Home » Library » Ethics and Economics  » Assorted Abstracts for a Future Conference

Assorted Abstracts for a Future Conference

Economics and Spirituality: Ethics, Trust and Loyalty in the Marketplace

1. The relevance of the spiritual factor for a new approach to economics


One of the main characteristics of modern society is the unbalance between the spiritual and material elements in life. This has led to a fundamental disorientation in a dark world in which humanity is confronted with some acute threats to survival. This is also manifest in the key sector of modern society: economics. A misguided attitude towards man, material goods and nature has lead to an economic order, which is unjust and unsustainable. The rediscovery of the spiritual factor is indispensable for a new approach to economics. Economics should no longer be seen as a goal in itself but as an instrument to serve the needs of all human beings in an interdependent world. And this, within the limits imposed by our natural environment. A new awareness of man’s place in Ultimate Reality would expose the three myths now steering the economic mechanism: infinite material needs, endless growth and the idolatry of a completely free market. This new approach will entail a more sober lifestyle but crate the conditions for an improvement of the quality of life.

2. General Ethics, the Theory of Responsive Cohesion, and a New Economic Paradigm


In a forthcoming book entitled A Theory of General Ethics: Human Relationships, Nature, and the Built Environment I have attempted to define a field of inquiry that I refer to as ‘General Ethics’ and to offer the first example of a truly General Ethics. What I mean by this is that I have attempted to develop a single, integrated approach to ethics that encompasses the realms of inter-human ethics, the ethics of the natural environment, and the ethics of the built environment. As I will explain in my talk, this approach—which could be described as the first example of an ethical ‘Theory of Everything’—represents a much broader approach to ethics than those than have been developed previously. In this talk I want to outline an aspect of this approach (although hardly the whole approach, given the time available!) that is of particular relevance to the integration of ethical and economic perspectives.

Specifically, I want to present the view that the best examples of their kind in every domain of interest—from psychology to politics, from conversations to theories, from management to economics—exemplify the quality of responsive cohesion, that is, they hold together by virtue of the mutual responsiveness of the elements that constitute them. Indeed, I will suggest that the relational quality of responsive cohesion represents the most fundamental value there is. From this insight it is a short step to the elaboration of a ‘theory of contexts.’ This theory of contexts provides us with a compelling reason to evaluate our economic arrangements in terms the extent to which they are responsively cohesive with our wider biophysical context—in short, the Earth—rather than the extent to which our wider biophysical context can be made responsive to our economic arrangements. (Note of reassurance!: If this language sounds rather technical and formal, I will be endeavouring to explain these ideas in straightforward language in a spoken—rather than read—presentation at the conference.)

Further reading:
Warwick Fox, A Theory of General Ethics: Human Relationships, Nature, and the Built Environment (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, forthcoming October 2006).

3. The importance of an appropriate individual behaviour to surpass the limits to globalisation: Rediscovering the legacy of E.F. Schumacher

Prof. dr. H. OPDEBEECK (University of Antwerp)

Increasingly our globalized society risks taking the shape of egocentrically organised structures at national, international and global level, which bring to the fore enormous consequences for man and the environment. Increasingly these structures are being called into question today by a variety of non-governmental organisations. On the eve of the 30th anniversary of E.F. Schumacher’s death, it’s worthwhile to (re)discover that the author of Small is Beautiful was one of the first authorities to reflect on such ethical choices in society. Ernst Friedrich Schumacher (1911-1977) introduced the idea of Buddhist Economics. In his publications he clarified the significance of the impact of an appropriate individual behaviour that is required if we are to surpass the limits to egocentric oriented globalized structures founded upon the narrow base of the war of all against all, or the threat that the other poses to one’s own freedom. Therefore Schumacher always insisted on the importance of a spiritual attitude shaping the behaviour of economic agents. Humanity does not yet perceive its own egocentrism as unworthy of a human person.

4. Spirituality and economics: the black side of individualism and short-termism


The matching of apparently antithetic terms such as spirituality and economics is a stimulating challenge for an economist. In particular, a reflection on this apparent oxymoron may help us to understand the limits of the recent evolution, or involution, of both the economy and economics.

Spirituality has many meanings. Many of them have a positive connotation, at least in the intention of the user of the term, stressing an orientation towards a superior substance or end. This claim, however, has also been used to justify unacceptable visions and practices such as totalitarian paradigms. It is well known, e.g., that fascist movements often tried to root their views and actions in spiritualist ideologies. In this paper I will give to spirituality positive connotations. To do so I have to give a definition capable to draw precise boundaries separating the positive from the negative connotations of spirituality.

I start from the observation that most definitions of spirituality have in common the reference to something that goes beyond, ‘transcends,’ the contingent being of the individual, i.e. his mere existence ‘here and now’ as is accessible through sense experience or introspection. This ‘transcendence’ may be seen from the metaphysical or ethical point of view. Although these two dimensions are strictly intertwined, in this paper I will focus exclusively on the ethical dimension of spirituality. Therefore, in what follows I take spirituality to mean adhesion to a system of ethical values that transcends the contingent existence (here and now) of individuals and goes beyond their immediate self-interest. From this point of view the positive or negative connotations of spirituality depend on how the relationships between the individuals and these “transcendent” values and motivations are conceived. The subordination of choices, including economic choices, to universal ethical principles is an example of what I consider a positive role of spirituality. However, the systematic compliance of individual choices with the ‘spirit of the nation,’ or the ‘spirit of the time’ (‘zeitgeist’) or a social class, are examples of a negative role of subordination of individual choices to superior ends that may be manipulated by unscrupulous elites.

