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Global Capitalism in Crisis

Globalisation and Business for the Common Good:
Theology and Economics working together



Kamran Mofid

Economist, Oxford, UK

TFF associate

October 10, 2002

God has put humans on Earth to be his administrators of
the land, to cultivate it and take care of it… In a world
evermore interdependent, peace, justice and the safe-keeping
of creation cannot but be the fruit of a joint commitment of
all in pursuing the common good.

Pope John Paul II. Castel Gandolfo, 25th August, 2002

A reasonable estimate of economic organisation must
allow for the fact that, unless industry is to be paralysed
by recurrent revolts on the part of outraged human nature,
it must satisfy criteria that are not purely economic.

R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

The anti-globalists are right to remark that the 'feeling' in
our economy is not very good. This is because our economy
lacks any sort of spiritual inspiration…People need to look
for meaning in life, as well as just doing business.
Dr. H.J.Witteveen, ex-President of IMF, in Het Financieele Dagblad, Jan. 2002.

The practices of the unscrupulous money-changers stand
indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the
hearts and minds of men…faced by the failure of credit,
they have proposed only the lending of more money. They
have no vision and, when there is no vision, the people
perish. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to
which we apply social values more noble than mere
monetary profit.

President Franklin Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, 1933.


From the dawn of our creation, it has been our ultimate desire to find happiness. This desire is in the nature of things, common to all of us, at all times, and in all places. Nature, the material of the universe, is modified by us to create wealth so that this desire might be satisfied.

Today, at the dawn of the Third Millennium, our civilisation has scored its greatest success in the material sciences. Its glory is the willing application of these teachings to daily life. In them it has found the way of truth, but in the study of the forces governing us, it has shown little aptitude.

So tragic is this failure that we have turned the masterpieces of the material sciences into engines of destruction which threaten to annihilate the civilisation which produced them.

This is the challenge of our time; either we must find the way of truth in the government of our relations one with another, or we must succumb to the results of our own ignorance.

As has been observed by many philosophers and theologians throughout history, we should be aware that, there are two forces at work in society, the material and the spiritual. When either of these two halves are ignored or neglected, so that they appear to be at odds with one another, society tends inevitably to run down and become fragmented, divisions and rifts manifest with greater force and frequency.

This, it seems clearly, is exactly what has happened today; leading to a situation of disequilibrium and disharmony. Only the reawakening of the human spirit, love and compassion will save us from our own worst extreme. Physical wealth must once again go hand in hand with spiritual, moral and ethical wealth.

Today, despite a five-fold increase in economic growth and a twelve-fold increase in global trade since the Second World War, there exists a massive economic inequality, which many call an "economic apartheid", both within and between nations. Currently the globalised world economy faces catastrophic socio-economic, political, cultural, spiritual, environmental and security crises that are threatening the fabric of society and life itself.

What are the main crises faced by modern society? There are global problems of abject poverty, famine, starvation, Aids, inequality, greed, injustice, marginalisation, exclusion, crime, corruption, sleaze, spin, anxiety, fear, depression, loneliness, mistrust, drug and alcohol abuse, intolerance, xenophobia and environmental degradation and destruction. There is also much amiss with the Western capitalist model as highlighted by the recent scandals in multinational corporations such as Enron, WorldCom, Xerox, Tyco, Dynergy, Arthur Andersen, Global Crossing, Adelphia, ImClone, AOL, to name but a few from a long list of disgraced businesses.

Of course, it should be emphasised that the fall from grace of many American top businesses, due to fraud and false accounting, is not an American disease only. It is prevalent in all parts of the world. In the UK for example, according to detective superintendent Ken Farrow, head of the City of London police Fraud Squad, fraud and related crime is very serious and it is becoming a real concern. According to superintendent Farrow, the cost of corporate fraud, very conservatively speaking, is as high as £14billion a year. However, as many British firms are reluctant to report fraud, especially when it has been carried out by insiders, makes it very difficult to gauge the full extent of the problem. This, according to recent research by corporate investigations agency, Risk Advisory Group, suggests that British companies' first instinct is to cover up internal scams so as to avoid bad publicity. The research also found that senior executives were involved in nearly three-quarters of frauds worth in excess of £1million. All this secrecy surrounding British corporate irresponsibility makes it very difficult to accept the views of those who want us to believe that what happened in the US will never happen here.

In short, the greed-motivated world is spinning out of control. Maybe it is time for us to try to redefine our values. Looking at the problem of market capitalism and its values from a religious perspective, it has been suggested that these can be identified as twofold: namely, greed and delusion. Within the domains of modern economic theory and the kind of market it promotes, the moral concept of greed has inevitably been lost; "today it seems left to religion to preserve what is problematic about a human trait that is unsavoury at best and unambiguously evil at its worst". Religious traditions have tended to accept greed as part of the human condition, but rather than give it free reign they have seen a great need to control it.

