Moral Economy or Spiritual Economy?

By January 27, 2013Blog

With great interest I followed yesterday’s 3:30 pm’s dialogue on moral economy at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with contributions from politics, academia, business (Feike Sijbesma, CEO Royal DSM) and spirituality. Moral foundation of business conduct was discussed in the wider perspective of how to ensure human dignity and common values at the centre of economic pursuits.

Two intriguing themes captured my attention:

1. Means versus end. 

Protection measures, remedies, duties to community and human rights should be understood as means towards the purpose or end of fostering human dignity. Let our actions in fruitfully designing such means hence be embedded in a deep understanding and valuing of human dignity.

The end point of business moves beyond shareholder value to a wider stakeholder platform, i.e. society. The impact of business, both potentially negative and positive on society is enormous nowadays. Hence ‘people and planet’ goals should be at the same level as the well established financial focus. People and planet can no longer serve as means to the financial end.

2. Intrinsic versus extrinsic drivers to moral or beneficial business behaviours.

Beneficial business and organisational behaviours are desired and needed. How do we foster and maintain these? Values like the common good, human dignity and stewardship, as mentioned by Jim Wallis of the Sojourners USA, can be at the base of such behaviours. However I believe, these values find their origin in a sense of purpose, at the even deeper level of being, where inspiration feeds ideals. And where does inspiration originate?

Accessing these deeper levels of intrinsic motivation, both personally and collectively, is crucial. The WEF-forum tended to speak more about extrinsic drives in my opinion: imposed moral frameworks, rules, regulations, tax and pricing measures, remuneration policies. Here we enter the domain of morality and psychology by shifting undesired behaviours or building healthy habits through norming and conditioning by reward and punishment.

Most likely we need both approaches, the intrinsic or spiritual and the extrinsic or morality/conditioning based levers in order to elicit, start, refresh and maintain these transformative behaviours. More than novel technologies, a cross-fertilisation among the ‘humanities’ of spirituality & morality/ethics, psychology, sociology, anthropology and economics is necessary to create a personal and collective ‘inner shift’, to transform our economies, our world.

Some way to go, but keep up the spirit and morale! More thoughts and ideas are captured in the social media discussion during the dialogue as well as in my preceding blogs ‘Learning Event’ and ‘Summer School Economy of Communion’. Looking forward to your ideas and comments!