This paper starts with a philosophical discussion about the world we want to live in and our objectives for a good society which will help our world survive for the foreseeable future.
The paper will argue that there are three fundamental parts to civil society, the government, society itself and the business sector.
All three have responsibilities towards achieving these objectives.
The paper will suggest how the capitalist business sector can reform and make a greater contribution towards ensuring the world is a better place for current and future generations.
It suggests that businesses, and perhaps more importantly, those who work within them, have a responsibility to ensure all their decisions have a positive impact on society and the environment as well as making an ethical profit.
This is Social Capitalism
1. Professor Brian Cox, the renowned physicist, has claimed aliens have not made contact with us because the most advanced civilisations have always killed themselves off – and in his opinion, we will too.
2. This short paper will argue that business, as one of the three basic pillars of society (the other two being government and the civil society) needs to take a more responsible role in ensuring that, as far as it can, it plays its role in ensuring that Professor Cox is wrong and that mankind will continue in perpetuity or, at least, for many generations to come.
What sort of society do we wish to live in?
3. But before we discuss the main purpose of this paper, the role of capitalism in our society and how it can contribute to the common good, we need to agree about what sort of society we wish to live in and what sort of society is most likely to ensure mankind continues for the foreseeable future.
4. So first, it would not seem unreasonable, for the sake of our children and their children, to strive for a politic/philosophy that maximises the possibility that mankind/society continues for the foreseeable future. Most would not dispute that there is no politic/philosophy, that we currently know of anyway, absolutely guaranteed to meet this objective. It appears, that if Brian Cox is correct, no other civilisation has found this solution either!
5. So, if we have a situation, where we cannot be absolutely certain which philosophy/political system will guarantee that mankind will continue for the foreseeable future, it would not seem unreasonable that one based on creating a “fair and just” society, would be, as likely as any, to succeed. It would seem unlikely that any reasonable person would find this philosophy, to create a “fair and just” society, would be totally unacceptable as an objective. It seems common sense that a policy based on LOVE and RESPECT for one another, individual responsibility and total respect for the environment is worth a try. It seems common sense that with everyone working together in a caring and responsible way in all our decisions that, at the very least, we can create together, a better world for ourselves and future generations, at least, for the foreseeable future.
What is a “fair and just” society?
6. As discussed, everyone will have different views on the exact definition of a “fair and just” society, a society which goes about its business in a fair and just manner. However, this society for a reasonable person could include:
• Where everyone has sufficiency for a decent life (see para. 15)
• Where there is a well-balanced rule of law while allows for religious freedom .
• Where there is a fair and just legal system and where people feel safe
• Where there are good educational, health and welfare systems.
• Where people have a job and are fairly-paid, motivated and fulfilled.
• Where the transport and communications systems work well.
The social contract between government, society and business
7. The government, we as individuals and the business sector must all play a part in creating this just society.
8. With such diverse sectors of government, civil society and business and for us to achieve our objective of a “fair and just” society, all three partners need to work together, in mutuality, towards this common aim. Should this symbiotic relationship break down, at any stage, then the objective will not be achieved.
9. It makes sense, at this stage, to briefly discuss the role of the two other pillars, civil society and government.
The role of us as individuals in making the world a better place
10. It is easy for all of us to criticise the government or business, or anything else for that matter, for the problems facing our society. Of course, there may be every reason to do so! But however, we, as individuals have a role to play too, in creating the world we live in.
11. We must not forget the negative effects of our selfishness, greed and dishonesty have on the fabric of society!
12. Likewise, we must not forget the positive effects of a smile, kindness, charitable acts and good neighbourliness have on our society! We all have a role to play too!
The role of government in making the world a better place
13. Government is one of the key components of our society and clearly plays a unique and critical role in creating the “fair and just” society discussed above. If we assume that this objective is the way forward, we need to ensure that the government provides the “fundamentals” to ensure this “fair and just” society.
14. Of course, all of us and the various political parties, having different priorities, will have differing definitions of a “fair and just” society: for example’ the argument about equality versus equality of opportunity.
15. But few would disagree with the principle of creating an environment where there is “sufficiency for a decent life” including: a decent home for everyone, enough to eat, adequate heating, free education, welfare and healthcare systems, an environment without pollution and most importantly, the protection of the minorities, disadvantaged and the politically weak.
16. In a “fair and just” society and trying to ensure that civilisation continues for the foreseeable future, these things, outlined above, should be a RIGHT for EVERYONE. Again, everyone as individuals and the political parties will have differing views on the level of control taken by a democratically elected government but the principle that government will need, on a few or even many occasions, to make decisions on what is right and wrong about what is legal and what is not legal, must be sacrosanct.
17. It is open to debate whether government is currently taking the required actions to ensure there is a strong mutuality between the three pillars of civil society.