This should come as no surprise to those with a more traditional orientation to the world. By far the best critique of this 'greed' is provided by the traditional religions of Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam as well as others, such as Sikhism, Sufism, Zoroastrians, Baha'is and the 'primitive' animist religions of the Mayas of Central America, Aborigines from Australia, Maoris from New Zealand and native peoples from Africa, Canada and the US. They all offer a wealth of teachings and recommendations as to how we should ethically and morally lead our lives, and how we can achieve happiness away from greed and delusion.

The limited benefits of neo-liberal globalisation, based on individualism, greed, self-interest motives and economism (regarding human societies primarily as economic systems in which economic considerations alone govern our choice and decisions) have been mainly on the economic and business side, while other equally important aspects have remained, by and large, much neglected: values such as faith, spirituality, justice, love, compassion, sympathy, empathy and cooperation.

It should be noted that the individualism, so much valued by the neo-liberals as a fundamental force for good in global capitalism, as many studies have shown, has a major destructive impact on well-being. This is through a lack of appropriate sources of social identity and attachment, which leads to a tendency to promote unrealistic or inappropriate expectations of individual freedom and autonomy. Thus, so much unhappiness is associated with the people who have suddenly become super rich; by any means, fraud, winning the lottery, inheriting large sums, etc.

Furthermore, it should be emphasised that, neo-liberal capitalism is also anti-democratic and extremely harmful to the noble principles of democracy. Democracy believes in equality when it gives one vote to one person regardless of their colour or creed. It does not matter who that person is; smart, intelligent, educated or not; the best-informed or the least informed etc. However, in contrast, neo-liberalism believes that rewards should go only to the most talented and the most successful people. Thus, it very openly clashes with the most fundamental principle of democracy, namely, as noted, one man one vote.

Moreover, neo-liberalism, by promoting individualism and selfishness, is in turn against the principle of community and society. From their point of view, what matters is individual preference. For them, those who put all their money into conspicuous consumption to satisfy their so-called desires are just as noble as those who use their riches to help their neighbours and other needy fellow beings, for example.

To expand the above observations the following is most revealing:

"In 1923, a very important meeting was held at Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Attending this meeting were 9 of the world's most 'successful' financiers and businessmen. Those present were: the President of the largest independent steel company; the President of the largest utility company; the President of the largest gas company; the greatest wheat speculator; the President of the New York Stock Exchange; a member of the President's cabinet; the greatest 'bear' in Wall Street; the head of the world's greatest monopoly; and the President of the Bank of International Settlement. This, we must admit, was a gathering of some of the world's most successful men - or at least men who had found the secret of making money. Twenty five years later (1948) let us see what had happened to these men: the President of the largest independent steel company had died, bankrupt, having lived on borrowed money for five years before his death; the President of the largest utility company had died a fugitive from justice, penniless in a foreign land; the President of the largest gas company was insane; the greatest wheat speculator had died abroad - insolvent; the President of the New York Stock Exchange had recently been released from Sing Sing penitentiary; the member of the President's cabinet had been pardoned from prison so that he could die at home; the greatest 'bear' in Wall Street had died - a suicide; the head of the world's greatest monopoly had died - a suicide; the President of the Bank of International Settlement had died - a suicide."

All these men learned well the art of making money but none of them learned how to live, commented the original compiler of this list. Furthermore, this demonstrates how correct were the people whom I have quoted at the beginning of this paper: namely, Tawney who observed there is more to life than purely economic values; Witteveen who noted that in order to find meaning in life we must have spirit in business; President Roosevelt who observed there must be a vision in our life and when there is no vision people will perish and the Pope who said in a world of evermore interdependency we must show a joint commitment in pursuing the common good.

It seems the business world who should know better, given what was described above, has changed not one iota. For them economic growth and the corporate bottom line and the pursuit of self-interested motives are what matters most. More recent studies have shown that, self-interested pursuit of wealth causes much unhappiness and misery. Since 1950, the time of much growth and increased wealth creation in the West, there has been a ten times increase in the likelihood of people to be affected by depression, while there has been a massive rise in the number of people suffering from sub-clinical neuroses, anxiety or a profound discomfort with themselves.

However, as it has been observed, in many poverty-stricken parts of the world, such as Southern Ethiopia, for example, where the poorest of the poor live, the streets, the fields, the mud houses, crackle with laughter. Here, and under severe conditions of poverty, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do in our luxurious homes, surrounded by technology and remote controls. Moreover, they have also never heard of and have never used, Prozac, Seroxat, etc. Furthermore, they do not spend billions of dollars on diet and slimming products to combat obesity and do not engage in cosmetic surgery in an attempt to become something or somebody else.

This is not to suggest that poverty causes happiness, it is only to say that in contrast to us in the supposedly developed world, these people who are short of money and materialism are rich in spirituality and love for their neighbour. Let us pray that neo-liberalism never reaches them. However, they should be helped to climb out of the vicious circle of poverty. They desperately need better healthcare and sanitation, better housing and better education which respects their culture, tradition and way of life and is sustainable with total respect for the environment and ecology.

