2024 Request for Your Support

I write to ask for your financial support of the Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism to enable us to contribute, as best we can, to encouraging commitments from individuals, businesses, NGOs and governments to the ideas of moral capitalism, moral government and moral society.

Here is what we accomplished in last year.

During 2023, as we all saw a war continue in Ukraine and Russia without a peaceful resolution in sight and a new war, viciously commenced against Israel, another war without a peaceful resolution in sight, our work evolved to ask just what is civilization?  Can we be civilized if we overlook ethics and morals?  But just where should we look for those guiding lights?  In ourselves?  In others?  In divine revelation?  In the wisdom of our cultures and ancient philosophers?

Our thinking, shaped by dialogue with many, has more and more examined the intangible – human capital formation and social capital contributions to justice and well-being.

As the American cartoon character Pogo said in the 1950s: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

As in its first meeting in 1986 at Mountain House in Caux, Switzerland, the Caux Round Table, during 2023, sought to solve problems through the application of ethics, complementary ethics drawn collegially from various wisdom traditions speaking to a greater common good for the many, rather than seeking to affirm the power and the privileges of the few.

We sharpened our focus on human and social capitals.  We proposed a global ethic of personal responsibility at our July global dialogue.  We met with Shi’a Muslim leaders, both academic and clerical, in Najaf, Iraq, to learn more from the personal example of the Prophet Muhammad in promising, through covenants, to respect and protect Christian communities.  We drew on teachings of the Buddha, with Thai colleagues, to prioritize the middle way of moderation and equilibrium.  We asked for ideas and constructive criticism in monthly meetings, both in-person and through Zoom.  We used our monthly newsletter, Pegasus, to broadcast globally ideas and values in harmony with these engagements.

We were skeptical that ESG would be only a fad, a superficial articulation of virtuous intentions, offering little of substance that would turn into actual virtuous behaviors more aligned with the ethics of moral capitalism.

Two articles of note were published in Directors&Boards.  Our colleagues, Ibrahim Zein and Ahmed El-Wakil, published a thoughtful and thorough book on the covenants of the Prophet Muhammad.  Recovery of the Prophet’s precedent in giving covenants may provide a new way of thinking about how to bring about a lasting peace between Jews and Palestinians.

This work is unique.  In a real way, the Caux Round Table has few competitors for its thought leadership.

This year, we will continue to find ideas intersecting with good values that can provide leaders with vision and resolve.  We will continue our study of the covenants of the Prophet Muhammad, our partnership with Thai leaders in business, government and the academy.  We will ask many to share their thinking in the shaping of a draft global ethic to be submitted to the Summit of the Future in 2024 at the United Nations this coming September.  We will convene round tables.  We will publish books on Amazon.

You may consider making a contribution to fund specific undertakings:

-Sponsor one or more issues of Pegasus.

-Support a regional round table.

-Sponsor a workshop on the covenants of the Prophet.

-Sponsor a book of essays.

You can donate via PayPal (or visit our homepage – www.cauxroundtable.org – and click the yellow “donate” button), by check (75 West Fifth Street, Suite 219, St. Paul, MN 55102) or by wire transfer (please ask for instructions).

Anything you can give would be most appreciated.

Local Round Tables in 2024: Your Thoughts

We would like to ask our Minnesota participants what time of day would be most convenient for in-person round table events?

We’ve been scheduling events for 9:00 am or over the noon hour on weekdays at the Landmark Center in St. Paul.  What about early morning events, say from 7 or 7:30 to 8:30 am or early evening events, say from 5:00 to 6:00 or 6:30 pm?  Please let us know.

We plan to draft a proceedings after each event, which would then be shared with relevant local audiences.  This would be under the Chatham House rule of non-attribution, unless participants would like to edit the proceedings into a statement with authors.

Also, if you have any specific topics you believe are pressing for attention from community leaders, please send us your suggestions.

You can email us directly at jed@cauxroundtable.net.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Capitalism and Technology: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I have, for several years, been at pains to point out what, to me, is pretty obvious: 1) capitalism excels all economic and public governance systems in bringing technology to humanity, while technology brings along both public goods and at times, public bads and 2) if there is too much CO2 in our atmosphere causing global warming, let’s take CO2 out of the air.

There is a technology, which I have noted, that was recently written up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal’s business and finance section – a hybrid material of cement made with carbon which can reduce the carbon footprint of cement making and store carbon out of the atmosphere.