18. Going forward, government will almost certainly have to make decisions pertaining to the environmental challenges that confront the world. Additionally, a government may feel it necessary, again on a lesser or greater scale to make decisions pertaining to the economy and business. But, whatever the political persuasion, a government must remember it has a responsibility to create a “fair and just” society and provide as a minimum “sufficiency for decent life”. Again, it is open to debate whether government is fulfilling its responsibility towards achieving a “fair and just” society, and whether it is providing the “minimum of sufficiency” for its people (see para.15)
The role of business in making the world a better place
19. The third pillar of society is business. There are currently around 5.5 million private sector businesses in the UK employing in the region of 26 million people out of a working population of 31.5 million. So business is a vital contributor to our society.
20. While, we are simply talking about and using the word, business, for many, there is an elephant in the room! Yes, we are really talking about capitalism and the role of capitalism in our society.
21. This is not the right place to discuss the pros and cons of capitalism and whether capitalism has been a good or bad influence on society. There are advocates of capitalism who point to the massive increase in living standards over the last 150 years and the reduction in the levels of poverty throughout the world. There are others who feel that the fundamental purpose of capitalism, the pursuit of profit, has created massive inequality in society and favours the (already) rich to the detriment of the poor.
22. This paper takes a pragmatic view on the historical contribution of capitalism on whether it has been good or bad for the UK society! It is largely an academic discussion as no-one knows where we would be if some other form of society had taken root. We are where we are, with the concept (of capitalism) firmly established in our culture.
23. However, the popularity of capitalism is certainly on the wane with people questioning its value to society.
24. The fact of the matter is that capitalism plays an enormous role in our society as proved by the figures above (see para. 19)
25. There is currently much talk about “purpose” in the business community, politicians and think-tanks. People are arguing there is currently a lack of purpose in business – that businesses have lost all sense of purpose. They have got this completely wrong. In these neoliberal capitalist times, most business people have had an over-riding purpose – to make a profit for shareholders and sometimes (but not always) in doing so make a profit for themselves. A car manufacturer does not have a purpose to make “beautiful” cars. A confectionary manufacturer does not have a purpose to make nicer chocolate. They both have a purpose “to make a profit” and they achieve this by specialising in making cars and chocolate.
26. There are, of course, some business models where the simple fact of making their product serves society in a very clear and concise way – not-for-profit and social enterprises for example. There are clearly some businesses whose purpose goes beyond making money. But for the vast majority, the main objective is to make a profit.
27. We have no problem with companies making an ethical profit and we stress the word ethical. They need to make an ethical profit for investment in equipment, machinery, staff, training, health and safety, innovation and R & D and to repay investors. Companies making an ethical profit are likely to be more sustainable and will retain staff and be more able to employ top talent. And, of course, corporation tax is taxed. In principle anyway!
28. Neither does this paper consider the abolition of capitalism as an option. Whatever the faults of capitalism and the philosophical merits of abolition, it would be an incredible risk to take!
29. Capitalism needs to change. Businesses have a responsibility to change and everybody working in business has a responsibility to change.
30. We are advocating a fundamental shift in attitudes within business. We contend that having the sole purpose of making a profit is not sufficient and that all businesses, and most importantly, the people who work within them (from CEO’s to the new interns) have a responsibility, as do the two other pillars of a civil society, towards ensuring that mankind continues for the foreseeable future. Rather than being single purpose, to make a profit, they will become triple purpose, to serve society, protect the environment as well as making an ethical profit.
31. Additionally, with a business setting societal and environmental targets, a purpose-driven work-force will find creative and innovative solutions to achieving these targets. The innovation juices will be let loose!
32. It is our view that people will be happier, more motivated and more fulfilled in their job by behaving in a caring, ethical and compassionate way towards each other, society in general and the environment. People will have a purpose in their working lives.
33. Where would a company be without the services provided by the two other pillars of a civil society? There would be no educated, socially stable and enthusiastic employees. There would be no infrastructure (hospitals, welfare, transport system, power, law and order). Without this infrastructure, they would be unable to do business.
34. Because businesses use the services provided by the government and civil society, they have a duty to repay society for the privilege. These services do not come free. This is why companies pay tax. Or should do!
35. There is a bonus for businesses as well. There is evidence that ethical companies with a happy, fulfilled and motivated work-force are more profitable over time.
36. Of course, there are many companies where this ethical approach is imbedded in the DNA of the business but we need MORE.
This is Social Capitalism – capitalism with a social conscience.
37. In conclusion, it is essential, to ensure that civilisation continues for the foreseeable future, that the three pillars of a civil society work in harmony with each other with each taking responsibility in its actions to ensure we create a better world for current and future generations.
38. Business, and the people who work in them, have a responsibility towards society, the environment as well as making an ethical profit.
Maybe Professor Brian Cox is wrong! Maybe there are civilisations like us but their advanced philosophy tells them to leave other civilisations, like us, well alone!