Capitalism At Bay? Enlightenment or Death

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It is legitimate and licit for businesses to aspire after earnings and profits without dishonesty; yet it´s benighted, cynical and objectionable to victimize the common ruck by fleecing – in the name of a vicious "rational principle" -- the average punter of his or her money.

[The View From Abroad]

William E. B. Dubois, the father of the "Harlem Renaissance" deemed that capitalism was and still is anti-human and anti-rational.

The current financial and economic crisis that’s jarring the globe is vindicating him to such an extent that the common ruck in Europe henceforth views bankers and financial markets traders as professional thieves and crooks. Dubois was spurning "destructive capitalism" that fosters systematic guile, cheating, exploitation, daylight robbery and theft; and that spawns destitution and wrecks lives and the common wealth.

In this vein, we’ll just explain that capitalism qua capitalism isn’t that rotten since each human, poor or rich, in principle owns, from a sociological viewpoint, some kind of capital, which is his or her asset. If you don’t have financial capital, you may possess brawn or brains -- "Grey Power".

Your brawn can be your capital; your brains ditto.

In the run-up to and in the aftermath of the G20-Summit earlier this month in London, many demonstrators took to the street in several cities in Western Europe to cry out against Unenlightened Capitalism and to celebrate its demise. There were even some marchers who carried a casket, denoting that they were taking capitalism to the grave.

Others called for the advent and inception of "Ethical Capitalism," or "Enlightened Capitalism".

Despite the dire straits in which the global economy is bogged down today, many top executives around the world seem out of touch with reality. Last March, four executives of "Société Générale", a large bank in France, treated themselves to bonuses after the French taxpayer had bailed out that bank – last December, 2008 -- to the tune of more than 1 billion Euros. The hue and cry raised by the French public opinion deterred the bosses from drawing the bonuses.

It should be mentioned that one "gifted trader" of "Société Générale" had gambled away a couple of billions belonging to "Société Générale" earlier. In the United States there was a huge uproar when executives at AIG, bailed to the tune of $180 billion by the government also awarded themselves billions of dollars.

Therefore, this shows that this mindset isn’t peculiar to some "Société Générale" and "AIG" executives only; in fact, it’s widespread in many business and corporate circles and among many business and economics students, graduates and scholars across the globe. This is due to the training and schooling of business and economics students, graduates, experts, players and decision-makers.

Also, many people in Europe blame the current crisis on the U.S.; yet they seem to forget that they had been making a pile of dough thanks to the U.S. and the Big Apple, the capital city of the globe, before the meltdown.

As Western Europe is in the throes of the financial and economic acute crisis, the rest of the outside world is advising their folks to expand and extend their presence to other continents, including Africa, so that they might keep their heads above water.

As a matter of fact, many European businesses, companies and corporations are literally scrambling for Africa. They are desperate for the raw materials and other business contracts. They are encouraged by many journalists who pull the wool over the eyes of and hoodwink Africans and the international public opinion.

Without ant balance in coverage, they focus on disorderly migrations as some Africans try to reach Europe by any means necessary; instability; and conflicts and poverty. Meanwhile, major European businesses quietly and on the sly rake it in other African countries – Angola, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Congo- Brazzaville, D.R. Congo, Equatorial Guinea, among others; often without paying taxes to governments there.

As for capitalism again, the snag is that many hijacked the label "capitalism" and have been using it as a cloak for "thievery". By the way, the thieving and grasping greed mentality is so rampant in many business circles that one prominent professor and economist in Central Europe – name and country of residence of the professor withheld so that nobody would fancy and visualize that we’re out to wrongly and unjustly target any individual or country -- echoed Bertolt Brecht, a twentieth-century German playwright, who declared: "Guzzling first, morals later".

By the way, Bertolt Brecht was a socialist.

Another leading economist of the same country averred last December that business players won’t change their mentality; that is, greed and guile will remain the national and international pastime of players within the business and corporate community.

President Obama was right when he warned some weeks back that some will always try to circumvent the dos and don’ts. That´s why supervisory and oversight bodies as well as excellent and responsible media practitioners must keep tabs on business and political players and decision-makers.

Many business and economics scholars oftentimes hold the opinion that business and economics are amoral. Now note that one of the connotations of the word "amoral" is "immoral". However, we know that morality was and has always been one of the three main tenets and strivings of the "Enlightenment"; the two other principles and aspirations are the use of reason and the belief in progress.

Indeed, the "Enlightenment movement" of the 18th century in Europe didn’t pervade the economic realm. That’s why the two books published by the Scotsman Adam Smith, who is rated and regarded as the father of economics, have always been held up as contradiction; and since then there exists the so-called "Adam Smith’s Problem", that has never been satisfactorily resolved by adepts and researchers in economics.

The current financial and economic crisis is partly due to the way "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith is often misconstrued. In his first book "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" (1759) Smith argues as moral philosopher that human beings do care about the well-being of his neighbor, out of sympathy and pleasure; however, in his second book "An Inquiry Into The Nature And The Causes Of The Wealth of Nations," also known as The Wealth of Nations (1776), he contends as economist that prosperity for all crops up when each human being seeks only his personal selfish interests: that is the source of the "Adam Smith’s Problem" which is still wreaking havoc, through "Unenlightened Capitalism", in our world today. This problem can be fixed through hermeneutics or the art of interpretation.

Incidentally, most business and economic scholars are not familiar with hermeneutics, the art of interpretation. Consequently they fail to apply the adequate method and tools to those two books in order to sort out the contradiction between the views held in the two books.

In logic, one would argue that the contradiction evinced by Adam Smith in his two books is sufficient to disqualify, to discount and to disregard his thought because if you say something in one book and unsay the same thing even in a subtle way in another book without clearly distancing yourself from the previous view, then this is tantamount to having built a house and destroying it afterwards or to having said nothing at all.

But if one means to be lenient towards Adam Smith, and eager to do him justice or to salvage his thought, one has no other choice but to resort to hermeneutics in order to unravel the contradiction in his thought. Capitalism is really at a crucial junction today; if it doesn’t imbibe the principles of enlightenment this time around, it deserves to vanish.

It is legitimate and licit for businesses to aspire after earnings and profits without dishonesty; yet it´s benighted, cynical and objectionable to victimize the common ruck by fleecing – in the name of a vicious "rational principle" -- the average punter of his or her money.

The "reason-able principle", a concept used not so long ago by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, will have to replace the "rational principle" – which means high profits also by foul means -- and must become the linchpin of the new "Enlightened Capitalism".

The current financial and economic pains and worries can only be soothed by a shift from the "rational principle" to the "reason-able principle"; from the "Cockeyed Capitalism" to "Enlightened Capitalism".



Black Star News columnist is a PhD candidate at the Goethe – University of Frankfurt ( Main), Germany, and at the Leiden University, Netherlands. He studied Business and Management Economics at the "Institut für Lernsysteme Hamburg", Germany, Information Technology and Business Management at the "Privaten Fernfachhochschule Darmstadt", Germany.



"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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