President Biden’s 2022 legislation provides tax credits for carbon capture, using taxpayer money to reduce a public bad and so create a public good.

To make “green” concrete, CO2 is sprayed inside the mixing drums on concrete trucks.  There it reacts with calcium ions in the cement to form calcium carbonate, a mineral embedded in the construction material.  The calcium carbonate reduces the amount of cement that is needed in the construction project, cutting the amount of cement produced and so cutting carbon emissions.  Secondly, the CO2 sprayed in the mixing drums is sequestered away from our atmosphere.

This chart projects how much CO2 could be captured by industry sector:

It’s Valentine’s Day: I Love You America for Better, for Worse, for Richer, for Poorer, in Sickness and in Health

More and more Americans are saying to themselves – and even openly – “the country is not ok; the kids are not ok; I am not ok.”

A dysphoria seems to have taken over our culture and politics, crowding out older optimism, resilience, wisdom and self-confidence, which replacement does not bode well for the country’s future.

Actually, though many have forgotten, in July 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter spoke to the American people about their dysphoria, as he perceived it:

“I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.  The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways.  It is a crisis of confidence.  It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.  We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.  The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.”

In the February 5 issue of the New Yorker, I found a cartoon, where the cartoonist tries to capture, in a wry fashion, the dysphoria being experienced by so many Americans:

This special issue of Pegasus, “The De-Enlightening of America: The Onset of Systemic National Dysphoria”, provides readers with data on the state of the American people and their culture, politics and economy – lots of data, none of which can cheer the heart, validate old understandings of who we are as a people or provide a basis for optimism.

The issue does not attempt to provide any explanations for what the data reveals.  Nor does it speculate about the future.  Such insights are left for the reader to propose.

However, historical perspectives relevant to what the data might be revealing can be found in the thinking of two very serious students of history – Sir John Glubb (1897-1986) and Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406).

Sir John Bagot Glubb, British lieutenant general, estimated that the average length of greatness for a regime, people or nation is 250 years. America is 248 years old.

For Glubb, socially created polities rise and fall in these stages.  First, an age of pioneers.  Then an age of conquests.  Then commercial success.  Then affluence.  Then an age of intellect and finally, an age of decadence.

Decadence is marked by defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity, an influx of foreigners, a welfare state and weakening of religion.  Decadence results from too long a period of wealth and power, selfishness, love of money and loss of a sense of duty.

Ibn Khaldun suggested those stages.  In the first stage, founders of an umran (dynasties) are very energetic, vigorous, aggressive, but very kind, patient and accommodative, tolerant and creative. In the second stage, rulers show less enthusiasm for those qualities, but the economy grows faster than in the first stage.  In the third stage, the ruling elite becomes complacent in satisfaction with the status quo, sitting back and enjoying their privileges.  Wealth is still created, but there are now bumps in the road.  In the fourth stage, leaders begin to increase the extractions of rent from the people, while failing to take responsibility for the common good.  The elite, more and more, depends on a few self-seeking opportunists – grifters – and the economy suffers.  In the last stage of sumptuous luxury for the elite, resources – natural, human and social capitals – are squandered, while a challenger arises from the margins of society to subjugate the kingdom.

Depressing data on America – befitting the last phase of Glubb’s and Khaldun’s theories of national destiny – just keeps on coming.  On January 31, after this special issue was written, there were three additional reports in the press.

One report was that total cases of syphilis in the U.S. in 2022 were over 207,000, a 17% increase and the highest number of cases since 1950.  Cases of chlamydia had not increased and cases of gonorrhea had declined.

Secondly, a children’s advocacy group, Common Sense Media, released polling results.  Two- thirds of youth ages 12 to 17 said things are not going well for children and teenagers.  Less than half reported optimism that they would become better off than their parents.  Among those polled between the ages of 18 and 26, only 15% reported being in excellent mental health.  More than half the teenagers believed that public schools were doing only a poor to fair job in providing education.  Only 8% believed that public schools were “excellent.”

Thirdly, America’s New Majority Project reported that Americans’ trust in various professions, from professors to members of Congress, has dropped recently.

