Podcast with Mexican Ambassador Francisco Suarez Davila

We have posted a podcast discussion with former Mexican Ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suarez Davila.

You can watch it here.

Amb. Suarez was introduced by our good friend Nicolas Mariscal of the Mexican business coordinating committee for social responsibility – Aliarse. Amb. Suarez is an economist by training and was with the Central Bank of Mexico and the IMF.

We discuss the fundamental need for trust for any social exchange in order for people to benefit from others and to feel confident about themselves. In Mexico, Amb. Suarez sadly notes the trust between government and business has collapsed, making it more worrisome to think about how Mexico can recover from the pandemic quickly and efficiently.

Amb. Suarez is not optimistic about this. He has been through many crises, but never one where health and economics were both negatively affected at the same time.

Michael Wright noted that if we close our fist to others, but expect to get something from them, we can’t receive it – our fingers are closed. To get, you must open your hand to give.

Born April 20, 1943 in Mexico City, Francisco Suárez holds a law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge, King’s College.

During President Peña Nieto’s electoral campaign and until very recently, he served as Secretary General of the Colosio Foundation, the think tank of the PRI. He also held the post of Vice President of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI) (2008-2011).

He began his career at the Bank of Mexico where he became the General Manager of International Economic Affairs (1976-1980). He was an Executive Director on the Executive Board of the IMF (1972-1976); Financial Director at Nacional Financiera, Mexico’s industrial development bank (1980-1982); Undersecretary of Finance and Public Credit (1982-1988); and Director General of Banco Mexicano Somex, now Banco Santander (1988-1992).

For two periods, he served as a Federal Congressman (Député) and chaired the Finance Committee (1994-1997). Later, he was Ambassador of Mexico to the OECD (1997-2000), where he headed the Budget Committee.

Francisco Suárez’s extensive academic career includes teaching economic policy and international relations at the UNAM, Iberoamericana University and at the Colegio de México.

He has published numerous articles and co-authored several books. He has written a biweekly opinion column in the newspaper El Universal and served as both a member and Chairman of the Board of Trustees the UNAM.

With my colleagues Devry Boughner Vorwerk and Michael Wright, we discussed the impact of the pandemic on Mexico and the importance of collaboration between Mexico, the U.S and Canada, in line with the Caux Round Table Principles for Business on robust participation in international trade to make optimal contributions to wellbeing.

If Discourse is Morality in Action, What is Moral Discourse?

I ran across two insightful turns of phrase over the weekend in editorial commentaries – one in our local paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the other in the Wall Street Journal – which illuminated for me the fundamental soundness of one of our ethical principles for government.

We propose that in politics and government, as a recognition of the dignity of all, discourse ethics should determine the use of public power – not arms, not the corruption of money or unjustified preference, not intolerance, not ideology or racism, not any repression of thought or insight, nor of the spirit, which seeks truth and justice in humility and through curiosity of mind with open heart. This Caux Round Table Principle holds that:

Discourse ethics should guide application of public power.

Public power, however allocated by constitutions, referendums or laws, shall rest its legitimacy in processes of communication and discourse among autonomous moral agents who constitute the community to be served by the government. Free and open discourse, embracing independent media, shall not be curtailed except to protect legitimate expectations of personal privacy, sustain the confidentiality needed for the proper separation of powers or for the most dire of reasons relating to national security.

In a defense of free thought, the Star Tribune held up as a problem “deluminating” – the bringing of darkness through the extinguishing of light. This idea was borrowed from the Harry Potter novels and very appropriately applied to currents running strongly in America just now (and not only in my country) which would shut down thinking and speech which is not culturally or politically approved by the self-righteous, self-appointed adjudicators of justice.

In Harry Potter, the wizard Dumbledore had a device – a deluminator – which would suppress light.

The Washington Post imperiously, but rightfully proclaims that “Democracy dies in darkness.”

Secondly, Gerard Baker in the Wall Street Journal also wrote in defense of free expression. He acutely illuminated the harm that poor use of language can inflict on discourse and the search for justice and the common good. He spoke of demagogues and sophists who manipulate and twist emotions, prejudices, ignorance and meanness of soul and spirit. He called out President Trump for aggressive misuse of words.