Thus, through the teachings of the neo-liberal ideology, we have created a globalised world in which we have all been dehumanised and turned into producers and consumers devoid of any true human values; where the main cultural activities are: shop 'til you drop; obsession with oneself and with celebrity; watching 24 hour junk television; eating junk food and the promotion of hopelessness and helplessness in that there is no alternative to the current junk way of life. There has especially been a marked decline in traditional religious values in general. This decline with the accompanying rise in materialism, the pervasive philosophical incoherence and the scramble to pursue happiness under false assumptions, have produced a generation of spiritual nihilists, forever substituting aesthetic or emotional pleasure for authentic human purpose. The absence of spirituality and love in the economics of globalisation is profoundly harmful, as it has frozen our imaginations.

In order to succeed in reversing the crises associated with economic globalisation, we have to awaken a desire in people to ask deeper and bigger questions about life and its purpose. Globalisation today desperately and fundamentally needs a conscience, morality, ethics and spirituality. This is where religion, faith and theology come in, where they can make economics, politics, business and the world of globalisation more relevant and acceptable.

Why should we try to relate religion and economics together? Because, both have the same end, that all may live in happiness, although they employ different methods for its achievement. One, through money theism, materialism and consumerism and the other through spiritualism, love and compassion. Religions could - if they speak with their original source of inspiration - greatly contribute to restore the balance between the material and spiritual elements, thus opening the way for living in a full human life in a peaceful, just and sustainable society.

There must, therefore, be a serious attempt to connect economics and theology. In modern neo-classical economics there is no such connection. Neo-classical economics tolerates religion only if it narrows its focus to individual salvation; the wider social concerns which preoccupied Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and the rest are not considered within its sphere. For neo-classical economists anything that interferes with their true religion, namely the market is blasphemous. How conveniently they have forgotten that their supposed mentor, Adam Smith, 'father of modern economics' was first and foremost a Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University and before he wrote Wealth of Nations, was already famous for his great work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

In this regard, economic life had formerly been regarded as one branch of moral life of the whole society. But, today, in the new dispensation, it has been declared a moral-free zone. In shaking ourselves free from many forms of tyrannies, we have achieved one kind of emancipation, but in the process we have delivered ourselves into the hands of a philosophy which has destroyed the basis for any common social purpose by emancipating economic activity from the realm of moral regulation. In the world today, the main problems are not economic or technological. What is really wrong with modern society, is the fact that it is morally sick.

Today, similar to what R. H. Tawney had described as 'acquisitive' societies, the whole tendency, interest and preoccupation is to promote the acquisition of wealth. Rights are divorced from the performance of functions and the unrestricted pursuit of economic self-interest is the ruling ethos. A society of this kind which has taken the moral brakes off, assures that the individuals see no ends other than their own ends, no law other than their own law and desires and no limit other than that which they think advisable. Thus, it makes the individual the centre of his/her own universe, and dissolves moral principles into a choice of expediencies. We can more fully appreciate the significance of what was just said, when we relate this to the self-interested, morally impoverished behaviour of the so many chief executives and the businesses that they lead in many parts of the world.

In our economic world today, there is much emphasis on wealth creation, but in the materialistic environment that has developed, there is no room for the creator and there exists no proper relationship between creator and creation. We should not forget that our most important economic resources owe nothing to human labour and manufacture or economic factors in general. The land, the air, the sea and vital natural resources such as oil, gas and coal and more are all God's gifts; for the benefits of all God's creation.

Violence, aggression, selfishness and greed, as well as disrespect for values based on common good principles have made a mockery of that. Modern economic theory which has no religious foundation and has created its own god: "Mammon is God", has seen to the destruction of all God's creation in the name of market, profit maximisation and uncontrolled growth. What a bitter harvest this has become!

If we succeed in aligning the most powerful force in capitalism, namely profit, with social, moral, ethical and spiritual objectives, by bringing economics and theology together and make them jointly work for the common good, then, the world will be a much better and safer place and globalisation will become a force for good. If we interlink theology, economics and business, we can make these subjects far more effective than if they were continued to be studied, as they are now, in isolation and separately from each other. Therefore, in this sense, we should not seek to reject economics, politics, business, profit, trade, etc per. se. We should only seek the globalisation for the common good, where everybody becomes a stakeholder and where everybody benefits.

As a lecturer of economics and business studies, with a wide range of teaching experience in different parts of the world, I have first-hand knowledge of the crisis associated with Godless, faithless, spiritually impoverished teachings of business schools and economic departments.

If our students are only trained in neo-liberal ideology, divorced from spirituality and respect for a transcendent power, greater than their own, then, in my view, we cannot blame the students when they badly manage the Enron, WorldCom, Marconi and Railtracks of this world. A more ethical and caring environment would result when the education of potential future leaders includes the bigger picture.

