by Kamran Mofid
Kamran Mofid, PhD (Econ) was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1952. In 1986 he was awarded a doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, U.K. He is Founder-Convenor of Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good. His many books and articles include: Development Planning in Iran: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic (1987); The Economic Consequences of the Gulf War (1990); and Globalisation for the Common Good (2002). In 2002 he founded an annual international conference “An Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good.” His email address is www.commongood.info.
This is an extended and revised version of a key presentation delivered at the 4th Parliament of the World’s Religions, 7-13 July 2004, Barcelona, Spain. Used by permission of the author. For more information see the Declaration: “Africa and Globalization for the Common Good; the Quest for Justice and Peace” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=3091)
The author views the problem and challenge of globalisation partly from economic but primarily from ethical, spiritual and theological points of view. Globalisation will need to combine economic efficiency with social justice and environmental sustainability.
This is an extended and revised version of a key presentation delivered at the 4th Parliament of the World’s Religions, 7-13 July 2004, Barcelona ( Programme: An Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good, Sunday, July 11, 2004). An earlier version of this paper was presented as a keynote speech at” Iran and Globalisation for the Common Good, ” the Iranian Business Council Gala Dinner (IBC, Dubai), 28th March,2004, Under the Patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance.
This study argues that the marketplace is not just an economic sphere, ‘it is a region of the human spirit’. Moreover, the study argues that the secrets of the whole economic questions are Divine in nature, and should, in contrast to what is practised today, be concerned with the world of heart and spirit. Although self –interest is an important source of human motivation, driving the decisions we make in the marketplace every day, those decisions nevertheless have a moral, ethical and spiritual content, because each decision we make affects not only ourselves but others too. The study views the problem and challenge of globalisation partly from economic but primarily from ethical, spiritual and theological point of view. How can we order the modern world so that we may all live well and live in peace? In short, globalisation will need to combine economic efficiency to meet human needs with social justice and environmental sustainability. The study discusses and develops further themes suggested in my earlier publications* arguing for the creation of an “ecumenical space” for dialogue amongst civilisations and the building of community for the common good by bringing economics, spirituality and theology together.
Today the globalised world economy, despite many significant achievements during the last few decades, and especially since the end of the Second World War, in areas such as science, technology, medicine, transportation and communication, is facing major catastrophic socio-economic, political, cultural and environmental crises.
We are surrounded by global problems of inequality, injustice, poverty, greed, marginalisation, exclusion, intolerance, fear, mistrust, xenophobia, terrorism, sleaze and corruption. These problems are affecting the overall fabric of societies in many parts of the world.
Moreover, the twentieth century was the bloodiest in human history, with holocausts, genocides, ethnic cleansing, two world wars and hundreds of inter and intra-national wars. Furthermore, today after decades of selfishness, greed, individualism, emphasis on wealth creation without care about how this wealth is being created, the world is entering a period of reflection, self-examination and a spiritual revolution. Many people around the globe have come to an understanding that it is possible to create a better world if a critical mass of people with a sense of human decency and a belief in the ultimate goodness of humanity, rise and realise their power to transform the world. More and more people around the world are realising that there are no short cuts to happiness. Material wealth is important. This should not be denied. However, physical wealth is only one ingredient for happiness. Realisation of a complete sense of happiness, inner peace and tranquillity can only be achieved through acting more on virtues such as wisdom, justice, ethics, love and humanity. This spiritual revolution needs architecture and dedicated architects.
Today’s financial globalisation, of which we hear so much, has created an environment and culture in which individual self-interest takes priority over social good. A transactional view of the world dominates economic thinking; personal relationships and the creation of a stable society are largely ignored in the maximisation of profits. Economic globalisation without a globalisation of compassion for the common good, is nothing but a ‘house of cards’, ready to be blown away by forces that ultimately it would not be able to control. The historian Arnold Toynbee, who traced the rise and fall of civilisations, asserted that spirituality was more significant than political leaders in the rise of civilisations, and that once a civilisation lost its spiritual core it sank into decline. May I add that, I hope this be a lesson to those who believe that they can create and control civilisations through the use of brutal and inhumane force.
