now he has his answer: Yes. Balance is possible. That pamphlet began with the claim that a few short years ago we had it in some countries. We have since lost it in many of these, but not all. In fact, the American Constitution offers us a way to think about re-
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gaining it. Its famous checks and balances were designed to apply within governWhy not complete ment; it’s time to apply them beyond govthe American ernment. Why not complete the AmeriRevolution by can Revolution by establishing renewed establishing checks for balance: checks on private secchecks on private tor activities, nationally and globally, for sector activities the sake of balance across the sectors. for the sake of Balance does not mean some perbalance across fectly stable equilibrium. That would just the sectors. constitute a new dogma, incapable of renewing itself as society evolves. Healthy development—social, political, and economic—allows power to shift among the sectors according to need, in a dynamic equilibrium that encourages responsiveness without domination.
IV. RADICAL RENEWAL When the load in a washing machine is unbalanced, at high speeds it oscillates out of control. We are living in a high speed, unbalanced world that is oscillating out of control. The cover diagram of this e-pamphlet may look round, but in too many places it is lopsided at the lower right, in favor of private sectors in general and the entitlements of many large corporations in particular. This has to change, ultimately for the sake of balance, but immediately for the sake of survival.
Lofty Ideals and Lowly Deals I inform myself about the issues discussed in this pamphlet in two quite different ways, leaving aside what comes from my personal experiences. One is through the books and general articles that I read as well as the conferences that I attend. Here I get exposed to ambitious proposals—ideas and ideals—some quite sensible, few immediately operational. The other is through the specific stories that I read in
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the newspapers, hear on the media, and get told by people I meet about their perLofty ideals in sonal experiences. Too often these days, the air and lowly such stories are disconcerting, about deals on the egregious behaviors and manipulative ground: these are dealings. two sides of our Lofty ideals in the air and lowly deals world, and they on the ground: these are two sides of our rarely meet. world, and they rarely meet (sometimes even in the same organization, that professes great intentions in the boardroom while engaging in manipulative practices elsewhere). This divide reminds me of a couple of lines from one of Tom Lehrer’s satirical songs, about the war against Franco: “Though he may have won all the battles, We had all the good songs!” We need good songs. They raise consciousness about problems, which is where renewal has to begin.39 But battles have to be won too. So the question facing concerned people today is: how to bring the ideals to bear on the deals? For many people, the answer is to rely on democratically elected governments or socially responsible businesses. I used to believe that too, about governments at least. I continue to believe that governments and businesses have to be part of the solution. It’s just that, right now, too many of them are part of the problem. By their actions as well as their inactions, too many of our established institutions have made it abundantly clear that they will not lead us out of the mess that we have created for ourselves. Something fundamental has to change before these institutions can play the roles required of them.
39. As John Adams put it in 1818, “The Revolution…was effected before the War commenced…in the minds and hearts of the people… This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution. ”