Although I defend certain positive benefits of a well-regulated and accountable market economy, I also maintain that there can be no civilised marketplace without morality, ethics, spirituality and religion. I believe that the solution to the current socio-economic global crises is not technical. It needs to be looked at again in a fresh way that will embrace true human values such as love, sympathy, empathy and ethics. This is in total contrast to the current dominant neo-liberal prescription of greed, selfishness and individualism.

This is not a new observation. Well before the rise of the so-called "prestigious" business schools and their "must have" MBAs, it was very much the tradition of the successful business people to play a vitally important part in the daily life of their community. Is it the post-war rise of secularism which has changed the world of philanthropy, caring and charity?

In the past, more often than now, it was the philanthropic and business success of the Sainsbury, Cadbury, Marks and Spencer and John Lewis dynasties (to name but a few from a long list), who showed how business in religious context could power lasting social change. These businessmen living in the shadow of the previous century's revolutions and upheavals showed that only peace and social cohesion within a strong shared culture of moral and ethical values could provide the stable conditions for a harmonious environment in which their businesses, workers and their families could flourish and achieve their potentials. They well-understood that they are all part of the community and the environment in which they live and work, benefiting from both and owing to them in return. Moreover, without having any kind of MBA, (in contrast to a must-have culture of today's business), they also well-understood what is for the common good.

They all showed an impulse to give back some of their fortune back to society: either by improving their employees' working life, or, also like the Sainsbury's, as patrons of the arts and sciences. Philanthropy among the self-made rich has been common enough from Andrew Carnegie to Bill Gates, but it is curiously rare in benefiting a family company's own workers and as has been noted there aren't many Bourneville's in industrial history, and even fewer John Lewis partnerships. For example, since 1824, when John Cadbury first opened his tea and coffee house in Birmingham's Bull Street, four generations have poured a consistent stream of talent and commitment into the business and the community as well as the life of their workers. Moreover, it was the second generation of the John Lewis family, who gave his entire inheritance, voluntarily, over to his employees, to ensure the continuity of the vision of fairs hares and happiness at work for all. What a contrast this is to the neo-liberal super-rich of the Enrons and WorldComs.

At this stage it should be noted that it must be heartbreaking for old-fashioned academics with a vision to create a better world, by providing an ethically and spiritually based education for their students, to see the takeover of many academic institutions by the neo-liberal ideology and its practitioners. This is very serious and in turn very harmful to every aspect of life, especially when it comes to the education of the future leaders.

Nowhere can this be seen better than in the 'mother' of all 'prestigious' universities, namely, Harvard, where many of the chief executives of American companies, who have fallen from grace, received their MBAs. Harvard University has been accused of harbouring people from Enron and benefiting from their association. It is suggested that the university through the assistance of an Enron employee netted $50million. Of a more serious nature, as far as students and their families who pay huge sums in fees are concerned, is the belief that Enron shaped Harvard's research and teaching agenda, contributing millions of dollars to the university's centres that advocated the deregulation of the energy industry and therefore justifying the workings of Enron and the principles behind it.

According to the well-known social and ethical campaigner, Ralph Nader, championing the rights of consumers, "companies like Enron have learned that small investments in endowing chairs, sponsoring research programmes or hiring moonlighting professors can return big payoffs in generating books, reports, articles, testimony and other materials to push for and rationalise public policy positions that damage the public interest but benefit corporate bottom lines…it is time to establish boundaries that establish precise limits on the university's corporate entanglements. There is need for a clear and comprehensive policy on the limits of commercialism on Harvard University and for pro-active efforts at the university to spur research-guided by public-spirited rather than mercantile values".

At this point, I would like to emphasise that, Harvard is not the only university taken over by the corporate agenda. There are many more in every country the world over. This is why we need a global attempt to rid our places of education from these types of questionable and potentially harmful activities and sponsorship.

This is not to say that universities and places of higher education should not seek the support of any business whatsoever. It is only to say that the support sought must only be from those who will give for God and the common good only and not for their own glorification and promotion. Therefore, there should be no more Enron or WorldCom, for example, Chairs of Business Ethics or Arthur Andersen Professors of Accounting etc., promoting these companies and their modus operandi. In all, the support should be given with no strings attached and only for the purpose of promoting the objectives that are already established to be truly ethical and in harmony with the common good.

It is my belief that the only way to reverse the crises associated with inhumanity, injustice and environmental degradation is to acknowledge God, the Ultimate Reality. It is only by seeing the 'other' and the earth as God's creation, created in his own image, that we will stop abusing and exploiting them for our own self-interested gain. As it has been noted, "Surely, when the Great Creator looks down on the Earth, He sees all of His children playing together from the Red, White, Black and Yellow races. He does not see the superficial differences. He sees the beauty of each one of His children." This is the 'right road' in life, interpreted as the Spiritual Path, where all life, created by the Great Creator, connected and sacred, is nurtured, restored and held in trust for the generations yet to come.