Another major shortcoming of economic globalisation is its slavish adherence to market forces. This is wrong and harmful as it has removed human beings from the equation. If everything can be done according to market forces, then where is the place for us, for humanity, for love and compassion?
The 1987 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, Professor Robert Solow made the following wise remark about the over-emphasis on market forces and competition. “Few markets can ever have been as competitive as those that flourished in Britain in the first half of the nineteenth century, when infants became deformed as they toiled their way to an early death in the pits and mills of the Black Country. And there is no lack of examples today to confirm the fact also that well-functioning markets have no innate tendency to promote excellence in any form. They offer no resistance to forces making for a descent into cultural barbarity or moral depravity”.
However, as an economist with a wide range of experience, I do appreciate the significance of economics, politics, trade, banking, insurance and commerce, and of globalisation. I understand the importance of wealth creation. But wealth must be created for a noble reason. I want to have a dialogue with the business community. I want to listen to them and be listened to. Today’s business leaders are in a unique position to influence what happens in society for years to come. With this power comes monumental responsibility. They can choose to ignore this responsibility, and thereby exacerbate problems such as economic inequality, environmental degradation and social justice, but this will compromise their ability to do business in the long run. The world of good business needs a peaceful and just world in which to operate and prosper.
In order to arrive at this peaceful and prosperous destination, we need to change the house of neo-classical economics, to make a fit home for the common good. After all, many of the issues that people struggle over, or their governments put forward, have ultimately economics at their core. As I mentioned before, the creation of a stable society in today’s global world is largely ignored in favour of economic considerations of minimising costs and maximising profits, while other equally important values are put aside and ignored.
John Maynard Keynes predicted a moment when people in advanced economies would step back from traditional economic imperatives and feel free to concentrate on how to live wisely, agreeably and well. The purpose of the economy, according to Keynes, is to control the material basis of a civilised society, enabling its citizens to explore the higher dimensions of human existence, to discover their own full potential. In our world of prosperity for the few, we seem to have got that backwards. Lives are restricted by harsh working conditions and the common assets of a community are degraded in the pursuit of endless economic growth.
Economics once again must find its heart, soul and spirituality. Moreover, it should also reconnect itself with its original source, rooted in ethics and morality. Today’s huge controversy which surrounds much of the economic and business world is because they do not adequately and appropriately address the needs of the global collective and the powerless, marginalised and excluded. This, surely, in the interest of all, has to change. The need for an explicit acknowledgment of true global values, such as altruism, inclusion, universality, fraternity, sympathy, empathy, sharing, security, envisioning, enabling, empowering, solidarity and much more, is the essential requirement in making economics work for the common good. Economics, as practiced today. cannot claim to be for the common good. In short, a revolution in values is needed, when it demands that economics and business must both embrace material and spiritual values simultaneously.
As it can be seen, given the state of our world today, the world of progress and poverty, elaborate, difficult to comprehend, infused by so much mathematical jargon, economic models and theories, has not delivered the happiness that has been promised because of its failure to satisfy people’s spiritual needs. We have to reverse this. Do not let us carry on constructing a global society that is materially rich but spiritually poor. Let us begin to construct globalisation for the common good.
Common Good defined
Commenting on the grave economic and social problems American society now confronts, Newsweek columnist Robert J. Samuelson recently wrote: ‘We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common good or a more contentious society where groups selfishly protect their own benefits.’ His is not the only voice urging recognition of and commitment to a ‘common good’.
Appeals to the common good have also surfaced in discussions about the social responsibilities of business, about environmental pollution, the lack of investment in education, health, transport and vital utilities, and about the problems of crime and poverty. Everywhere, it seems, social commentators are claiming that our fundamental social problems have grown from a widespread lack of commitment to the common good and an equally widespread pursuit of individual interests.
What exactly is ‘the common good’ and why has it assumed such importance in current discussions about social problems? The common good is a notion that originated over two thousand years ago in the writings of Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. Recently ethicist John Rawls defined it as ‘certain general conditions that are … equally to everyone’s advantage’. The common good, then, involves having the social systems, institutions and environments on which we all depend, work in a manner that benefits us all.