Gallup’s 2023 Honesty and Ethics poll asked 800 respondents from Dec. 1 to Dec. 20, 2023, to rate the honesty and ethical standards of 23 listed professions.  Nearly all answered negatively compared to previous years, following a downward trend in ratings since 2019:

-56% rate doctors highly, down from 65% in 2019.
-45% rate police officers highly, down from 54% in 2019.
-42% rate college teachers highly, down from 49% in 2019.
-32% rate clergy highly, down from 40% in 2019.
-19% rate journalists highly, down from 28% in 2019.
-12% rate business leaders highly, down from 20% in 2019.

Members of Congress have the lowest honesty and ethical standards, according to those surveyed:

-Only 6% rate members of Congress highly.
-Congress members were rated worse than car dealers, stockbrokers and insurance salespersons.

Where America goes from here is an open question.  Let us hope for the best.

Is Capitalism Always the Road to Riches?

Two recent, small stories should give us pause when thinking of capitalism as a system of wealth creation.  There are conditions that go along with success and different conditions that lead to failure.  How well do we discern conditions and adjust to them?  No guarantees at all that we will be astute and properly adaptive.

A once celebrated company that invested in providing flexible office spaces has gone bankrupt. WeWork was once valued at $47 billion.  On November 6, 2023, WeWork filed for bankruptcy.

In August, three members of the WeWork board resigned in disagreement over governance and strategic direction.  On October 2, the company did not make interest payments to its bondholders.  The company has $10 billion in lease obligations due from last year through the end of 2027.  The company used $530 million in cash during the first six months of 2023 and had only $205 million on hand, as of last June.

In a September call with its landlords, WeWork’s CEO asked for adjustments to its rent commitments because “the office real estate market has fundamentally changed.”

Then, the emergence of new drugs to reduce obesity has triggered enticing speculation among investors – assumptions are being made about companies which have profited from selling to obese Americans and other companies which may pivot from selling junk food to more healthy products, such as carrot sticks.  Share prices for Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk have risen more than 50% this year.  Share prices for Dexcom, Zimmer Biomet and Insulet have, to the contrary, dropped from 20% to 60%.

But again, there are no guarantees in capitalism.  Manias and asset bubbles have ridden the back of free investment markets since the tulip mania broke out and then collapsed in Holland 400 years ago.

When is an asset bubble based on disinformation or misinformation or just wishful thinking?  When is a bubble not a bubble, but a reflection of well-considered valuation of a company’s prospects?

Caveat emptor – “Let the buyer beware” – and “trust but verify” are still sound advice when dealing with other people in open societies.

More Short Videos on Relevant and Timely Topics

We recently posted more short videos on relevant and timely topics.  They include:

Morality is an Intangible Asset

The Value of Values

Reflections on 2023

All our videos can be found on our YouTube page here.  We recently put them into 9 playlists, which you can find here.

If you aren’t following us on Twitter or haven’t liked us on Facebook, please do so.  We update both platforms frequently.

Did Anything Happen at the World Economic Forum?

The 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos ended back on January 19th.  My take on the results of some 400 sessions is bleak and disdainful.  My thoughts are as follows:

The 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum last month in Davos, Switzerland, was a bust.  Its results reminded me of Shakespeare’s take on the supposed great and glorious (and all of us as well):

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.  It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The meeting was convened to provide leadership in solving the trust deficit dragging humanity down into war, beggar-thy-neighbor economics and despair.  Its theme was “Rebuilding Trust.”

The Forum promised that it would “provide a crucial space to focus on the fundamental principles driving trust, including transparency, consistency and accountability.”  That privileged “space” was to be occupied by over 100 governments, all major international organizations, 1,000 Forum partners, as well as civil society leaders, experts, youth representatives, social entrepreneurs and news outlets.

“We must rebuild trust – trust in our future, trust in our capacity to overcome challenges and most importantly, trust in each other,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.  “Trust is not just a feeling; trust is a commitment to action, to belief, to hope.”

And what had happened by the end of the meeting: nothing of note.

The consulting firm McKinsey wrote a report listing the 10 key takeaways from Davos 2024:

“Despite seemingly endless geopolitical and economic uncertainty, global business leaders are coming away from Davos cautiously optimistic about 2024.  While challenges and surprises remain inevitable, opportunities abound.  This was a common theme at the 54th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, where delegates from global business, government, civil society, media and academia convened to focus on the fundamental principles driving trust.”