As for example, Edy Korthals Altes, amongst others, has so eloquently observed, our secular society, has alienated itself from its spiritual roots. For many people 'Transcendence' has no longer any meaning. The autonomy of man is considered to be the ultimate standard in life. But this one-sided exultation of the sense of self - this mentality of 'I only' - undermines the basic condition for a truly human existence. As human beings we are inextricably linked to the 'Ultimate Reality'. That is why the great philosopher Hans Jonas, considered the denial of transcendence in all probability the greatest error in human history. Vaclav Havel noted in the same vein, during his years in prison before he became president of Czechoslovakia. He wrote "I am persuaded that (the present global crisis)… is directly related to the spiritual condition of modern civilisation. This condition is characterised by loss: the loss of metaphysical certainties, of an experience of the transcendental, of any super personal moral authority, and of any kind of higher horizon. It is strange but ultimately quite logical: as soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension and man began to lose control of it."

When respect for the sublime evaporates and quantifying and measuring become the benchmark, we are left with a 'flattened world', in which banality thrives. Romano Guardini, a well-known thinker and theologian, has warned insistently about the grave consequences of our indifference towards transcendence. If we ignore Ultimate Reality, he wrote, we will lose our centre and thus our sense of orientation. With the loss of the name of the living God, man loses his own name and as an inevitable consequence, the purpose of his life and way to live. Once we have grasped that our identity is firmly rooted in God, there is no need any more to prove ourselves by amassing wealth, position or power. This truth will set us free from the craving for more and more, so typical for our secular and consumer society in the Western world.

If we look at so much human misery, physical, emotional and spiritual, as well as the destruction of all God's other gifts, surely we must in all honesty admit that we are guilty and a very wasteful custodian of what we have been given. Maybe we will have the wisdom and the foresight to see our wrongs and choose the pathway from destruction and to create a world with a nobler future. However, no amount of neo-liberal economics can correct the injustice when it is at the heart of the problem.

This is the challenge we face in this new century. Successful and ethical businesses should be congratulated and admired for their good work, and they in return should be invited and encouraged to play a fuller role in ensuring the common good of the community and the people who have played a vital role in the creation of wealth, with a total respect for the environment and God's gifts. This coincides with God's vision of his kingdom in which the leading perspective is not the profit of the fittest, as in neo-liberal ideology, but a level playing field for all.

So, if we truly want to change the world for the better, all of us, the business community, politicians, workers, men, women, young and old, must truly become better ourselves by sharing a common understanding of the potential of each one of us to become self-directed, empowered, and active in defining this time in the world as an opportunity for positive change and healing and for the true formation of a culture of peace by giving thanks, spreading joy, sharing love, seeing miracles, discovering goodness, embracing kindness, practicing patience, teaching tolerance, encouraging laughter, celebrating and respecting the diversity of cultures and religions, showing compassion, turning from hatred, practicing forgiveness, peacefully resolving conflicts, choosing happiness and showing love, sympathy and empathy to others.

It must also be noted that as part of God's creation we are therefore all equal and nobody can claim a monopoly on righteousness and civilisation, regardless of how powerful they perceive themselves to be. The greatest threat to humanity is annihilation. Today collectively we spend more than ever before on military expenditure, creating tools of our own destruction. We now have enough power to eradicate life many times over. This doomsday capacity has been recently combined with strategic doctrines widening the possibilities for the actual use of the tools of destruction. This, combined with the adoption of the doctrine of pre-emptive strike, based mainly on self-interested motives, as well as the present over-emphasis on military power for solving conflicts, together with simplistic notions about good and evil nations, is sooner or later bound to lead to collective disaster and destruction. Might is never right. It is only when we admit this, that we can have a fully inclusive globalisation for the common good, embracing all of us, leading to a harmonious world.

Finally, it is my intention to conclude this paper on a positive note and with much hope that, indeed if we want, we can collectively change the world for the better. In what follows I will provide some necessary steps to be taken towards the achievement of this goal.

Above, I discussed the first and most important step, which is to change ourselves for the better by becoming instruments of peace, without which nothing else is possible. In the following I will highlight some other important steps that should be taken:

2. All God's gifts, us, the human beings, the land, air, sea, natural resources, forests, the environment and more should be used for the common good of all and not abused, as it is now for the short sighted profit of a few. This means the adoption and implementation of internationally binding regulations. Free riders and other abusers should be identified, penalised and put to shame as rogue nations.

3. As I have discussed, and I hope clearly, the damage neo-liberal ideology is causing, my third recommendation is to drop this harmful and self-interested philosophy. We have to promote policies that respect human dignity, are tuned with true human values of love, co-operation and the common good. We need to adopt a philosophy that recognises a higher purpose and loyalty to, not merely, the shareholders and the chief executives, but to stakeholders, including workers, their families, their community at large, ecosystems and the planet. We have to discard the madness of free market fundamentalism. We have to understand and accept that market is not a religion, mammon is no God and the chief executives of self interested corporations are no prophets and the dubious accounting books are no holy and sacred texts. We need a socially co-hesive philosophy to replace the present divisive one. One which gives its rightful place to God, religion, ethics, justice and the common good. Here, I would like to recommend Henry George, the American social reformer and economist (1839-97) author of Progress and Poverty. His work accords with that of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, though Henry George took their studies a stage further by pointing to the cause of poverty.