One of the fullest definitions of the common good is found in the Catholic tradition as expressed in Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World), the Pastoral Constitution of the Second Vatican Council (1965). This is how the concept is defined:
As interdependence grows, so does the point of ‘the common good’ which is ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, as groups or as individuals, to reach fulfilment more fully and more easily’. Every group must take into account the needs and aspirations of every other group, and of the whole human family. At the same time, because of the dignity of the human person, the individual has rights and duties that are universal and inviolable. Every human being should have ready access to everything necessary for living a truly human life, including food, clothes, housing, education, work, respect, and the right to act according to correct conscience.
The social order and its development must yield to the good of the person, since the order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons and not the other way round … We must constantly improve the social order, in truth, justice, and love. We should renew our attitudes, change our mentality. We must have respect for one another, and for our neighbours’ needs for a decent quality of life. We must make ourselves the neighbour of every person in need whom we can help. Whatever offends human dignity, such as sub-human living conditions, or treatment of employees as mere tools for profit instead of free, responsible men and women, these and the like poison civilisation … No one today should be content to lounge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfil our obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good, and to promote and help public and private organisations working for better conditions of life.
Achievement of the common good does not just happen, it requires the cooperation of many people. Just as keeping a park free of litter depends on each visitor picking up after himself, so maintaining the social conditions that benefit all requires some effort from every citizen. These efforts pay off because the common good is a good to which each member of society has access, and from which none is easily excluded. We all, for example, enjoy the benefits of clean air and an unpolluted environment. A common good is by definition one to which we all have access.
To summarise, the common good is universal, diffusive of itself; it is a ‘distributive’ good; it is not a collection of singular goods. The common good is communicable to many. It is possessed as a whole by each of us without becoming any one individual’s private good. One person can possess a common good without this possession in any way diminishing the rights of another. Each individual possesses the whole common good, not just a piece of it. Moreover, the most important ingredients of common good are truth, justice and love. Furthermore, the best way to fulfil our obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good and to serve it.
Market according to the Common Good defined
Above, I defined and elaborated on neo-liberal understanding of what it is meant by the market and the consequences of such understanding.. At this point I try to provide an alternative definition, while at the same time not rejecting the need for the market in the world of economics.
In the market for the Common Good, love, solidarity and mutual support guide economic life. In this regard John Calvin words ring true.
For Calvin, the market was a place where human beings, called by God to serve the whole of society by fulfilling their professional obligations (the professional vocation of every man and woman), could come to understand their interdependence, their reliance on others who are in turn carrying out their activities. In the market-place, human beings exchange the fruit of their labour. It is therefore a place which should enable us to understand the deep, underlying solidarity to which we are called. In Calvin’s commentary of the Book of Isaiah, he mentions in connection with the passage in chapter 23:17-18 that the city of Tyre, an important commercial centre in the Middle East in the 8th century BC, traded only to gain wealth. The text states that God’s judgement would inevitably come down on Tyre. But Calvin says that when Tyre is converted it will continue its commerce, but for the good of all. Calvin was aware that the market is a human construct, a work of human ingenuity, endeavour and interests. As such it can be organised in a way that would make is satisfy the needs of all, or at least the majority of human beings. Consequently, like any other sphere of human life, markets must be subject to the sovereignty of God. Contracts, conventions, treaties, weights, measures, prices, exchange rates and all the rest have to be fair and governed by transparent, equitable rules.
In all, markets are not an instrument of human salvation, but, the outcome of human effort, and hence subject to limitation and in need of constant correction and improvement. Contrary to certain contemporary economic theories which say that the working of the economy has nothing to do with ethics (i.e. nothing to do with human behaviour) but only how to manage our scarce resources to produce wealth and avoid poverty, various theologians in the past Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and others have insisted that commercial activity is based on a number of tacit moral agreements. Hence, markets cannot be considered as the supreme reference governing human behaviour, nor can they be considered as absolutely ‘free’ because they are supposedly self-regulating.
