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Panguna people & the money syndrome

Is moral capitalism even possible?

Moral capitalismPHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Leonard Fong Roka has suggested that rather than being exploited by domestic and international forces an independent Bougainville needs a form of moral capitalism to succeed and achieve its destiny.

Is such a thing as moral capitalism possible or is it too late in the day to create the conditions where such a thing might exist?

I’m old enough to remember a time before supermarkets and the proliferation of large retail stores like Kmart, Target and Big W.

In those earlier days there were small family-owned shops that each had various specialties like groceries, fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, clothes and linen, and hardware.

They were not located in shopping malls but existed separately, often in buildings that also housed the families who owned and ran them.

Because they were an integral part of the community their survival relied upon dealing fairly with their customers.

At the time it seemed like these shops represented something like what is meant by moral capitalism.

As I grew older I watched these stores fall victim to the big monopolising retailers. One by one most of them closed down.

The supermarkets and big retail stores congregated in giant shopping malls are undoubtedly convenient but, despite what they claim, are largely divorced from the communities that they serve.

With this detachment and their size they are free to exploit their customers through the monopolies they create and control.

As such they are symptomatic of the mounting injustice of our modern economy and the immorality that now permeates free-market ideology.

Free marketeers tend to attribute all good things to capitalism, including democracy and freedom.

In doing this they claim that the system is self- balancing.

It is now very apparent that this is not true anymore, if it ever was.

The market and the economy have, in fact, shown themselves not to be self-balancing, not self-correcting, and ultimately not tending towards most of the virtuous directions claimed.

Instead, the market, left to its own devices, tends inexorably towards inequality and the greater and greater concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands,

It tends toward oligarchy and plutocracy, not toward democracy. The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few inevitably and necessarily reduces the freedom of the less privileged and tends to reduce them to the position of lackeys.

The ethical standards of capitalism that existed when those family-owned stores and businesses thrived have been unalterably compromised by what has become a brutal, dog-eat-dog capitalism.

This is a tragedy of monumental proportions because capitalism, informed by egalitarianism and a rational spirit, has an immense benefit.

As Stephen Young, global executive director of the Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism, suggests, “It is really the only system with the potential to reduce global poverty and tyranny and address the needs and aspirations of individuals, societies and nations.”

Moral capitalism of the sort that Leonard Fong Roka is talking about is based on the idea of refocusing economic activity towards the improvement of human lives and ensuring that nobody is left behind along the way.

According to US Democrat congressman Joe Kennedy, moral capitalism would be “judged not just by how much it produces, but how widely it shares; how good it does for how many; how well it takes care of us. All of us.”

Kennedy goes on to say, “We do not stand a chance until we come together to neutralise the weapon on which [capitalism] most depends: an economy that keeps most Americans hanging on by the skin of their teeth.”

Even though Kennedy is talking in an American context his comments are relevant to most other capitalist economies in the world, including Australia and Papua New Guinea.

Other commentators have pointed out that a system like capitalism cannot be moral or immoral in the sense that a person can be because only individuals can be moral agents.

This suggests that the moral behaviour of individuals who act within the capitalist system has to be changed rather than the system itself.

So how do you make capitalism’s ruling players moral? In a supposedly rule-based market capitalist system and liberal democracy how do you stop these people breaking those rules?

How do you convince all of those obscenely wealthy individuals sitting on their piles of money to share a bit of it around?

Someone once said that it’s impossible to take one sip of wine without consuming what’s left in the glass.

So it is with wealth, I suggest. Once people have got a taste for it they are extremely reluctant to let it go, even though they can see the enormous damage their attitudes create.

So, is moral capitalism possible?

You decide.


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Bill Baraba Jagle

Until it becomes known to everyone, intimately as well as generally, that we is stronger than me, there will never be a moral capitalism.

How do we accomplish that? I have no easy answer. I believe it starts with defining success as being happy, rather than being successful.

However, if an individual finds happiness in torturing, killing or taking advantage of others, how do we change that? Here’s where I cannot see the way forward.

Maybe, the people who have been 'deprogrammed' from such ideologies as Objectivism, Trumpism or other take-what-I-want egotistical systems could show those of us who embrace the 'me first' mentality the way out.

Hope is both scary and encouraging. I hope someone comes forward that can tackle what I feel is holding the human race back from moving forward with alacrity and equality: greed.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Most people in the world want low taxes but in several Scandinavian countries, including Sweden, Denmark and Norway high rates underpin a successful society

Sweden, Denmark and Norway top almost every international barometer of what makes a successful society.

In Sweden, for instance, the personal income tax rate can be as little as 29% but most people pay between 49% and 60% through a combination of local government and state income taxes.

