Community, Business, Ethics, and Global Capitalism

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Indeed, they need to spearhead entrepreneurial activity on a massive scale. They must help devise strategies that provide employment for the billions now outside the system, which, in turn, means changing how they think about the relationship between productivity and profit. They must invent business models that make better use of scarce resources and even take advantage of looming resource shortages.


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And they must create institutional arrangements for coordinating and governing neglected and dysfunctional aspects of market capitalism. Some companies are already combining technology and good management to deal with the challenges. They have found ways to provide education and access to finance, jobs, goods, and services so that large numbers of people are brought into the market system.

The Forces of Disruption

Other companies are pioneering the search for new sources of energy and more-efficient uses of critical resources. But there is a long way to go and many serious problems to address. We believe that if enough companies develop business strategies that help tackle these problems, the entire system can be strengthened, the forces of disruption mitigated, and market capitalism as a wealth-creating system for society preserved.

The leaders we talked to identified various forces that could severely disrupt the global market system in the decades ahead.

Because market capitalism is part of a complex sociopolitical system, these forces arise from multiple sources. Some are fueled by negative consequences of the market system and feed back into it in disruptive ways. Others arise from sources external to the system.

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Still others relate to the conditions that must be in place for the market system to function effectively. Whatever their origins, the forces are interrelated and cannot be considered in isolation. Trillions of dollars move around the world daily, at high velocities. The financial crisis of showed that if these flows are unmanaged and unregulated, transparency can be reduced and risk compounded, with devastating consequences.

The financial collapse of also demonstrated that trade can break down precipitously and with far-reaching effects. The freeze in trade finance and collapse in demand for goods was reflected in a 2. Within countries and across regions, income and wealth disparities are increasing—a trend that concerned the business leaders in our forums.

The growing gap makes a mockery of the idea that economic growth benefits all. And the resulting populist politics could lead to harmful government interventions, such as overregulation of market transactions, confiscation of property, and other abrogations of property rights. Massive migration, either domestically from rural areas to cities or across national boundaries, is often a consequence of inequality. Cross-border movements of people tend to trigger protectionism and anti-immigrant political reactions, which frustrate would-be immigrants, undermine potential solutions to labor needs in developed nations, and generate social conflict.

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The evidence is more than circumstantial that industrial growth is associated with climate change, which affects the availability of water, the health of crops, air quality, and sea levels. The consequences could be seen in migration, the disruption of manufacturing and trade, and political instability. The rise of corruption, extortion, thuggery, and expropriation in some parts of the world makes it difficult to operate a capitalist system that respects property and human rights and upholds contracts.

When bribes rather than competition determine winners, investment in innovation ceases to be worthwhile.

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The size of the labor force depends in part on its health, and its productivity depends on its education as well as its health. In parts of the developed world, the quality of education is in decline, and health care costs have become unmanageable everywhere. For centuries, developing nations have adopted variations of mercantilist policies to accelerate economic growth. But in the 21st century, some developing nations are giants.

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To the extent that Russia, China, and India play by their own rules, they have the potential to disrupt market capitalism as it is practiced in the developed world. The increasing challenge of maintaining sufficient peace and security for capitalism to prosper threatens the system.

Ethical Capitalism: Shibusawa Eiichi and Business Leadership in Global Perspective

Sustained conflicts could disrupt the flows of goods, services, and capital necessary for the functioning of global markets. The development of resistant pathogens such as MRSA and the unwillingness of some governments to address pandemics and to engage in cooperative efforts to curb the spread of disease pose another threat. An outbreak of untreatable infectious disease could quickly disrupt trade and financial markets worldwide. Governmental and international institutions seem inadequate to deal with the scale and complexity of these varied challenges.

Too often, international cooperation consists of ad hoc agreements, such as those meant to address climate change, trade, and migration. Worse, the disruptive forces interact in negative ways so that problems in one area stimulate new ones in others. It is the systemic character of the challenges that makes them especially hard to address. Neither governments nor the few international institutions currently in place are set up to deal with systemic failure.

How can business respond to the disruptive forces? How should business respond? In answering those questions, the executives typically fell into one of four camps. Over time, those in this group argued, the issues would take care of themselves through the normal mechanisms of government, business, and other institutions. In our view, none of these responses is adequate by itself. Business as bystander asks more of government than it can possibly deliver: Many governments today are too weak—economically and politically—to address major global disruptions.

Although we see great promise in business as innovator—indeed, companies that view challenges as business opportunities can play a significant role in addressing them—current challenges also call for business as activist, in which companies could drive institutional innovations beyond what a single firm could accomplish. What would business as leader look like? First, it would produce a wide array of structural innovations. In addition to new technologies, products, processes, designs, and distribution systems—the kinds of innovation for which business is often, and rightly, celebrated—we need innovations in strategies and business models that explicitly seek to use disruptive forces as opportunities for growth and profitability.

Second, business as leader would involve activism both at the level of local policies such as a business that supports education and training relevant to its skill needs and at the level of the broader system such as a company that pushes for more transparency in the global financial system. Activism at this higher level often requires institutional innovation: the creation of entities that can organize large-scale collective action.

Consider the challenge of health care. The data are clear: In developed countries, the rising cost of health care threatens to bankrupt the governments that provide it. Worse, the quality of care seems largely uncorrelated with cost. The debate in the United States, focused on access to care and how to pay for care, has generally neglected two critically needed changes: improving life style and behavior better nutrition and more exercise, decreased drug and alcohol dependence and rationalizing health care delivery so that it is based on the analysis of patient outcomes.

Instead of addressing those huge opportunities, many companies are resisting change, taking a business as usual stance. Where is the Henry Ford who will rationalize health care delivery? Consider also income inequality. The only way to sustain the income levels that can keep people out of poverty in developed nations is to educate workers so that they can compete with those in developing nations.

Education is generally considered the responsibility of government, but voters in many rich countries have expressed an unwillingness to fund it, and many companies aggressively seek to minimize their contribution to the tax base that funds public education. Where are the companies that are developing ways to train workers so that their productivity permits them to earn middle-class incomes? The forces that threaten market capitalism arise within a complex and dynamic sociopolitical system characterized by both positive and negative feedback loops.

The market system generates positive consequences that, in turn, reinforce and strengthen the antecedents necessary for it to function successfully. The system also generates negative consequences. In many countries, high-income jobs such as software development and jobs in modern manufacturing facilities are unfilled because the education system is not producing graduates with the necessary skills. One of our U. Similarly, the CEO of Siemens in the United States recently noted the mismatch between the skills his factories required and those that high-school graduates possess.


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Where are the companies that are using technology and good management to equip high-school graduates to work in modern factories? What about migration?


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In many countries, unfavorable demographics threaten economic growth. Think of Japan, with its aging population and growing labor shortages. Well-managed immigration would go a long way toward solving such problems. Bercker, L. Encyclopedia of Ethics. New York: Gerland Publishing Inc. Boltanski, L. The new spirit of capitalism.