The Ethics of Immigration

Last Sunday, Italian voters in an election for Parliament gave a small plurality to the Brothers of Italy party and its leader, Giorgia Meloni.  The Party’s history harks back to the Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini.

Previously in an election in Sweden, a party of the right also won impressive support from voters.

The emotional issue activating voters to support both parties seems to have been immigration – too much immigration, that is.

Those voters raise the ethical issue of the right of nationals to maintain their own culture and not have it diluted by newcomers who think and behave according to the cultures to which they were born and in which they were raised.

From a standpoint of open societies and democracy, is there an ethic for immigrants to assimilate when they move to a new nation?  Or, is there an ethic of respect for “indigenous” people and their values and traditions?

This question was discussed at the Caux Round Table’s 2018 Global Dialogue in St. Petersburg, Russia.  A statement was drafted addressing the challenges of immigration.

In part, the statement concluded that:

The ethics of an immigrant: serving as prospective citizen and holding the offices of friend and guest.

Immigrants – refugee, asylum seeker, worker, student, retiree – become residents of a nation state with the intention of making a life as part of that community.  As such, they have the status of prospective citizen, learning how to assume the privileges and obligations of citizenship and the status of friend, obligated to perform the office of friend in their new homeland.

In gratitude for receiving permission to become a resident and then, perhaps, a citizen, immigrants should be particularly alert to being a gracious guest.

You may read the statement here.

A Comment on Labor from Hector Garcia

I want to share with you a response from Hector Garcia, an old friend with a deep connection to Moral Re-Armament, now Initiatives of Change, which inspired the creation of the Caux Round Table in 1986.  Hector adds his thoughts on the importance of “labor” as a worthy force in our living, not merely as drudgery or that which is only there for exploitation by those more powerful or wealthy than the “worker.”

I learned much from your Labor Day letter.  The diverse insights of religious prophets and teachers and their value were a good learning experience.  Personally, I believe Pope John Paul’s encyclicals focus on actualizing our potential role as co-creators of the universe (the missed opportunity presented in Genesis) holds the answer to the question you sent with the Bethel University meeting proceedings: “Where is the middle space in which we can find each other on good terms?”

Choosing to finally enact this role can prevent the apocalyptic option described in William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Second Coming,” which you included.  Enjoyed the political, economic and ethnic complementarity, which was present in the letter.

I believe the Founding Fathers accomplished an unprecedented bridging of the spiritual, economic and political.  Through arduous and inspired labor, they balanced the 3 realms, while factoring in human limitations and prioritizing the different values within each on the basis of ideals, historical experience and the Founders’ moment in time.

It seems to me that we have lost that balance and prioritization by gradually reducing reality to STEM through academic atheism and the prosperity gospel.  The latter is now attempting to reduce reality further to STEM because physical science is supporting the conclusion that humans are having a significant impact on global climate change.

From the Book of Common Prayer

The funeral honors given Elizabeth, the second of that name to be Queen of
England, were estimated to have been watched, at least in part, by 4.1 billion people globally.  It was the largest television event in the history of humanity, encompassing cultures, races, ethnicities, countries and religions.

We have arrived at an age of irrepressible globalism, thanks to technologies created by the private sector and sold for a profit, including not only television and cell phones, but also aircraft and waterborne shipping containers.

In retrospect, Queen Elizabeth lived with a grace and fortitude detached from the parochialisms created and sustained by culture, ethnicity, race, nations and religion.  And so her passing was noted by so many who were not her subjects.  The response to her passing gives evidence of a moral sense in most of us, whoever we are and wherever we live.

To me, the blessing given at the close of her burial service by the Archbishop of Canterbury, taken from the estimable Book of Common Prayer used for centuries by the Church of England, most appropriately echoed the humanity which can resonate in each of us after our own fashion:

GO forth into the world in peace; Be of good courage, hold fast that which is good, render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honour all people, love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit; …

And so may each of you go forth into our world with all its tribulations and shortcomings.

We Are Restless Weavers

This past Sunday, my wife Hoa and I were in Wellfleet, Cape Cod.  I decided, more or less on a whim or, more likely, to once again feel part of that New England Calvinist culture which centered my Father’s family for generations in this continent.  I went to the local Congregational Church, now part of the United Church of Christ.  The congregation in Wellfleet was 301 years old.  Its church had been built in 1850, very solid in design and construction, very Yankee without fuss or feathers, plain and utilitarian, as if built for use in a work of worthy substance.