4. We should say loudly and clearly no to free trade and yes to fair trade. Free trade has been used by neo-liberals to engage in a new form of slavery. The countries that most fervently lecture others on free trade are the ones who have the highest tariffs as well as barriers to trade, while at the same time provide the highest amount of subsidies to their own industries. If this embarrassing double standard and unethical behaviour is not a witness to the uselessness of free trade, then what else could be?

5. The globalised economic apartheid of the last fifty years or so has resulted in billions of people becoming enslaved to indebtedness, especially in the third world. Servicing the debt, which is the main pre-occupation of the World Bank and the IMF, has meant that in most cases, there is too little left to provide for the basic human needs in many countries of the world. Therefore, my fifth step calls for monetary justice and debt cancellation in the third world, especially as nearly all of the loans are in the interest of the creditor nations and were/are given often to corrupt, unelected, unaccountable and undemocratic regimes for questionable purposes. This recommendation has a very important historical parallel elsewhere, and it is useful to remember it. As it has been observed, when the United States had problems with unpaid bonds on the London Market and were unwilling to reach an agreement, the United Kingdom appealed to an international board of arbitration at the League of Nations in the late 1920s. However, to the dismay of the British government, this initiative was vetoed by the US Congress to which it was referred for ratification. They argued that there had been a referendum in Mississippi in 1852 in which the population had voted against repaying the debt because they did not know how it had been raised or how the money had been used. Given this historical precedent, it could surely be argued that the third world debtor nations should be entitled to hold referendums in which their people could legitimately express the opinion that their debts should be cancelled because they did not know how they were raised or how the money was used!

6. I strongly believe that globalisation, as long as is not the same as Americanisation, can become a positive force for the good. This is so, if policies adopted are based on, and are in harmony with, the principles of the common good. In my view, amongst others, this can only be achieved if institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, dramatically alter the way that they operate; not by promoting neo-liberal ideology of "austerity programmes" that are bleeding the already impoverished and vulnerable to death, but by promoting policies that empower and enable the poor to participate fully in the world economy by adhering to global justice. Therefore, my sixth step calls for the drastic reform of these two institutions. The first reform act should be the "de-Americanisation" of these two institutions by cutting the umbilical cord that connects these two so closely with the US Treasury. I suggest that their headquarters should be moved from Washington to other countries in Latin/South America, Africa or Asia, so that the neo-liberal advocates of these institutions can see and feel at first hand the results of their recommendations. These institutions must demonstrate more transparency and a greater willingness to examine more closely their actions away from dogma and fundamentalism. I also recommend that, people like Joseph Stiglitz be invited to direct and lead these reformed bodies. Stiglitz, an accomplished economist and academic, served for four years on President Clinton's council of economic advisors and then three years as chief economist and senior Vice President of the World Bank. He was dismissed and excommunicated by the Bank for simply expressing and questioning the consequences of the Bank's policies on those most affected by them. He is a man of inside knowledge, integrity and has shown concern for the common good. The reform of these institutions and being led by people such as Joseph Stiglitz, in my view, can act as a force for the good, leading to the achievement of globalisation for the common good.

7. As an educator engaged with young people over the last 20 years or so, I have become extremely concerned about the attitude of many university students towards the common good and public services. Most of the graduates these days see success in merely monetary terms and wish to have a job in the city or the privatised industries, where they think they can earn the highest salary and bonuses. They also tragically equate happiness with the size of their pay cheque. This deplorable attitude has caused major harm to the overall wellbeing of society. In order to reverse this, I propose that university graduates should be encouraged to work in those sectors which promote common good ideas. This could be achieved, if the government proposed that every graduate working in schools, for example, the national health service, local government and community-based organisations, as well as for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as Cafod, VSO, Oxfam and Christian Aid, or as peace workers overseas, will have their student loans repaid by the government. Therefore, in this way, the graduates will not only find a paid job in sectors that are currently short of manpower, but they will gain useful experience. This can be a very positive way of introducing the common good to young people which in turn will have a major positive impact on society as a whole.

