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Economics with Soul

Economics with soul

The problem of Capital, Labour and Employment raises some of the most fundamental issues in connection with the subject of right human relationships. In today's interconnected world many people of goodwill are awakening to the vision of a global society based upon social justice - a society which respects the human rights and the well-being of all peoples. This study Set explores a wide range of interrelated issues, including international debt, capital and investment, multinational corporations, child labour, and women at work; there is a focus on new thinking about money, capitalism and sustainable development, new work patterns, a universal living wage, new methods of management and human development, together with a number of initiatives that demonstrate goodwill in the relations between capital and labour. There is also information on the work of the International Labour Organisation, the UN agency built on the principle that universal and lasting peace is dependent on social justice.

Materialism is now being questioned, as is the ideology of continuous economic growth. In future, economic activity must account for the costs of pollution, and humanity must live more in harmony with the earth. The rampant exploitation of the earth’s resources is now being balanced by the concept of wise stewardship. There is also a developing awareness of the urgent need to bridge the gap between rich and poor, as illustrated by the UN Millennium Development Goals, and the campaign for debt relief for heavily indebted and underdeveloped countries.

In words from the 2005 United Nations Human Development Report, “At the start of a new century we live in a divided world and the extent of this divide poses a fundamental challenge to the global community. Part of that challenge is ethical and moral. As Nelson Mandela put it in 2005: ‘Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times - times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation - that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils.’ The twin scourges of poverty and inequality can be defeated - but progress has been faltering and uneven.” 1

Perhaps the real question, one posed by Alice Bailey in her book Problems of Humanity, is: “What really lies at the very heart of the modern materialistic difficulty?” (p.79) The answer lies in those well-known words “The love of money is the root of all evil”, as money is the symbol of the desire nature – desire for goods, the accumulation of possessions, for material comfort, power, supremacy. Desire controls human thinking. The love of money dominates the lives of many people whilst countless others live in abject poverty; yet, there are now large numbers of people who are thinking in terms of higher values and a simpler, spiritual way of life which can help transform humanity’s economic and industrial relationships. Indeed, a brief search of the Internet reveals a vast amount of information about individuals and groups, whether governmental, international or civil society, who are working in the world of Capital, Labour and Employment and whose motives are founded on shared interests, purposes and values.

As well as the formal structures of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – the UN agency whose main objectives are to do with standards, fundamental principles, rights at work, decent employment, social protection and social dialogue – there are imaginative thinkers who are bringing challenging ideas into the public domain. For example, James Robertson, the political and economic thinker, points out that there are three key principles for a new economic order: conservation; enabling people who favour self-reliance and the capacity for self-development; and a multi-level one-world system, with autonomous but interdependent parts at all levels. Susan George, of the Transnational Institute, refers to the “boomerang effect” of the debt crisis, which has social and environmental consequences for the creditor nations in the global North, as the lack of economic opportunities among indebted countries forces emigration to the North, while those who remain behind are often forced to damage the environment in order to survive.

The harrowing problem of Child labour is highlighted by the ILO, with many hundreds of millions of children around the world having to work to support themselves and their families, often sacrificing their education and their health. There are also children who are enslaved in bonded labour. Goals and objectives have been set to tackle this problem in the form of the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour. Women, both young and old, face discrimination in the labour market, and girls are more likely than boys to be victims of slavery and prostitution. In recognition of the vital role that working women play in family welfare, many governments are now taking measures to promote the welfare and advancement of women at work.

An article on Capitalism and Sustainability by Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist and writer, concludes that, as capitalism is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future, sustainability must be delivered within a capitalist framework. As he points out, “We don’t have time to wait for any big-picture ideological successor”.

Hazel Henderson, the futurist and evolutionary economist, believes the fate of the world’s children, the future of the human family and the Earth itself are inextricably linked. The level of the new global playing field needs to be raised by placing an ethical floor under it, i.e. “new rules, treaties and agreements for protecting children, workers, consumers and all people as well as the environment”. This seems especially relevant today because, despite pressure exerted by governments, and UN prohibition, bonded labour and people trafficking continues to be a major problem.

An extract from a thought-provoking article by Jonathan Rowe, the writer and economist, discusses the idea of the commons – of property invested with a dimension of community. He claims that an ownership society that works for the world is one that pays as much attention to that which we own together as that which we hold apart – for example, public access to beaches, woodlands, town squares and public WiFi systems.

Businesses are playing their part too. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is a coalition of 180 international companies who share a commitment to sustainable development through economic growth, ecological balance and social progress. Members are drawn from more than 30 countries and 20 major industrial sectors and their mission is to provide business leadership as a catalyst for change toward sustainable development in a world increasingly shaped by sustainable development issues. WBCSD believe that the leading global companies of 2020 will be those that provide goods and services and reach new customers in ways that address the world’s major challenges – including poverty, climate change, resource depletion, globalisation, and demographic shifts.

The world of work is rapidly changing. For example, there is what James Robertson calls ownwork, where people decide for themselves to “do their own thing”. There are also new patterns of creative self-employment and co-operative enterprises, as well as employee ownership in companies such as the John Lewis Partnership. Furthermore, new forms of management, based on collaboration and sharing, rather than command and control by a few, are now in vogue, and the success of the team concept expresses the trend from individual to group consciousness.

The concept of a Universal Living Wage is slowly gaining a foothold in developed countries, but increased competition brought about by globalisation has forced many multi-national companies to seek cheap labour, in places like India, China, Mexico and the Caribbean, where the daily average wage is less than $5 (US). The interplay that exists between workers and employers, and, in a larger context, between capital and labour, must be based on the principle of sharing if the establishment of real, lasting economic and social justice is to be achieved – hence the long-term benefits of a Global Living Wage.

Ethical consumption and investment are now firmly on the agenda, with growing numbers of people beginning to exercise responsibility and an ethical perspective when purchasing consumer goods. The FairTrade movement is at the forefront of this trend. There are also innovative ways by which impoverished people can begin to build wealth and exit poverty, with the success of the Grameen bank, founded by Muhammad Yunus, and other similar microcredit initiatives.

In summary, the aim of the study is not to provide answers: instead, it offers a range of insights, which it is hoped will stimulate thought. There are links to useful books and websites, to encourage further investigation.

1. Human Development Report Overview 2005, available from http://hdr.undp.org/reports/view_reports.cfm?type=1.