RobertCunningham - Ethically Speaking

At the end of the 20th century a prominent US graphic designer, Milton Glaser, stated that in the struggle between commerce and culture, commerce has triumphed and the war is over.

While Glasers quote may represent a rather dead-end perspective, his point that there is a real struggle between commerce and culture is significant.

Gleaning a recent list of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, 73 of them are now corporations as opposed to nation-states. General Electric is roughly equal in economic size to Australia.

One issue that has allowed commerce to continually triumph over culture is that many people think of economics as an apolitical instrument of government. As a consequence, ethical considerations are often not included within economic decisions.

In this new millennium there is a desperate need to inject ethical considerations into the global economic system. While this is undoubtedly a monumental task, what better place to start than the Ethically Speaking column of The Northern Rivers Echo? Lets begin with three issues.

Firstly, privatisation equates to the public buying things that they already own.

Since the days of Thatcher and Reagan many governments have enjoyed talking up the strong correlation between privatisation and efficiency. However, rather than efficiency gains, it would seem that privatisation has simply become a means of transferring public wealth (and power) into private hands. In my mind, governments and the market have both failed to ensure the best interests of the common-wealth. There is therefore a need to develop new and innovative ways of protecting, and making best use of, the commons.

Secondly, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an inherently misleading and sometimes destructive economic progress indicator. For instance, every time a person crashes their car or a corporation spills oil or a nation declares war the GDP goes up. Whereas if a person grows their own vegetables, or looks after their grandmother, there is simply no GDP affect. An injection of ethical considerations into the GDP would rectify this strange anomaly.

Thirdly, the social and environmental costs of economic production are not embedded within the actual price of goods and services. In economic speak, these costs are referred to as externalities, which are the unmeasured costs associated with the economic system. Much of the so-called wealth in society is generated by exploiting people and/or the earth. In this way, externalities are used as a tool to privatise benefits and socialise costs. There is a need to reverse this strange condition.

While the notion of injecting ethical considerations into the global system is big, a good start would be to forge a new relationship with the commons, develop a more accurate economic progress indicator, and find innovative ways to socialise benefits and privatise costs. In future columns I will canvass some ideas in relation to how some of these issues could be addressed. Meanwhile, if you have any brainwaves, write to The Echo


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