Capitalism with collaboration

Noreena Hertz is Professor of Globalisation, Sustainability & Finance at Duisenberg &Cambridge Universities. She is a best-selling and  critically acclaimed Author,a leading Thinker,Communicator and  Speaker and advises some of the most powerful players globally.

In her 2002 book The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and The Death of Democracy, Hertz warned that unregulated markets, corporate greed, and over-powerful financial institutions would have serious global consequences that would impact most heavily on the ordinary citizen.

A similar warning was made to the US President, William J Clinton in 1996, when these issues were drawn to his attention in a white paper suggesting an alternative to capitalism.  In the core argument, it was reasoned that by inventing money into existence as debt, those least able to compete were placed in a position of defending their lives and would respond

After a well received  submission at the White House, author Terry Hallman published a synopsis online in January 1997 and on September 7 2001, begins to think that he’s overstated the threat of terrorism and edits the synopsis to tone it down.  A few days later he has good reason to reverse his decision, as can be seen in web archives.

The paper ended:

‘Clearly, profits can be used very effectively in ways other than traditional investment and profit outcomes. Moreover, this is not charity, it is business–good business. One P-CED firm could be expected to spin off dozens of new firms and businesses, all of which create new jobs and all of which operate under traditional free-enterprise practices. That is, if a spin-off business were to profit a million dollars a year, the owners can bank the money for themselves and their stockholders as is the normal practice. There is nothing wrong with individuals becoming wealthy. It is only when wealth begins to concentrate in the hands of a relative few at the expense of billions of others who are denied even a small share of finite wealth that trouble starts and physical, human suffering begins. It does not have to be this way. Massive greed and consequent massive human misery and suffering do not have to be accepted as a givens, unavoidable, intractable, irresolvable. Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around–if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be “Me first, mine first”; rather, “Me, too” is more the order of the day. ‘

By then, Hallman had demonstrated proof of concept.  An economic and currency crisis in Russia persuaded him to go there and research the possibility of an experimental development initiative which would turn the strategy of Harvard’s imfamous Russia Project on it’s head, to place funding in the hands of those needing it most. The poorest, without collateral needed to start business.  Writing up his research back in the US, he sends it to Clinton’s office, noting his support for earlier work on the POW/MIA issue in South East Asia, which had led to an invitation to volunteer for Clinton’s re-election committee, where he wrote the P-CED white paper.

In Russia the locals were bewildered. One asked him “You come here to create business and give it away to other people. Are you some new kind of communist, or just crazy?”

In 2004 when P-CED was introduced to the UK Hallman was interviewed by Inci Bowman, a leader of the International Committee for Crimea, about his work in Russia in Ukraine, where he described how it began.

The business plan for P-CED proposed a community re-investment approach for rural broadband which would invest profit into local CDFIs to stimulate the local economy in the same way that had proven so successful in the Tomsk Regional Initiative, with a Community Benefic Society or Bencom as the formal model of operation.  The plan noted:

“Capitalism is the most powerful economic engine ever devised, yet it came up short with its classical, inherent profit-motive as being presumed to be the driving force. Under that presumption, all is good in the name of profit became the prevailing winds of international economies — thereby giving carte blanche to the notion that greed is good because it is what has driven capitalism. The 1996 paper merely took exception with the assumption that personal profit, greed, and the desire to amass as much money and property on a personal level as possible are inherent and therefore necessary aspects of any capitalist endeavour. While it is in fact very normal for that to be the case, it simply does not follow that it must be the case.  ” 

ICOF, the Coop funding arm, were unfortunately not able to help.  They were limiting funds for broadband projects to bona-fide cooperatives only and our legal form was a  company limited by guarantee.

Early in 2005, I wrote to the chair of the Social Enterprise Coalition, Baroness Thornton, a Labour Cooperative member at the House of Lords.  I related to her how social enterprise funding was being stifled by having to conform to one of 3 operational paradigms. I’m still waiting for a reply.

We joined the SEC in 2006, introducing our current work in Ukraine after paying the subscription. I was told that our work was beyond their current focus. That seems to be how it remained.

In the last few days, awareness of the  BBC4 documentary on Ukraine’s Forgotten Children provided the opportunity to describe the impact made regardless and in spite of other considerable obstacles,  including the death of our founder in service to others.

Here’s a rather prescient comment he’d made several years ago about collaboration which is more readily found in rhetoric than in practice.

‘The term “social enterprise” in the various but similar forms in which it is being used today — 2008 — refers to enterprises created specifically to help those people that traditional capitalism and for profit enterprise don’t address for the simple reason that poor or insufficiently affluent people haven’t enough money to be of concern or interest. Put another way, social enterprise aims specifically to help and assist people who fall through the cracks. Allowing that some people do not matter, as things are turning out, allows that other people do not matter and those cracks are widening to swallow up more and more people. Social enterprise is the first concerted effort in the Information Age to at least attempt to rectify that problem, if only because letting it get worse and worse threatens more and more of us. Growing numbers of people are coming to understand that “them” might equal “me.” Call it compassion, or call it enlightened and increasingly impassioned self-interest. Either way, we are all in this together, and we will each have to decide for ourselves what it means to ignore someone to death, or not.’     

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