Wellfleet is just a few miles from where, in 1620, the Pilgrims first came ashore after their voyage from Delft-Haven in Holland to what would be called “New” England.  Not finding the land well-disposed for settlement, they sailed farther along the coast to make their new home in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  As God-fearing, but very practical in worldly ways, the Pilgrims were on an “errand into the wilderness,” the better to find solace in their faith.  Their “errand” was to inspire and guide the American Republic ever since.  As one of our Caux Round Table Fellows says, “Behaviors are the residuals of values.”  Puritan values have had a long shelf-life in the behaviors of my fellow citizens for 400 years and through many of them, in the world beyond our shores, as well.

The service centered on hymns.  There was no sermon.  Most of the hymns were not familiar to me, raised a Unitarian.  One was new, from 1995.  It was “Restless Weaver.”  I was surprised how such new lyrics connected so well with the Puritan tradition of yore, when so much these days is a rejection of the past, of duty and sacrifice, of making a Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan’s 1678 tale), day by day, through a hard and cold world, into an unknown future, with head held high and courage at the ready.

The last verse was:

Restless Weaver, still conceiving new life – now and yet to be – Binding all your vast creation in one living tapestry: You have called us to be weavers.  Let your love guide all we do.  With your Reign of Peace our pattern, we will weave your world anew.

Remarkable, I thought.  Expressed here is the very sentiment which inspired the Caux Round Table’s Principles for Business, a sentiment shared by the Japanese, Europeans and Americans who drafted the principles, each in their own way a restless weaver seeking a better world for all of us.

In Memoriam: Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of England

The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.’

Alford, Lord TennysonBecause I Could Not Stop for Death

By Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Elizabeth Windsor, who passed away earlier today at age 96, knew something very important. Something so important that she impressed her character with its exacting demands and lived every day guided by its truth.  She knew who she was – not as an individual with ups and downs, likes and dislikes – but more importantly, as an official.  She held an office.  She was Queen of Great Britain.  She was in service – to history, to the future, to her realm.

For her, being monarch was a privilege in the best sense – it was an opportunity to do good, a grace, to have work that, every day, was meaningful, even at the horse races.  She did not seem to see herself as entitled to extensive personal prerogatives as the due to her privilege, so much as accepting and welcoming responsibility.

Responsibility is onerous, sometimes even a frightening burden we would rather lay down and go fishing.  Others depend on us and that can get into our souls.  Responsibility is not often sugar and spice and all things nice.  When we are responsible, our very selves are on the line, subject to judgment and criticism.

How many of us seek out responsibility?  Many of us flee duty and decision-making.  We pass the buck, leave it up to others and slide through life uttering weasel words of exculpation.  We are eager for position, privilege in a crude and demeaning mode of self-indulgence at the expense of others.  We often seek to rise above others, to gain dominion over land and money, to become celebrated, but to what end?  Do we seek to stand firm for the right as Martin Luther did – “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”

Elizabeth easily, it seems, accepted her fate as having been born, through no fault of her own, the eldest child of a king.  She shrank not from the standard of personal character, which insists that rank must have its responsibilities, come hell or high water.

Quite unexpectedly, I once had dinner in Buckingham Palace.  I was seated next to Princess Anne.  She spent the dinner talking with me and ignoring the gentleman to her right, who was quite obviously not pleased.  She was intelligent, worldly, but reserved, keen to learn, quick to make a point.

And once I had a long private audience with His Majesty, King Rama IX of Thailand.  He advised me on Buddhism.  His aide-de-camp, a major general, had trouble staying awake.

In each case, while listening, I wondered how I would carry myself if our roles were reversed – me the royal and they the commoner.  I sensed, in each, dedication to something more than self.  Each provided me with insight and keen observations.  They took their position – but not themselves – seriously as a work that made a difference in our world.  And I sensed, as well, that these two people very much wanted whatever difference they might make to be good and honorable.

In this sense of holding office, I suggest that Elizabeth Windsor was a role model for all of us.

We each have our special offices – parent; child; grandfather; grandmother; citizen; neighbor; employee; owner; our own person; civil servant; teacher; lawyer; marketing executive; doctor; nurse; priest; penitent,…

Let us, therefore, never turn our backs on the responsibilities that come with our offices, nor indulgently disable ourselves, mentally and emotionally, from holding such offices in good faith and to the best of our abilities.