This may be high but most people trust the state to manage their taxes well.

The Scandinavians are very attached to the idea of the state as the People's Home. Everyone in society is under the same roof, everyone will be protected.

And Scandinavians are well provided for. They enjoy free schools - public and private - free health and dental care and generous personal benefits such as a child allowance.

Parents enjoy a joint parental leave lasting up to 480 days while receiving 80% per cent of their income.

Sweden has a progressive state pension system: the more you earn, the higher your final pension will be. The retirement age is also flexible: you can start drawing on it from the age of 61, with no fixed upper limit, but the longer you wait to draw your pension, the higher it will be.

In case of unemployment, most individuals receive 80% per cent of their previous salary for the first 200 days of inactivity, dropping to 70% for the next 100 days.

There are many other benefits too.

These Scandinavian countries are not socialist states but fully-fledged capitalist states.

The big difference is that they believe in and practise equality.

To my mind that’s getting close to moral capitalism.

And there’s no reason, except individual greed, why it wouldn’t work in Australia or, for that matter, in PNG.

Chris Overland

Like Phil, I have been thinking about whether capitalism can ever be conducted in a moral and ethical way.

Like him, I can remember another time and place where the absence of great corporations meant that capitalism worked along the lines foreseen by Adam Smith when he wrote “Wealth of Nations”.

Smith had envisaged a world of small businesses which were predominantly operated by one person or, maybe, a family. He did not envisage one dominated by huge, impersonal corporations.

Indeed, he made reference to the economic and social dangers posed by monopolies and oligopolies. In doing so, he was both prescient and recalling the power of the medieval guilds that controlled trade for so long in both the English and Scottish economies.

Unhappily, Smith’s worst fears have been realised.

His “invisible hand” does not work to promote the greatest good for the greatest number. Rather, it now works to promote the interests of the very few over the many.

Advocates for the current neo-liberal system like to boast that it has raised huge numbers of people out of poverty, thanks to the “trickle down” effect.

While it is certainly true that huge numbers of people, notably in China, have been raised out of abject poverty, this has been an incidental effect of their mass exploitation to achieve the rapid industrialisation required for states like China to make the leap from essentially medieval socio-economic circumstances into modernity.

In doing this, states like China have emulated the achievements of Victorian Britain’s Industrial Revolution during the period 1750 to around 1910. The United States underwent a similar transition from roughly the end of the civil war in 1865 to about now.

Japan achieved something similar, first in the Meiji period from 1886 to 1912 and then again from about 1946 to 1990.

In every case the improvement in the lives of the people has not come from the generation of wealth per se. Rather, it has been the result of the great and good realising that, in order to maintain social stability and cohesion (and so retain their privileged positions), it is essential that those they exploit receive sufficient rewards, both private and social, to accept that the system overall is worth supporting.

In the case of China, President Xi Jinping has been quite explicit about this part of the bargain between the Communist Party he leads and the broad mass of the people. It is one of the reasons he is cracking down so hard and ruthlessly on corruption, which is endemic within China’s power elite.

I do not think that morality enters into this calculation to any great extent. It is a question of realpolitik, not morality.

I predict that when, as it must, China’s great period of economic expansion finally sputters to a halt or, at the very least, falls back to within historically normal levels, social restiveness within China will begin to emerge over what many already understand to be an unfair division of wealth and resources.

In the case of PNG, it is unclear to me whether the ordinary people understand the extent to which they have been exploited, whether directly or through simple neglect, by the comparatively few who control the country’s wealth and resources.

It seems to me that people like Gary Juffa, Brian Kramer and others like them now in the Marape government, do understand the problem. Quite what they can do about it is an open question for now.

But one thing is for sure, there is not going to be an outbreak of morality and ethics anytime soon.

The lesson of history is that those with their snouts in the trough will have to be forcibly removed.

Bernard Corden

How can an organisation be ethical if its only corporate social responsibility is to make a profit?

Coles and Woolworths response to plastic shopping bags has merely involved commodification of the problem. and socialising any expense.

The entrepreneurial and buccaneering US oil industry tycoon, John D Rockefeller somewhat predictably embraced a laissez faire spirit towards disasters, which encouraged the transformation of adversity into opportunity.

This commodification was reflected following the World Trade Centre attack in the financial district of downtown Manhattan. A dedicated memorial features twin commemorative pools and has lured over 30 million visitors since its inauguration in 2011.

The not for profit venture with its beguiling complementary museum officially opened in 2014 and attracts almost 9,000 people each day. A $69 admission fee generates over $200 million each year although the cost of fitting aircraft cockpits with substantial doors and strong latches was a modest $3,000 per plane.

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