Globalisation for the Common Good defined
As for defining Globalisation for the Common Good, a globalisation for the common good, is an economy of sharing and is an economy of community. It is not an economy or a system in which well-placed people, institutions or governments can make a ‘killing’. It is an economy and a philosophy whose aim is generosity and the promotion of a just distribution of God’s gifts.
In seeking globalisation for the common good, we, the peoples of the world, could together undertake a healing journey, moving from conflict to harmony, achieving the common good in our global home. The economic vision in globalisation for the common good is the development of globalisation as if people mattered, involving an honest debate on an analysis of integrity, responsibility, accountability and spirituality for the good of all. In short, economic efficiency and compassion as well as justice should work hand in hand to create a humane and peaceful environment for all God’s people.
Globalisation for the common good will ensure the success of globalisation because it will remember that the market place is not only a place of trade; it is also a region for the human spirit, for love and compassion. The practice of business and formulation of economics is generally carried out with little or no reference to spiritual concerns. My own recent work has focused on the need to re-introduce these values into the world of commerce. I have realised, after twenty-five years of teaching economics, that only a spiritually and philosophically committed mind will strive for humane globalisation, for ethical as well as corporate social responsibility. If there is no humanity and spirituality, no love, then the laws enforcing business ethics and corporate responsibility will be broken in the selfish interests of profit-seeking, by the few, for the few. Globalisation for the common good is all about commitment and hope. It is a challenge for hearts and minds. It meets bad ideas with better ones, disadvantage with imagination and vision.
Globalisation for the common good empowers us with humanity, spirituality and love. It will raise us above pessimism to an ultimate optimism; turning from darkness to light; from night to day; from winter to spring. This spiritual ground for hope at this time of wanton destruction of our world, can help us recognise the ultimate purpose of life and of our journey in this world.
How to achieve Globalisation for the Common Good
If we truly want to change the world for the better, all of us, the business community, politicians, workers, men and women, young and old, must truly become better ourselves. We must share a common understanding of the potential for 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. We can achieve a culture of peace by giving thanks, spreading joy, sharing love and understanding, seeing miracles, discovering goodness, embracing kindness and forgiveness, practicing patience, teaching tolerance, encouraging laughter, celebrating and respecting the diversity of cultures and religions and peacefully resolving conflicts. We must each of us become an instrument of peace.
In short, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, we should declare ourselves against the ‘Seven Social Sins’. These are:
§Politics without principles
§Commerce without morality
§Wealth without work
§Education without character
§Science without humanity
§Pleasure without conscience
§Worship without sacrifice.
Moreover, in the words of Robert Muller, former UN Under-Secretary General, we ought:
- To see the world with global eyes;
- To love the world with a global heart;
- To understand the world with a global mind;
- To merge with the world with a global spirit.
We can achieve this by:
§bringing the material consumption of our species into balance with the needs of the earth;
§realigning our economic priorities so that all persons have access to an adequate and meaningful means of earning a living for themselves and their families;
§democratising our institutions to route power to people and communities;
§replacing the dominant culture of materialism with cultures grounded in life-affirming values of cooperation, caring, compassion and community;
§integrating the material and spiritual aspects of our beings so that we become whole persons.
(Note: A shorter version of this article will be published in Interreligious Insight, October, 2004)
Kamran Mofid, Globalisation for the Common Good, Shepheard-Walwyn, London, 2002.
……, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Globalisation for the Common Good, Shepheard-Walwyn, London, 2003.
Kamran Mofid was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1952. In 1986 he was awarded a doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, U.K. From 1980 onward, he has been teaching economics, business studies, international business, and the political economy of the Middle East. In recent years, Dr. Mofid has developed short courses, seminars, and workshops on economics and theology, the economics of the common good, and an interfaith perspective on globalisation. His many books and articles include: Development Planning in Iran: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic (1987); The Economic Consequences of the Gulf War (1990); and Globalisation for the Common Good (2002). In 2002 he founded an annual international conference “An Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good.” For more details please see www.commongood.info