I have always liked Mark Twain’s quip that “Let us endeavor to live so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”

Mikhail Gorbachev and the End of History

The passing of Mikhail Gorbachev deserves mention, as it is a teaching moment for us all.  He personified the collapse of Soviet Communism, a great experiment in the intentional organizing of human society, idealist, to be sure, but evil at the same time, a gnostic theocracy shaping persons (square pegs) to fit in (round) collectivist holes.  What’s not to like?

The collapse of Soviet Communism was described as the “End of History” by Professor Francis Fukuyama.  His intent, I think, was to mark the failure of that experiment as a turning point for humanity in putting a failure behind it and accepting the reality that individuals, not collectives, carry the Holy Grail of possibility within themselves.

When push came to shove in the struggle to shore up and carry on with the Soviet clunker of a system, as First Secretary of the Communist Party ruling the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Gorbachev neither pushed, nor shoved.  He presided over the inevitable.

He was a wise man, in some ways, heroic, not turning his back on the system which had raised him to great power for a time, but also not seeking to do the impossible, which was to revitalize it.

His attempt at overcoming systemic entropy and its decreasing output of work was to open it up to individualism – glasnost in thinking and speaking and perestroika in modes of organization.  Neither modification could surmount the entropic forces slowing the system down and hastening its collapse.

The lesson for us to learn from Gorbachev is to ever respect reality: cooked spaghetti cannot be pushed up a straw, but uncooked spaghetti can.  His foresight in anticipating the collapse of his system, shared with others in and around the KGB, such as Vladimir Putin, was unremarkable. The KGB recruited smart people with analytical minds, not slavish ideologues.  They knew the world outside the Soviet Union, tracking its dynamics and accomplishments.  They knew that their Marxist-Leninism would never bury capitalism.  The pithy Marxist aphorism, I understand, is “The proletariat is the undertaker of capitalism.”

His course, I think, was wise and moral.  At some level, he understood that Lenin’s and Stalin’s system had outlived its possibilities.  I heard Gorbachev speak to the Center of the American Experiment in Minnesota in April 2000.  While he did not repudiate the Soviet experiment, neither did he praise it.  I found that cast of mind prudent and befitting a statesman.  His remarks were subtle, but directed towards universal values embracing the agency of human persons.  In this sense, I found him to be a man inclined more to principle than to power.

I think he would have had no difficulty accepting the Caux Round Table’s ethical principles.  As for the end of history, I have trouble with that one.  History is something like the Dao, I would suggest.  It just “is” and goes on and on, to what end, we know not, though we are agents of its evolution.

The Dao De Jing advises that the Dao that can be named is not the real Dao.  Thereby, we create names for that which is historical, but by doing so, we do not necessarily get our hands on or wrap our minds around real history.

Fukuyama cautioned us about the hubris of thinking that this system or that system is “it” – the culmination forever and ever more of a Dao in some kind of stasis.  He pointed to thymos, (sometimes thumos) the Greek concept of impassioned spiritedness – glory, honor, ego – within our character that draws on emotions and therefore, can become blind to reason and prudence. Thymos drives us to create systems and structures and it also drives us to destroy them, as times change.  Such spiritedness grates against norms and order.

Thus, Fukuyama warned, the system of “capitalism and constitutional democracy” – the liberal order – which seemingly “won out” over Soviet Communism – could be corrupted, even destroyed, by the energies which thymos sets loose in person after person.

Ethics and morality are important checks on thymos, more so than reason.  Thus, they have a role to play, as the Dao of history just goes on and on.

On Labor

Today, Monday, September 5, is Labor Day in the U.S., a holiday no longer much celebrated in honor of working men and women and their unions, organized as a counterweight to “capital,” keeping money power from making excessive demands on workers in capitalist systems.

The formation of labor unions was the foundation for the modern welfare State.  But now in the U.S., Labor Day is more appreciated as the official end of summer and family vacations, the beginning of the school year and the formal start of election campaigns seeking political power in a constitutional democracy.

So, should we honor “labor”?

On one level, “labor” is just a factor of production, along with land and capital, a necessary fact of life, one which supports the creation of wealth and so more opportunity and better lives for humankind.