I will consider ethical spirituality from the point of view of individual economic agents and of the restricted horizons of their choices. I will thus analyse in section 2 the pathology and physiology of individual choices from the point of view of the boundaries of their decision horizon. I analyse these boundaries from the social point of view (individualism) in section 2.1, the spatial point of view (localism) in section 2.2, and temporal point of view (short-termism) in section 2.3. These restrictions to the decision horizon have a negative meaning to the extent that they signal a deficit of ethical spirituality. They may also have the positive meaning of solid rooting ‘now and here’ of an open-minded attitude towards values and people who live, or come from, outside the individual boundaries. This attitude of ‘civilised individualism’ must be preserved in order to avoid the distortions that may descend from misinterpreted spirituality.

What can we do to stimulate ethical spirituality in economic affairs? Ethical responsibility concerns individuals not collective bodies, but the institutional and social environment may be more or less conducive to its implementation. In section 3 I discuss the role of two main obstacles to civilised individualism, poverty and income inequality, and the impact on them of the recent process of modernisation. In section 4 I examine a particularly relevant case study: the impact of poverty and inequality on the health of people. In section 5 I analyse in more detail the causes of the growing short-termism that jeopardises the social responsibility of economic choices. In section 6 I consider the relationship between the social responsibility of firms and the ethical motivations of people who have an interest in their performance (the so-called stakeholders). In section 7, the concluding section, I discuss how civic virtues, farsightedness and social responsibility may be promoted and consolidated.

The secular evolution of the economy since the industrial revolution is expanding, in principle, the economic liberty of individuals by increasing the range of available options through technical progress and a progressive increase of per capita income; at the same time, however, new crucial developments of the economy risk to shrink the ethical awareness and responsibility of the individuals. This tendency may be countered by investing in ethical spirituality and social capital through education and a package of practical initiatives, meant to reduce the gap between individual and social interests.

5. Corporate Philanthropy and Global Citizenship


The evolution over 15 years from “fringe activity” corporate philanthropy to embedded and integral global corporate citizenship

Drivers and mechanisms to support ethical choices and measure performance:
Corporate values

  • Codes, policies and compliance
  • Risk and reputation management
  • Stakeholder engagement

Issues and dilemmas:

Long term v short term

Global/local standards

  • Cross-functions and geographies
  • Good and bad trading conditions

Stakeholder conflicts
Competing demands – economic, social and environmental
Whose ethics and moral standards?

Complexity of issues v focussed purpose and delivery
The “acid test” – when values and ethical standards conflict with business opportunities
Leadership and partnership – setting standards, addressing issues:

  • Collaborating v competing within an industry sector
    Governments and international agencies – public policy
  • NGO interests and legitimacy

The role of multinationals – where are the boundaries?

The Compass of Ethics


  • Differences between complex and complicated things
  • Complication is linear and can be squeezed in an equation, not containing time
  • Complexity is non linear, has many solutions, can only be told, contains time
  • Complexity is the mother of freedom, creativity and uncertainty
  • To reduce the global uncertainty we cannot control nature but our behavior
  • Ethical rules reduce uncertainty by making human behavior predictable
  • Free market is a complex net based on mutual confidence, respect and honesty
  • Ethics reduce the background noise in the channels of the market net
  • Competition is the selecting tool of a free market
  • Consumers are the selecting agents
  • Corruption, cronyism and monopolies deprive consumers from their right to choose
  • Innovation is the tool for survival of industrial brand in a competitive market
  • Innovation allows value competition
  • Lack of innovation results in price competition and the following elimination (creative destruction- Schumpeter)
  • Ecology is the science of survival of life
  • Ethics is a compass that needs an attractor to give a direction
  • The universal attractor should be :the survival of life on planet earth

Abraham and Keynes on money


In my definition of spirituality it is important that one places him or herself in the history one is rooted in. For most of us this is a tradition started by Abraham. Few are aware that this name stands for the first well documented ethical reflection in western society, forced into existence by huge social and environmental disasters.

This tradition does above all sees a specific aspect of money as the main opponent for spiritual and ethical behaviour.

This becomes all the more interesting now the very nature of money is changing due to the modern techniques of informatics.

In the tradition of Abraham ethical thinkers and doers should focus on one central question these days: can we direct the upcoming changes towards an outcome that would provide humanity with more room for just and spiritual behaviour? In other words, market economies that inherently give the weaker members all chance to optimise, a market economy that is capable to optimise not only the outcome for individual greed but also for the best of the collective.

In my lecture I will share with you some major faults in the architecture of money and how some of them can be avoided. How we can escape certain prisoners dilemmas, reduce the costs of globalisation and monetarisation and find new approach to the old debates between Mercantilists, Keynesians and Classicists.

This all is background to the practical work of STRO in the field of research, the realisation of clusters of enterprises using open source software that permits them to work with new monetary rules, with our ultimate goal: the establishment of the Bretton Woods Bancor-proposal of Keynes.

Sustainable Communities—What Makes Them Work?


At every level of business, economic and societal activity there are growing mismatches between what individuals, communities and natural systems require for a sustainable existence and the current structures which are meant to support these.

In so many areas of life the true spirit of nature and human creativity are constrained or suppressed in the interests of expediency, efficiency and economics. The pursuit of GNP has inadvertently led to GDP (Gross National Damage).

To remobilise our human and natural resources we need to build from our own home and work communities as well as relying on governments, national and international interventions. Viable solutions are abundant: what is needed is a complete change of heart and of priorities.

This talk aims to examine seven principles and conditions which are needed to underpin a healthy community, institution or society. I shall illustrate with examples of how these concepts are being practiced in various communities in the hope that some may be usefully applied elsewhere. As this conference is about ethical choices with an emphasis on environment and economics, various alternative economic practices and complementary currencies will also be included.