The key takeaways, as proposed by the McKinsey observers, were:

1.    Speed is crucial to outperformance.
2.    Cooperation is multifaceted and can coexist with competition.
3.    The generative AI revolution is only just beginning.
4.    Sustainability is a business imperative.
5.    Better women’s health is correlated with economic prosperity.
6.    A comprehensive approach to transformation is most effective.
7.    Business leaders need to focus on matching top talent to the highest-value roles.
8.    The best CEOs leave organizations in a better place than they found them.
9.    Performance and diversity are not mutually exclusive.
10.  Don’t overlook India’s potential.

What does all this have to do with building trust or preventing the meltdown of trust?  Nothing.

The World Economic Forum’s press office provided this “uplifting” summary of the meeting:

  • At a moment of growing fragmentation and polarization, the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting 2024 served as a platform for advancing dialogue, cooperation and action-oriented partnership.
  • Nearly 3,000 leaders from government, business and civil society from more than 125 countries, including 350 heads of state and government and ministers, participated in the meeting and connected across diverse viewpoints on key issues.
  • Participants advanced new ideas and initiatives to increase resilience and security, revive economic growth, protect the climate and nature, balance innovation and guardrails for technology and invest in jobs, skills and health.

What does any of that do to build the intangible social capital of trust or prevent the erosion of that asset?

Nothing.

On building trust, “world leaders” at the Forum offered the following platitudes:

“Geopolitical divides are preventing us from coming together around global solutions for global challenges,” said United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.

“It is essential that we discard prejudice, bridge differences and work as one to tackle the trust deficit,” said Li Qiang, Premier of the People’s Republic of China.

“The world is not at a single inflection point; it is at multi-inflection points,” warned Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission.  She urged countries to “deepen global collaboration more than ever before.”

Ajay S. Banga, President of the World Bank Group, emphasized the interconnectedness of crises. “We cannot think about eradicating poverty without caring about climate.  We cannot think about eradicating poverty without thinking about healthcare.  We cannot think about eradicating poverty without thinking about food insecurity and fragility.”

“We have a responsibility to be stewards of our beautiful, small planet’s future,” said Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.  “There is something that leaders need to embrace,” she added, “and it is the responsibility to act, even if it’s not popular.”

French President Emmanuel Macron called for world leaders to “be realistic, but be optimistic” about addressing the complex challenges of peace and security, jobs and decarbonization.  “I truly believe that the decisions that can change things are within our hands,” he said.

“I can’t think of a time when there’s been both a greater multiplicity and greater complexity of the challenges that we’re dealing with, “said Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State.

On the role of the meeting in providing a space for diplomacy and diverse viewpoints, Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, said: “The annual meeting serves as a vital platform for inclusive dialogue, bringing together parties to identify pathways toward achieving shared priorities.”

This collective “wisdom” should bring to our minds T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Hollow Men”:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw.  Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion.

So, where are our effective global leaders?  Might you, reader, be one?

Caux Round Table Book Club for 2024: Books and Dates

I have been discussing with our staff and some fellows and interested participants the value to our network of starting a book discussion club in 2024.

Since the formidable works of Adam Smith and Karl Marx, our understanding of capitalism and its alternatives – and of economics, sociology, psychology, politics – has been formed by books.  Those who don’t (can’t) read are at a great loss for not having many contextualizing frames of meaning and narratives with which to think about and rationally act in our world.  They know little about how we got here, what is shaping our lives and where we might go.

Every week or so, it seems to me, there appears one or more new books with relevant contributions to our assessments of the past, present and future.  Too many for me to keep track of.

As we learn from books, we also learn from each other.

We will meet once a quarter by Zoom to discuss a book which has been selected for us to read.

Somewhat haphazardly, we propose these four recently published books:

Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle OverTechnology and Prosperityby Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson
Why Empires Fall: Rome, America and the Future of the Westby Peter Heather and John Rapley
The Civic Bargain: How Democracy Survivesby Brook Manville and Josiah Ober
Mandeville’s Fable: Pride, Hypocrisy and Sociabilityby Robin Douglass

The times and dates of the discussions are:

-9:00 am (CST) Thursday, February 15 – Power and Progress
-9:00 am (CDT) Wednesday, May 15 – Why Empires Fall
9:00 am (CDT) Thursday, August 15 – The Civic Bargain
9:00 am (CST) Friday, November 15 – Mandeville’s Fable

We will send a notice of meeting and reminders before each date so that you may register to participate.

If the discussions prove fruitful, we can consider adding books and discussion sessions.

I hope this initiative meets with your approval and that you might want to participate.

Please let me know any thoughts you might have on making this initiative as rewarding as possible for participants.