On another level, “labor” correlates with exploitation.  Workers are not paid fairly for their contributions to economic and social well-being.  Capital – money – has such power that it can squeeze “value” out of labor, said Karl Marx, creating inequality.  Those with capital thrive.  Those who labor manage, at best, and suffer, at worst.  My junior year tutor, the noted American Marxist, Barrington Moore, drilled into us the narrative that all society is structured to “extract the surplus” from labor, be it farmers or factory hands.

In the Judeo-Christian traditions, labor is punishment for our sinfulness.  It is associated with drudgery and hardship.  We are not entitled to ease and enjoyment of our desires, but must work in creation to sustain ourselves.  In English, we even say that the pain of a woman when giving birth is her “labor.”

The Old Testament describes jubilee years, when debts are forgiven, a social mechanism to offset the power of money, as it subjugates those who must borrow in order to fund their “work.”  The Qur’an prohibits “riba” or paying interest on money borrowed.  The Qur’anic alternative is a joint venture, where the parties are collaborators, sharing between them the risks of work.

Labor has also, in many societies, become intertwined with social status and reputational superiority.  Those who “labor” are on the bottom of social hierarchies, while those who don’t – priests, merchants, investors, landlords, aristocrats, bureaucrats – enjoy privileges.

For most people, across cultures, the thought of rising above the laboring class or enjoying the ease of elite lifestyles is a source of motivation, but also of resentment.

Interesting to me is the different take on labor found in several Asian religious understandings of the human predicament.  Buddha focused on the individual person, not on class or labor.  He was universalistic in his teachings, believing that they applied to all persons everywhere, no matter their social power or status.  The core to his thinking was developing mindfulness, to seek and keep the middle way of balance and equilibrium.

To him, a poor working person was just as capable of seeking and finding understanding as the greatest of kings and potentates.  Internalization of the Noble Eightfold Path into our personal character was universally possible among humans.

Similarly, in China, Daoism ignored the social, political and economic confinements of labor. Living in the Dao was presented as possible for everyone.  One only had to wu wei – not strive to live up to a name or office or to measure oneself by a socially constructed status.

Even Mencius can be read to proclaim the possibility that everyone can aspire to living in the practice of jenyi (with humanness and righteousness) and not in a Darwinist struggle for wealth and dominion.

In Protestant Christianity, Martin Luther sought to transform labor and work into a calling of more transcendent virtue by reframing “work” as “vocation” (beruf), as efforts to live up to God’s expectations, not society’s.  What is of God is worth no matter how much money it brings home.  And no amount of money, earned or privilege inherited, can ever become something of God.  Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Pope John Paul II, in his 1981 encyclical, Laborem Exercens, proposed that we, in our work, are co-creators with God of his work and it continues until the end of time.  Each of us, then, has a vocation.  We may not be conscious of our goodness or how our lives, as disappointing, banal and exhausting as they may be, have higher purpose.

John Paul II affirmed that “Work is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth.”

He continued: “As the “image of God,” he is a person, that is to say, a subjective being, capable of acting in a planned and rational way, capable of deciding about himself and with a tendency to self-realization.  As a person, man is, therefore, the subject of work.  As a person, he works, he performs various actions belonging to the work process; independently of their objective content, these actions must all serve to realize his humanity, to fulfil the calling to be a person that is his by reason of his very humanity.”

John Paul II held it as a “fundamental truth that man, created in the image of God, shares, by his work, in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of his own human capabilities, man, in a sense, continues to develop that activity and perfects it as he advances further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation.”

Awareness that man’s work is a participation in God’s activity ought to permeate even “the most ordinary, everyday activities.  For, while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society.  They can justly consider that by their labour, they are unfolding the Creator’s work, consulting the advantages of their brothers and sisters and contributing, by their personal industry, to the realization in history of the divine plan.”

Taking these religious insights into our consideration, let us not look down upon “labor” or associate it primarily with the injustices of subjugation and exploitation.  Let us, rather, consider everything we do – including our use of money – as contributing to our vocation as a person of goodwill and grace, seeking the optimum intersection of our own well-being, considered upon the whole of life’s possibilities, tangible and intangible, with the common good.

More Short Videos on Relevant and Timely Topics

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

C.S. Lewis – An Alternative Preface

We Are Agents

Surveillance Capitalism – When the Rubber Meets the Road

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Wokeness and Stakeholder Capitalism

What is wokeness when offered by a company as a brand enhancement to attract customers?

