The future of our world lies in the hands of its citizenry. Many of us see a cancer in the heart of the global capitalist system: yet finding someone to blame may distract us from finiding an end to the problem. The cancer is not hard to find, or describe: I propose to do so in the broadest of terms, then examine what we, the concerned citizenry, may do about it. In the end, it is of no use to me to know what McDonald's could do to heal the cancer, nor how hideous the ills it has caused: what matters to me is the effect of the choices I can make. These do include the option of explaining to the great corporate monster's intelligent agents as much as I can of what they might do to end the nightmare: but there are certain regularities to the behaviour towards which the corporate monster is naturally prone, breaking which has to depend on reforming the pressure on them. Our only hope is that, ultimately, this complex system is ammenable to control by the generality of a population.
The cancer in the heart of traditional capitalism is greed.
The crucial failing in the structure of corporate ownership, and the related nature of all `investment' funds, including pensions, is simply that it amplifies greed. The one thing on which share-holders and pension investors all agree is that, all other things being done as decently as possible, they'd rather have more money than less. In the presence of inflation (from whatever cause) this typically calls for `at least the rate of inflation' wherever possible. Where the rate of inflation is what you get, many (reasonably enough) deem it `a fair rate of return'.
Now, of course, many investors (among whom I'll include anyone with money in a pension scheme - e.g. myself) will accept a lower `yield' on their investment if certain other goals are achieved. I derive some hope from the emergence of investment funds and pension schemes with a deliberate `environmental' or similarly virtuous bent: I think they are probably part of the remedy. I suspect they are just one step on a road which must leave this first step far behind if we are to build a just and decent world.
The structural failing at the heart of conventional capitalism is simply its habit of listening to what every one agrees on and ignoring all else. What a virtuous investment scheme can hope to achieve is a statement of intent in how to invest which satisfies a broad body of investors that it will at least put their monetary asset to `good' use and return one of roughly equal value when they are done with it. What the investors deem `good' will vary: it may even contain the familiar preference for a bigger `return', if only as the final arbiter between actions, plans or strategies which are otherwise equally `good'. The art of keeping the business virtuous then lies in being honest about where that final arbiter has been used, responsive to (and honest about) criticism of such decisions and inquisitive in pursuit of other preferences common to at least reasonable bodies of investors.
The cancer may be cured: by virtue.
In so far as the cancer is greed, the cure must include generosity. We must deal decently with those with whom we share our world: only thus can we find the sign-posts to a more decent one. The cancer in conventional capitalism is, indeed, wedded to a subtle cancer in the heart of `modern western' culture. This is the failure of decency that fails to take a lively interest in the effects of our actions. When we delegate our moral authority, en masse, it is watered down: and the middle ground is, in some moral matters, abhorrent to more souls than abhor any particular extreme. Yet, in fact, the `western democracies' are firmly rooted in moral delegation, both via the process of corporate ownership and via the process of popular election.
There is a basic liberal ideal of leaving each soul, as far as possible, to make moral decisions independently. The process of justice defines the `as far as possible' in terms of a (preferrably small) body of (preferrably simple and plainly expressed) rules by which the populace call upon one another to abide. Considerations of practicality and ideals at odds with this one (often morally motivated) tend to call for larger bodies of sometimes rather complex rules: yet the goal of keeping the law small, simple and plain seems as widespread as is the low-level greed I describe above. After all, if we want everyone to abide by the rules, we want to be sure that plenty enough folk understand them that they will keep the others aware of what the rules demand.
Whatever body of law a body of folk live under, the ideal of democracy asks that the folk living under those laws constitute the final arbiter of what those laws should demand. We seldom seem to achieve the goal of `small, simple and plain', despite widespread agreement on that objective. If a similarly widespread consensus (more money, in the absence of any other consensus, if you please) can get to be the ruling force of the corporate world, it may be worth looking for ways to express our agreement on the character of legislation.
Just as a whole jumble of motives sharing a little grain of greed, as a common theme, manage to produce a corporate morality riddled with greed, the jumble of motives among a large population can seldom come clear on any but a few core general guidelines. In so far as you can persuade us it's only the crooks that suffer by it, naturally devote more effort to law and order; if you can reduce taxes, all other things considered, folk are with you; and so on. Thus governments, like large corporations, will not change their ways except in so far as folk speak as one.
Yet the larger grows the body of folk constrained by the laws, the harder it is to find consensus. The conventional remedy is to chose legislators whose moral judgement we trust and allow them, in conjunction with a body of their peers, to pick laws for us. Yet once the body of folk represented by each legislator is counted in its thousands, the candidates can only hope to be known directly by a small proportion - to the rest at best by repute. In such a situation, it is hard to form a clear judgement of each candidate, so do not be surprised if many (indeed, many of the best) are elected substantially for committing themselves to policies their electors espouse. A moral candidate may well claim no ability to persuade strangers of that moral fibre: and, in any case, between two reasonably moral candidates, shall we not prefer in accord with their policies ?
We are dealing with a world in which, already, jurisdictions contain far more diversity of opinion than is well-represented by their legislatures. The larger we get, the harder it must, inevitably, become to find consensus. We are consistently forced back on `majority', with some party which enjoyed more support than its nearest opponent (in some defined contest) a few years ago having authority to make decisions with the full delegated authority of those they rule, even in the face of vehement opposition from broadly-based sectors of the electorate.
Under democracy, the legislature is meant to reflect the will of the folk living under its jurisdiction. Yet that will becomes more and more nebulous the more folk there are. Consequently, if we seek global uniformity in legislation, scarecely any law can be fairly deemed `agreed' among all those it is to govern. Yet without a reasonable body of rules agreed among a population, it is very hard for an economy to thrive: one has too little security to see complex plans through to completion. The remedy is for a body of folk who can agree on some body of rules to abide by those rules. If this involves imposing some related rules on other folk, it is wise to minimise the implied restraint of other folk's liberty.
This is apt to produce non-uniformity of legislation: however, in so far as some rules are agreed by realy quite large bodies of folk, various jurisdictions within such a large group will share some rules in common. The laws of any jurisdiction may be expected to evolve - in a democracy, they will do so in so far as the will of the electors varies. If the electors of some jurisdictions can all agree on some common rules, particularly those bearing on interactions across boundaries of jurisdiction, it can make their collective economy much more vibrant. However, such a process of uniformity should not be continued beyond a scope over which it can fairly be called a consensus: and it should always aim for a few simple laws, structured so as to accommodate local variation where desired and expressed in plain terms.
The closing words of The Right to Keep and Bear Arms Under the Tennessee Constitution: a case study in civic republican thought, by Glenn Harlan Reynolds (Associate Professor of Law, University of Tennessee):
We have spent the last hundred years or so expecting steadily less from citizens in terms of public involvement and civic responsibilities. Not surprisingly, most citizens have managed to live down to these expectations. Instead of trying to find new ways to protect people, and society, from irresponsibility through regulation, perhaps it is time to start expecting more from people: more involvement, more responsibility, more simple goodness. We might find that people will manage to live up to these expectations, as they have lived down to the current ones. The framers of our constitutions, at both the state and federal levels, certainly thought so, and the state of our society today suggests that they may have known something that we have forgotten. Perhaps it is time to remember.Written by Eddy.