8. There is no further need to emphasise that the world is facing a huge challenge both in terms of environmental degradation and the plight of the billions living in poverty. Although, I support the view that we cannot live in isolation and we need to engage with one another in trade and encourage investment, but given what is happening, especially in the Third World, I strongly believe that the status quo must be reformed rapidly. Therefore, my 8th step calls for the establishment of an international regulatory body, to oversee the application and implementation of universally approved standards of conduct by multinational corporations when investing in the Third World. All operations must be subject to "Social Impact Audits" (SIA), addressing and covering corporate ethics as a fundamental component of any business activity. In this sense, there must be a full transparency and openness based on respect, honesty, fairness, justice and environmental responsibility. In all, the emphasis should be on universal reporting standards. Multinationals and other businesses in the Western world must be required by law to adopt corporate social responsibility, so that, in turn they can accept SIA for their overseas operations. Companies must be required to produce regular reports on the environmental, social and economic impact of their activities both at home and overseas and to consult major stakeholders about key decisions. Once and for all company directors, by law, should be made responsible for social/ethical issues as well as financial probity. When they fail, like anybody else in society they should be tried, and if found guilty, go to prison. Just to resign with a huge golden handshake, pension and share options, should not be an easy escape route from justice any more. Nothing short of this will do. As long as "big business" is only interested in, and accountable to, a minority of shareholders, the chief executives and their salaries and bonuses with the bottom line mentality, there will be no reversal in environmental degradation and the persistence of abject poverty. In short, there must be a new vision on global corporate governance. Can one imagine, what the world could have been like, if instead of the WTO promoting neo-liberal, self-interested ideology, benefiting the already wealthy, an international body promoting the good of all? One thing that is certain is that there would have been far less worry about environmental degradation and poverty. Least of all, there would have been no need for so many people spending tens of millions of dollars, mostly at the taxpayers expense crisscrossing the world to South Africa trying to solve these problems; not a very useful gathering, as since the first of such a meeting in Rio, ten years earlier, there has been a huge rise both in poverty and environmental degradation in many parts of the globe.

9. In my final recommendation, I want to mention, as an example, how a successful business can develop today, similar to the past, in a religious context that could power lasting social change. Here, I wish to highlight the Economy of Communion, founded in 1991 by Chiara Lubich, which is part of the great works of the Focolare Movement. The Economy of Communion or the Economy of Sharing, manifests itself in the 'culture of giving of the Gospel put into practice' in economic activities. Adhering to this principle and philosophy, the entrepreneurs are asked to use their skills and creativity to produce useful, quality products and to run their businesses honestly, without damaging the environment or being drawn into unethical forms of competition. The business people are asked to use the profits made, not only to strengthen their businesses, but also to share them voluntarily with the poor in their community, and to spread a spirit of solidarity. They are asked to divide any future profits three ways. One part would be kept for the current costs as well as the future development of the business and, from what remains after tax one part would be given to the poor to lift them out of the vicious cycle of poverty so that they can become able also to contribute more fully to the community and the final part would be used to finance the formation of people with this new mentality. In other words, the economy of the communion would be an economy based on a commitment to grow together, rather than on the neo-liberal survival of the fittest. It means risking money and sharing inventiveness and talents, based on a culture of giving. It is a transparent economy which, in the current economic climate offers a real alternative. In 1991, many people showed their usual negativity and pessimism, believing that there was no alternative to the self-interested motives. Many people thought that Economy of Communion will not only succeed but it will never take off. However, the Economy of Communion has gone from strength to strength. There are now hundreds and hundreds of such businesses in countries such as Brazil, Philippines, Italy, Germany and elsewhere. More businesses are being developed each year in different countries. The Economy of Communion has succeeded where others have not, because in this type of business, there has developed a new model of the human person, who finds fulfilment in relationships rather than in individual egoism and self promotion. The Focolare movement, the Economy of Communion and the associated businesses are true examples of the social function of businesses according to Catholic social teaching, where love, justice, solidarity, subsidiarity and the common good are the main driving forces for the business and the people associated with it. There is a common good in all religions. There must be a serious attempt to bring all the examples of the 'Economy of Communion' in all other religions together, so that we can more fully and effectively work for the global common good.

In conclusion, in this paper I have argued that, today, at the dawn of the third millennium, the globalised world economy, despite many significant achievements of the last few decades in areas such as science, technology, medicine, transportation, communication etc., is facing catastrophic socio-economic, political, cultural and environment crises. I also argued that neo-liberalism has been the vehicle in which we have travelled together to the wasteland in which we live today. I also noted that this philosophy of individualism, selfishness and greed, has little respect for, or understanding of, the true human values of community, solidarity, morality, justice and the common good. It was also argued that neo-liberalism, despite a false and a dishonest picture that it projects, has deprived us of knowing God and of appreciating the important role that religions can play in our everyday economic, political, business, cultural and social lives. How could this have been otherwise, when this philosophy has so 'successfully' promoted its own religion of market and its own God, Mammon.

I also noted that, we should seriously attempt to bring economics and theology together, so that once again, we can restore the balance between the material and spiritual elements in our lives in order to find true happiness. It is important at this point to note that, my arguments should be seen as inclusive rather than exclusive. I strongly believe that it is only by empowering others to share with me, that I will empower myself to share with them, and by empowering others to teach me, that I will empower myself to teach them. In all, there is in my view, a 'common good' in all of us and in all religions. Many religious leaders have spoken eloquently on this matter, including Pope John Paul II, amongst others. Recent international inter-faith gatherings at Assisi, are examples of religions working together to promote a global peace and security.