Following Thorstein Veblen and Abraham Maslow, I would describe “wokeness” as an intangible status good, permitting buyers to feel better about themselves.  Something like a country club membership or dinner at a trendy, but expensive restaurant.

The good provided by “wokeness” to a purchaser is, more than a little, a self-serving boost to the buyer’s self-esteem.  Separately, it may also provide a public good of advantage to the community.  But where self-interest drives the decision to buy, beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder.  Different buyers will have different utility curves on the marginal advantage to each of the goods – both self-enhancing and community-enhancing – that “wokeness” provides.

Veblen defined “conspicuous consumption” as buying what is observed by others in order to impress the rest of society through the manifestation of the buyer’s social power and prestige, be it real or perceived.  In other words, Veblen explained, social status becomes earned and displayed by patterns of consumption, rather than what the individual makes financially.  Such consumption provides “signifiers” for public display of special, more exclusive and privileged status.

Whatever signals our status as respectable and virtuous has always been a status good within the community we seek to impress.

But as the saying has it, “one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure.”  Customers have differentiated utility curves of personal satisfaction and different marginal utilities for each additional dollar or Euro they have or don’t have.

Thus, when companies sell “wokeness,” they may only attract some in the market for status goods.  The market may be large or small, mass or niche.

The website, ZeroHedge, recently described how entertainment companies misjudged market acceptance of the “wokeness” products:

Entertainment Companies Start Dumping Woke Content as Viewership Tumbles

By Tyler Durden
Sunday, August 7, 2022

They’ll never admit to it openly, but getting woke makes companies broke.  Hollywood has been overtly progressive for decades, but this is nothing compared to the social justice invasion since 2016.  After around five years of an unprecedented leftist onslaught on the entertainment industry, we are finally starting to see the rampage lose oxygen.  There’s a weakness within woke productions that the alternative media has been pointing out for a long time – they don’t make a profit because they are designed to appease a minority of leftist zennials that don’t have any money.  This is the wrong crowd to rely on for cash flow.     

It is fair to say that the entertainment industry was partially conned.  First, there are those tantalizing ESG loans that can be easily had, as long a company loudly declares their fealty to the social justice agenda.  Then, of course, there is the fact that many corporate CEOs and marketing people track Twitter trends with the ignorant assumption that Twitter is actually a reflection of the real world.  The woke mob on Twitter is amplified by the company itself, while most contrary voices are stifled and buried.  Anyone using the Twitter echo chamber as a marketing gauge would be led to believe that leftist ideology is the prevailing ideology of the nation.  It’s not even close.

Some companies are finally realizing this fact and are taking action to reduce their exposure to woke content, or otherwise perish from loss of viewership.  Here’s the thing – leftists could take over every platform for media distribution (they almost have), but they still can’t force the public to consume woke content.  Eventually, the loss of viewers and profits is going to hurt their bottom line.

Warner Media (now owned by Discovery) seems to be on the forefront of the purge of leftist content.  Under chief executive David Zaslav, Discovery is aggressively dissecting Warner to understand why a company with so many iconic brands and franchises is continually failing at the box office and on streaming.  Zaslav is now dumping far left content like the poison it is.

Most notably, Zaslav was behind the torching of news service CNN+ after less than a month of operation when it utterly failed to pull in subscribers.  Now, he has shelved the $100 million ‘Batgirl’ movie, a woke travesty with woke directors which test audiences hated.  He is also reportedly cutting the impending Supergirl movie, which rumors indicate was designed to replace the beloved Superman franchise with a female version played by a race swapped actress of Colombian descent (the original Supergirl is supposed to be white and blonde).

Another event that shocked leftists was Netflix taking an ax to “First Kill,” a lesbian vampire series that no one asked for and apparently no one watched.

This was after Netflix canceled a host of woke programming in the past couple of months, including a show called “Anti-Racist Baby,” written by well-known Critical Race Theory propagandist Ibram X. Kendi and another animated show called “Q-Force” (Queer Force).

HBO Max recently canceled their “Gordita Chronicles” after only one season.  The show, based on a Dominican immigrant family, heavily pushed leftist narratives of victim group status and depicted America as a racist and oppressive nation.  No mention of the fact that millions of non-white people try to sneak into the U.S. every year, even though it is supposedly “bigoted.”