Bakers’ warning is that “careless rhetoric needlessly undermines the trust necessary for a healthy democracy.”

The moral quality protected by discourse ethics is trust, the basis for social good and personal wellbeing.

A Practical Plan from The Netherlands

Herman Mulder of the Impact Institute in Amsterdam has just sent me a very thoughtful and practical plan for a more intentional and more moral collaborative engagement of business and government to put in place after the pandemic.

Herman proposed this for his country, The Netherlands, but it applies in my mind to our global community.

You may read his recommendations here.

I would appreciate learning your reactions to his recommendations.

Hagia Sophia and the Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad – Informing the Pope and the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch

The decision by the Turkish government to convert the status of Hagia Sophia into a mosque brings to our immediate attention the contemporary legacy of the Prophet Muhammad’s covenants with Christian communities.

As I have reported to you previously, the Caux Round Table has used its good offices to facilitate the study of those covenants, coordinating three workshops among remarkable Christian and Muslim scholars and thought leaders.

To bring to the attention of both Pope Francis and the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomew, the terms of the Prophet’s covenants protecting Christian churches, I have sent each of them a letter on the subject.

You may find a copy of my letter to the Pope here.

And a copy of my letter to the Patriarch here.

In reacting to the decision of the Turkish government, I find myself ever more appreciative of the Prophet’s vision and grace in giving such covenants of respect and protection to Christian communities.

CRT Study of Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with Christian Communities

The Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism has provided its good offices to coordinate three workshops to learn more about covenants made by the Prophet Muhammad with Christian communities. These covenants expressed respect for and promised protection of Christian communities, the Monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai and in the city of Najran, among them.

Our most recent workshop was a webinar convened by Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha. Professor Ibrahim Zein, with whom we first worked in 2006 on a study of Quranic principles of good governance at the International Islamic University Malaysia, and his Dean, Dr. Emad Shahin, hosted the workshop.

Subsequently, the university released a press statement on the workshop. The Gulf Times published this article on the workshop:

I am honored by the opportunity to bring forward new research on the Prophet Muhammad’s solicitous concern for Christians in collaboration with colleges from Christian and Muslim faiths.

Podcast with Entrepreneur John Puckett

We recently had a very stimulating and insightful discussion with entrepreneur John Puckett. You can see the podcast here.

With his wife, John started Caribou Coffee, a chain of coffee shops which were and are quite competitive with Starbucks. The Pucketts, both with MBA degrees, turned their vocations away from large firms to start their own business. As they grew, they accepted minority investors, but later found a divergence of priorities between the investors and themselves. They sold the company to start another.

Their new company is Punch Pizza here in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

John joked with us that both companies grew out of determined entrepreneurs in Naples, Italy, to overcome constraints imposed by living in a poorer part of the country. Finding Arabica coffee beans too expensive, they invented the expresso process to get quality flavor from the cheaper Robusta beans. With pizza, they invented a satisfactory food from cheap ingredients: flour, water and yeast.

What impressed me about John’s approach to capitalism was his intuitive regard for employees as an important capital asset.

Please do watch our discussion.

Timely Interview with Former Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

Former Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende gave an interview published on June 25 in The Netherlands. His views, shaped by his experience in Dutch politics and, more recently, in working with Dutch companies on sustainability, are very much in harmony with the approach which has evolved at the Caux Round Table. He kindly refers to our efforts in a wide-ranging discussion of challenges facing Europe and all of us.

You may read his comments here.

American Capitalism and American Racism since 1965?

For some years now, we have been told that “systemic racism” in American society, culture, enterprise and politics has uniquely, painfully and invidiously prevented African Americans from fully obtaining the advantages of American economic growth.

The premise of the Caux Round Table’s Principles for Business is that enterprise is a force for social progress, as it creates jobs, products, services and wealth for enjoyment on a scale never before possible in all of human history. The value premise behind enterprise is that self-interest can be reconciled with the public good.