At the end of 1999 at the Parliament of the Worlds Religions, in Cape Town, South Africa, Dr. Karan Singh, Chairman, Temple of Understanding touched upon these issues. Because of its significance to this paper, I should like to quote part of his speech here. He notes that: "Impelled by science and technology, all aspect of life on our planet are, for better or worse, undergoing a process of globalisation - whether it is politics or economics, commerce or industry, environment or communications, language or music, or any other. The great religions of the world also have burst geographical boundaries and have assumed global dimensions. While we are thus being irresistibly propelled towards a global society, the consciousness needed to sustain such a society is still imperfectly developed. It is this dangerous time lag which is at the root of much of the tumult and turmoil that we see around us today, and if the truly religious impulse is creatively projected it can go a long way in forging a new consciousness that would unite rather than divide the peoples of the world.

Religion has always been a major factor in the growth of human civilisation. Whether it is art or architecture, music or literature, philosophy or law, moral codes or spiritual texts, many of the glorious achievements of the human race can be traced back to the tremendous impetus of the world's great religions. But we have to admit that there have also been terribly negative aspects - mass killings, pogroms, inquisitions, torture, persecution, vandalism and bigotry have all, at some place or time, been perpetrated in the name of religion. And the crowing irony is that these have been done in the name of a divinity which every religion looks upon as being beneficent, merciful and compassionate!

This being the case, the question before us is whether we are going to revert to the medieval pattern of religious wars and internecine conflict, or move onwards to a new dimension of Interfaith dialogue , harmony and understanding.

The task of Interfaith dialogue has become all the more urgent because around the world a number of fundamentalist and fanatical religious groups have emerged with the avowed intention of using violence to subvert constitutionally established regimes and terrorise whole populations. This rise of fundamentalism, while it obviously threatens civil society, in a deeper sense is an even greater threat to the religions themselves, because if they become associated in the public mind with violence and terrorism, it will be a major hurdle towards building a sane and harmonious global society in the century that is beginning.

The universal values inherent in all the great religious systems of the world need to be clearly articulated in terms of contemporary consciousness and the compulsions of the global society. For this, it is necessary to highlight the golden thread of mysticism and gnosis that runs through all the great religions of the world. Whether it is the glowing vision of the great Upanishadic seers or the Jam Tirthankars, the luminous sayings of the Buddha or the passionate outpourings of the Muslim Sufis, the noble utterances of the great Rabbis, or of the Sikh Gurus, the inspired utterances of the Christian saints or the insights of the Chinese sages, these and other traditions of ecstatic union with the Divine represent an important dimension of religion. It is, in fact, this spiritual dimension that ultimately links all human beings into one, great extended family - Vasudaiva Kutumbakam - as the Vedas have it. Fanning the glowing spark of potential divinity within each person irrespective of race or religion, sex or nationality, into the blazing fire of spiritual realisation is, indeed, the true role of the great religions of humankind.

It is only with such an inclusivist approach that religions will fulfil their true dual purpose to lead us inwardly towards the spiritual light and outwardly towards peace, harmony and global consciousness. Let us all who are present here, men and women of religion, pledge to work for furthering the universal principles of love, harmony and mutual understanding, and in opposing all types of fundamentalism and fanaticism. Then only will we fulfil our true Dharma in this exciting and extraordinary age in which we are privileged to be living, as we hurtle headlong into the future astride the irreversible arrow of time."

Moreover, it is worth remembering the wise words of the Persian poet, Sa'di, who centuries ago said:

The children of Adam
are limbs of one another;
in terms of creation
they're of the self-same Essence.

This poem is inscribed at the entrance of the Secretariat of the United Nations in New York.


Dr. Kamran Mofid, received his PhD in Economics from the University of Birmingham in 1986. In 2001 he received a Certificate in Higher Education in Pastoral Studies at Plater College, Oxford. He has been teaching Economics and Business Studies at university level from 1980. He is author of a number of books including Globalisation for the Common Good, (Shepheard-Walwyn, London, March, 2002), and is convenor of the Annual International conference on An Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation, Plater College, (July 27-Aug.3, 2002; St. Petersburg, Russia 2003 [in association with Dr. Tatiana Roskoshnaya]; and Barcelona 2004 [in association with Dr. Josef Boehle]). He is currently seeking to establish an international Centre for the Study of Economics, Politics, Business and Faiths. For further information please visit the website

* The main source for this article is the author's book, 'Globalisation for the Common Good'.

This paper is a revised version of an original paper prepared for a series of lectures in Europe, North America and Japan, September - December 2002.

A shortened version of this article will appear in the World Faiths Encounter, April, 2003.


© TFF & the author 2002  


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