The examples of purged woke programming go on and on.  This is a smart move by the entertainment media, as audiences make it clear with their dollars and their viewership that they don’t want to watch leftist garbage.  However, is it too little, too late?  

Some companies, like Disney, have chosen to foolishly double down on woke content (after numerous box office failures) and others, like Warner, have lost a lot of goodwill from their customers.  Corporations and marketing people have long sought to entice customers by researching what audiences want.  But, the new model is to simply TELL customers what to buy and shame audiences into compliance with a product if they don’t like it.  Since 2016, the strategy of media has been to ATTACK customers in response to criticism, rather than listening and learning.  This hasn’t gone over well.  Today, these businesses are paying the price for their trespasses against the free market.

It is unlikely that they will be able to win back audiences anytime soon, if ever.

The August issue of Newsweek in the U.S. has a long and somewhat breathless article on “The War on Woke,” with the sub heading of “As a growing number of companies adopt liberal causes from abortion rights to racial justice, conservatives are fighting back.”

It would seem from the article that consumer sentiment over cultural and political narratives is divided.  There is no consensus as to what should be believed or must be done.

Geeze – turns out “wokeness” is just like all the other consumer products and services on the market.  Some like Dove soap and others like Bee & Flower sandalwood soap (which I buy when I am in Bangkok).  I like whisky and you like beer.  Who is to judge which is better in the eyes of the cosmos and eternity?

Then, there is the case of competition over more or less “wokeness.”  One Jeremy Boreing, after the company Harry’s, maker of men’s shaving gear, took his ads off their site for being wrong-hearted and “inexcusable,” started his own business competing with Harry’s.  Now consumers have more choice in the market for shaving gear.  In two months, Boreing’s new company sold 63,000 shaving kits.

New “conservative” investment funds are being started which will mimic “progressive” activist shareholders in forcing managements to adopt points of view.  The new social activists are, apparently, pressing companies to focus on profit or at least to refrain from seeking to the change the world as progressives would prefer it to be.

The Free Enterprise Project is buying shares in companies so that it can attend shareholder meetings and ask difficult, upsetting, questions.  William Flaig has started the American Conservative Values exchange traded fund.  He has $30 million in assets.

There is a new conservative “shame and blame” public ranking of companies according to the degree of their objectionable “wokeness.”  The PublicSq. app says “It’s time to stop buying from companies that hate you.”

Professor Valentin Haddad of UCLA is quoted saying: “The initial stage of corporate activism is coming from the Left, and now there is pushback from the Right.  Are companies gaining more from the Left or losing more from the Right?  That’s their debate.”

Maybe old-fashioned, tried and true marketing focus groups would be useful?  Companies need to discern where customers are and what they want over a range of intangible moral and political utility curves.

Levi Strauss brand president Jennifer Sey resigned after she got targeted for being too political in her personal advocacy.  Her work associates accused her of being “anti-science, anti-fat, anti-trans and racist.”

It reminded me of the Cultural Revolution in China, where if you were not sufficiently “red” in mind and heart, you were ostracized and possibly “compassionately” sent to re-education camps to get your personality in line with party orthodoxy.

Maybe capitalism, in this new age of self-actualization and seeking of prestige and status goods, will become more like pluralistic politics – endless arguments among factions, each seeking to have its will drive the dominant narrative for society?

An article by Scott Shepard reports:

Encouraging reports indicate that the more sensible of the states have finally begun to confront not only the leftist takeover of corporate boards and executive suites, but against the attempts by the modern malefactors of great power – Larry Fink and BlackRock, Brian Moynihan and Bank of America and the rest of that crowd – to dictate American economic and social life under the banner of ESG.

Things are moving quickly.  Just recently Governor DeSantis announced a “flat ban” against investing Florida state or pension funds in ESG-involved investments.  West Virginia Treasurer Riley Moore listed the firms, including BlackRock, with which West Virginia and its subsidiaries would no longer do business because those companies continue to block their investors’ capital from flowing to reliable-energy producers in the name of climate protection.

As the AGs wrote in a letter to Fink last week (in response to a letter from BlackRock’s Chief Client Officer Mark McCombe to many of their states), “Mr. McCombe posit[ed] that BlackRock is agnostic on the question of energy and merely offers investing clients a range of investment options in the energy sector.  But this claimed neutrality differs considerably from BlackRock’s public commitments which indicate that BlackRock has already committed to accelerate net zero emissions across all of its assets, regardless of client wishes.”