In his two notable studies, The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith came to a similar conclusion. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he proposed that “The rich, …though they mean only their own conveniency , though the sole end which they propose from the labors of all the thousands they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessities of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants and thus without intending it, without knowing it advance the interests of the society and afford the means to the multiplication of the species.”

And more well-known was his affirmation in Wealth of Nations that an entrepreneur “intends only his own gain and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”

In my classes, I have used the slides below to provide some data by which to evaluate what Smith proposed – has capitalism contributed to better lives for humanity?

These graphs do not discuss the net impacts of economic growth or the distribution of its advantages and disadvantages across social classes or the impacts of industrialization and post-industrialization on culture and politics.

Recently, I looked for and found graphs with data on the intersection of American capitalism and African Americans since the victory of the Civil Rights Movement in 1965.

As many know, the system of chattel slavery in the southern English colonies in what would become the United States and in the southern states under our federal union was institutionalized in the 18th century to be terminated after the Civil War. Then, after attempts by the federal government, initially with strong support from northern voters to legalize opportunity for former slaves in the southern states were abandoned, a system of segregation was imposed on African American citizens living in those states. The Civil Rights Movement successfully abolished Jim Crow segregation.

Thus, how African Americans did nor did not benefit from American capitalism over the last 55 years is important to determine.

This graph provides data on the earnings of different quintiles among African Americans in the years since the end of the Civil Rights Movement.

This graph provides data on the earnings by quintile of African Americans in 2017 compared to average earnings for all Americans.

While the percentage of African Americans in the top three quintiles is smaller than the average percentage of all Americans, African American households did include a substantial percentage of middle, upper-middle and upper-class households.

Not receiving the advantages of American capitalism over these years were 46% of African American households.

The Immorality of Inequality – A Reconsideration of Rousseau

I was recently made aware of the reemergence in our recent protests and more of 19th century anarchism stepping right from the pages of Dostoevsky’s novel The Possessed and the writings of Georges Sorel on myth and violence. This anarchist impulse among us has not been much noticed or even superficially covered by our media and commentators.

Here is an article titled “No, We Should Not Condemn Uprisings Against Police Murders Like George Floyd’s” on taking down the system from Jacobin magazine.

Two weeks ago: “An angry crowd broke into the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct headquarters Thursday night and set fire to the building, capping another day of protests, many of them violent, across the Twin Cities.

The police station on E. Lake Street has been the epicenter of protests this week for people demanding justice after the death of George Floyd, who died Monday when a Minneapolis police officer set his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

Nearby, Minnehaha Lake Wine & Spirits, the target of looters the night before, also was set ablaze. As flames leapt, sharp explosions sounded as people threw bottles filled with accelerants or fired bullets into the fires.”

Here is the account of the eyewitness report taken from Crimethinc.com, a website with an attitude towards authority and order.

In reading this editorial and report, I realized that the anarchism expressed there was in a moral universe parallel to the Caux Round Table’s long-standing concern for the ethics of systems of authority and order – capitalism, government, civil society and ownership of wealth.

I thought that we should consider, in the context of widespread protest over inequality in this country, more fundamental questions of what is right to do when things go wrong.

I decided to go back to the beginning of the modern movement to deconstruct ideas and systems deemed wrongful for upholding inequality, the Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men, written by Jean Jacques Rousseau in 1754. His thesis that society must be blamed for inequality has inspired political movements from the Jacobins to Socialists, Communists, Syndicalists, Anarchists and National Socialists like Mussolini, Hitler and Pol Pot.

Rousseau’s inference was that once society and its inequalities in their current form are dissolved, some utopia will emerge to provide us with much better lives. Ironically, the word “utopia” was coined by Sir Thomas Moore to mean “no place,” borrowing from the Greek and making a pun on another Greek word “eu-topos,” signifying a place of happiness and goodness.

In the spirit of Rousseau, I propose to deconstruct his thesis and thereby deconstruct contemporary American anarchism. You can judge the success of my effort by reading my piece titled “Wherein Lies the Immorality of Inequality?

I would be most interested in your thoughts and feedback