Huntington’s “civilizations” that (he predicts) will clash are almost all religions. Will scientific modernism prove to be a civilization of its own, perhaps at odds with religion, and therefore breaking cleanly with the past? For science, all truth is provisional, and the role of humans is to ask questions; for religion, the answers are known and humans should not question but instead should have faith. Will the future see a conflict between science and all religions? Is there room for both?
John Silber, Presider
Issues of collectivization and homogeneity rise whenever we consider global capitalism. In only a few years the US, by means of the free market economy, has managed to collectivize its farms more thoroughly than Lenin and Stalin could ever have. Similar trends in retail trade and mass entertainment in France and Germany suggest that this is a result of American cultural hegemony. We wonder what consequences follow these developments.
Ambassador Charles Stith
Moral Values and Market Values in an Era of Global Capitalism
The globalization of capitalism is a fact of life and will continue to define our reality for the foreseeable future. In light of September 11, it is especially important to humanize capitalism if we are to mitigate the despair and discontent that give rise to terrorist fanaticism. To accomplish that task we need to determine what values are needed to sustain our economic and common life in an era of global capitalism.
My thinking about this issue was stimulated by George Soros’s The Crisis of Global Capitalism. His central point is twofold: (i) any country that wishes to develop its economy has to kowtow to Western capital markets or be relegated to the dregs of the world marketplace; and (ii) despite the universality of capitalism, we still have not developed a universal set of values, reconcilable with market values, that can sustain our common life in this global economy.
One of my primary interests as director of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center is looking at policies that will encourage the economies of countries that are trying to reorganize their economies along free market lines. I also dealt with the same issues when I was Ambassador to Tanzania. In both capacities we considered how integrating Africa into the global economy represented good market policy as well as good moral policy. If African nations are to buy into the global economy and their populations are to support this development, globalization will need to affect the economic potential of the poor and raise their standard of living. To do this, a set of moral values must be developed that will inform market values.
Have moral values had a lessening impact on market values? What sound policies relate to moral and market values? The transactional nature of economic life requires cooperation between the parties of economic transactions. Cooperation by definition involves fairness and trust, which are clear moral values. There are, of course, cases where people pursue economic ends by means of immoral and illegal means, as in the case of the slave trade. So although moral values are not necessarily inherent in market values, we must have moral moorings if our economic life is to hold together.
The effect of moral values on market values is diminishing for historical and contemporary reasons. Notwithstanding the Protestant church’s historical commitment to the work ethic, market values such as competition, self-interest, market dominance, or transactional transparency have not translated well into the moral sphere. Among the most egregious failures of the church have been its unwillingness to develop a moral taxonomy of competition or self-interest and its ambiguity toward wealth creation. In the past, the church thought it “harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle.” Consequently the church has missed an important opportunity and has fallen into the trap of viewing economic activity as a zero-sum game instead of seeing its potential to enhance the commonwealth for everybody’s benefit. This limited view has kept it from giving authoritative direction to economic development. In addition, technology has expanded the economic universe beyond the ethical reach of any single entity. Former Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Alan Greenspan observed that new technologies that move and manage capital “have challenged the ability of inward-looking and protectionist economies to maintain effective barriers,” and have strained human evaluation capacities. The result has been a market discipline that has become more draconian over the past 30 years.
How can we reconnect market values to moral values? Market and private enterprise, if unchecked, degenerate into a force that stifles progress, opportunity, and growth. A free market needs to be moored to moral values if it is to remain free, vibrant, and progressive. Market values without moral values make for an unfair or precarious state of affairs. Developing countries are now experiencing some of the structural moral problems that more advanced societies had to confront and solve earlier. They should expect to receive similar benefits for this effort.
When I was Ambassador to Tanzania, the Clinton administration tried to integrate Africa into the global economy. In addition to specific programs for economic and political reform in Africa, all US embassies were given implicit instructions to be more aggressive in engaging African countries in issues of trade and investment instead of focusing solely on aid. The Bush administration is continuing to see Africa as the world’s last major potential emerging market and an important aspect of overall US economic prosperity.
The US will develop a competitive advantage if Africa decides that doing business with the US lies in their best interest in terms of rate of return, economic growth, and a rise in the standard of living. In other words, our competitive advantage is secured by being “fair” in our economic engagements. “Fairness” is a fundamental moral value.
Melding market values to moral values will make us more attractive to Africa. I do not suggest we develop a list of moral values to juxtapose with market principles, but a principle of fairness must underlie our economic involvement with developing countries. It will have to work for them as well as it does for us. In order to deal with the discontent and despair that incubates the fanaticism we are presently trying to defeat, we must find the proper mixture of moral values and market values.
Can religion help correct a fundamental failure of the market to resolve the tension between growth and equity? The problem of social justice grows extremely urgent in an increasingly globalized marketplace. Can religions offer support and constructive suggestions in this larger debate?
One answer is to be found in a narrow reading of the Huntingtonian civilizational model, which claims that only Protestantism and Catholicism can help moralize the marketplace. Ambassador Stith claims to the contrary that many religious traditions can address inequalities of the global marketplace. Alfred Stepan argues that religions can play an important role in broadening and deepening the moral discourse relating democratic values to the marketplace. We need, however, to think about religions in the plural and to consider them all as potentially multi-vocal.
Ambassador Stith’s distinction between moral values and market values is somewhat problematic in distinguishing between the two, rather than assuming a dialogue between them. Religion has become part of the global marketplace in discursive and operational terms. When religious leaders now talk about the competitive religious marketplace, they reveal the role they have assumed in domestic and international public life. Religions have also begun to see how they can act as effective agents in the marketplace. They now use mechanisms such as mass media technologies, financial mechanisms to accumulate and redistribute wealth, etc., that were once associated with the marketplace.
Since the separation between the economic and the moral marketplace has collapsed, we wonder if religion has been compromised, or, to the contrary, leaders now find themselves more in the know. How can they use their new knowledge and expertise to resolve the tension between growth, equity, and the problems of social justice? This overlapping is already appearing in literature on Islamic economies, liberation theory, and, more recently, on how US foreign policy links economic assistance to human rights and freedom of conscience.
Agreements between the moral marketplace and the economic marketplace can produce advances in equity, but they do not always do so. That leads us to consider regulatory structures to ensure or optimize improvement in equity and justice. Structures that emphasize accountability and transparency, that penalize corruption and the excesses of parasystemic or paralegal activity, allow plenty of room for dialogue and for policy cooperation between the moral marketplace and the economic marketplace.
Reply by Charles Stith
I do not claim the church has had nothing to say about economic life, but that all too often the church has not said the right things. The church played a critical role in the US civil rights movement of the 1960s and liberation movements in Africa and South and Central America. Both movements effected changes that had profound economic implications. But, since then, it has stumbled. The most recent initiative of significant consequence has been pushing banks to serve and invest in marginalized communities. The $700 billion this initiative helped make available to low- and moderate-income communities resulted in an exponential growth of the middle class of this country. The church in America was conspicuously marginal in this “movement.” On another front, while the African church was in the vanguard relative to the continent’s liberation struggle, it has been a backbencher in offering insight or challenges to governments and NGOs about how to contour the new playing field and allow people to claim their stake in their developing economies.
This is a chapter from Changing and Unchanging Values in the World of the Future (Conference).
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