To prove the point, the AGs quoted BlackRock to itself, by way of the commitment of the Net Zero Asset Managers, on the steering committee of which BlackRock sits: “BlackRock has committed to ‘[i]mplement a stewardship and engagement strategy, with a clear escalation and voting policy, that is consistent with our ambition for all assets under management to achieve net zero.”

“Well, a small fraction of our investors appear to want you to follow political decarbonization schedules, according to the ESG nature of their investment, but most just want to maximize value, taking into account all possibilities, including the very great likelihood that net zero can’t be accomplished at all without unbearable detriment to the value of this company and to the economy and stability of the world.  So, on balance, we must, in fidelity to our fiduciary duty, urge you strongly against aligning yourself with any political-schedule decarbonization plans.”

That is manifestly not what BlackRock is doing.

The AGs gave BlackRock until August 19th to reply to their letter and explain its actions fully.

Welcome to the brave new world of selling political and cultural status goods, where there will be winners and losers, just like in old fashioned, private market-driven capitalism.

Value of the Colosseum

I have argued that valuation of enterprise – of its capitals – is the mother’s milk of capitalism.  The Caux Round Table’s company assessment metric can be easily used to put probable parameters around future risk, thus permitting a reasonably prudent calculation of a company’s net present value and its total capitalization.

I want therefore to report to you on a recent valuation calculation made by Deloitte of the Colosseum in Rome, completed in 80 CE by the Roman Emperor Titus.  You may find the full report here.

The Deloitte valuation experts estimated a number of different values for the property:

-Social asset value – 76.8 billion Euros

-Transaction value – 1.1 billion Euros

-Existence value – 75.7 billion Euros

-Economic contribution (economic value added – 1.4 billion Euros)

Deloitte undertook this assessment to provide a framework for thinking about cultural heritage – really intangible assets.

The Deloitte report explains:

In addition to the economic contribution, we estimated the visitor value and the existence value of the Colosseum, which constitute its total “social asset” value.  Visitor value is calculated using the market or social value given by the transaction value – the revenue from the sale of goods and services.  In addition to the audience value, public institutions such as the Colosseum provide value to people who do not directly use their services.

Beyond its financial strengths, people may value the Colosseum as “iconic” or “symbolic” or may value the contribution of the Colosseum to the national culture.  Thus, the welfare produced by the Colosseum is certainly more than the financial benefits that it can produce.  Italian residents also place a considerable premium on the non-use value of the Colosseum.

This represents its intangible social value, that we can also refer to as its existence value.  This value is perceived by most Italians and not just those who visit it.  Specifically, this value arises when an individual is willing to pay for the Colosseum though she makes no direct use of it, may not benefit even indirectly from it and may not plan any future use for themselves or others.

On the basis of an ad-hoc survey, we found that about 90% of Italian residents believe the Colosseum is an iconic Italian landmark representing the most important cultural attraction in Italy and that it must be preserved under any circumstances.  We also found that Italian respondents are willing to pay a significant amount of money to preserve the Colosseum. Overall, we estimate the Colosseum has a total social asset value of 76.8 EUR/bn.

Of course, the exercise raises questions about the propriety of putting a price value on something so intangible.  Should we even want to use the “cash nexus’ as a measure of worth of such a work of art or say, a moral achievement?  Or is the question not either or, but when and if?  Specificity, especially when using numbers of monetary equivalents (Bitcoins?), has an impact on human thinking and desiring.  Precision, real or imagined, can give rise to overconfidence and illusions of certainty.

On the other hand, moving our discourse from emotions and other normative abstractions so personal to our psyches to mere numbers permits compromise and eases the way to collaboration through expected gains to be shared as agreed.  Facilitating transactions is not always a bad thing.  Many times, standing on principle, as in who was right or wrong in a marriage dissolution, produces intransigence and the breaking of relationships.  Such is a casus belli between nations when ultimatums are given and then cannot be withdrawn.

As the Deloitte methodology permits, we can move our appreciation of value away from simple buying and selling of goods and services to asking what meaning something has for people, what its more transcendent value might be.  We can think about emotional, psychological and political opportunity costs if we don’t have art, spiritual inspiration or heritage to give our identity concreteness in the world of real people and their real circumstances.

Not everything should be reduced to just money as a measure of value, but putting some proportion on our situations (global warming?) will make for better judgement and optimize decision-making.