Wednesday, September 05, 2007
The Gods of Business
Prabhu Guptara is Director of Executive and Organizational Development at the Wolfsberg Centre, a subsidiary of UBS of Switzerland (one of the largest banks in the world). He also writes and lectures about issues at the intersection of business practices, religious worldviews, and ethics. A few weeks ago I was listening to an interview with him on Speaking of Faith about "The God's of Business" - about how the world's religious and ethical traditions have shaped, or failed to shape, our modern business practices. He had a lot to say about the amorality of our current business climate, and about the ethical problems inherent in our current system. For instance, he says:
A generation of people has grown up — particularly those who occupy high positions in politics, economics, the media and all the rest of it — who have no transcendent values, or, if they have transcendent values, they have no means of intellectually reconciling those transcendent values with the way they do business.

However, he doesn't just address individual morality and the Enron type scandals. He also points to the gross economic inequalities that our current system creates. He says:
I have no issue with people earning lots of money. I do have a problem when, for example, in the richest country in the world, the U.S.A., we have a population in which 70 percent has no net wealth. Over the past 20 years, real wages have declined for 80 percent of the population. And this is not an issue only in the U.S.A., it is a worldwide trend today. I think most of us have no problem with a system which allows reasonable accumulation of wealth gained in return for the exertion of intelligence, industry, risk-taking and sheer effort. But I think most people in the world do have a problem with a system which allows unlimited accumulation of wealth at the same time as allowing millions of people to have nothing when they are exerting as much energy and intelligence as other people. Three thousand five hundred children died today because they had no food or water. Three thousand five hundred will die tomorrow for the same reasons, and the day after and every day — until you and I decide to do something about it. What was merely a tragedy yesterday is today a tragedy as well as an obscenity, for we live in a time of oversupply of all basic goods for the first time in history, which makes it entirely unnecessary for anyone to starve or have no clothes or to have no roof of some basic sort over their heads.

I especially appreciate his insights because as an employee of one of the largest banks in the world, you can't just write his critiques off as some radical liberal idealism. He is a part of the system and speaks as an insider to the ethical dilemmas that he sees around him. And he doesn't just point to the problems. He also speaks to what kind of positive steps need to be taken to improve the system and the ethical culture of business as it currently stands. Here are his suggestions:

Positive steps can be taken to ensure a good future for us all. It seems to me clear that the following steps would give us some sort of minimum agenda for creating a better sort of globalization:
  • inculcate a culture in which there is a high place for the idea of enough
  • self-restrain or penalize demands for higher wages & profits
  • move away from a fascination with economic expansion for its own sake
  • replace the notion of private limited companies with publicly authorized companies, which take seriously the environment, labor, consumers and civil society.
We need a new generation of people willing to be transformed as individuals, willing to create a new sense of community, ready to pay the cost of working for the continued transformation of our global society, and of transforming our companies from engines to make even richer those who are already rich to engines that work to produce wealth for the globe.

I appreciate his optimism, and his belief that the current system isn't bad through and through, but could be transformed into something better. And I'm especially glad there are people like him in positions of influence saying these kinds of things.


posted by Mike Clawson at 5:37 PM | Permalink |


At 9/14/2007 03:38:00 PM, Anonymous Timothy Wright


Just come across your blog. I do like what you say and we need to address the structural inequality in the States. I grew up in a middle class family with my parents not having much of a savings and a lifestyle of consumption. I a missionary from the US living in England and see how when the gov. gives young girls the age of 16 a new flat that the local council owns and they furnish it for her and give her an income and pay all her utilities if she has a baby.

Something is wrong in that direction. I believe structural systems have to be addressed alongside of individual responsibility. Another thing I have come across is that some people make such a major mess of their lives in the first 20 years, that if they develop healthy patterns of living, they can never crawl out from the consequences of their actions before they came to their senses. Young men and women having three and four kids before 20. Their children almost need to be removed from them so that their children can live in a new family system that can help them become all they want to be.

Bless you in your thoughts and blog.



At 9/15/2007 09:20:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hi Tim,

That's interesting what you're saying about the system in the UK. One part of me says that we ought to value motherhood enough to support those who are forced to do it alone. On the other hand, it's easy to see how people might take advantage of that, or how it might actually discourage marriage and encourage young girls to have children out of wedlock. I don't know the solution. Anytime you offer compassion to those in need there will be others who take advantage of it. I'm not sure that's a reason to stop being compassionate though.

As for actually removing the children, that seems a bit draconian doesn't it? And wouldn't that imply that we think their parents are irredeemable? Isn't there anything that could be done to help them become better parents instead?

Anyhow, thanks for stopping by.



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