Adam Smith on Doing Good for Goodness’ Sake

Yesterday, I was looking up a point in Adam Smith’s largely overlooked classic on the application of morals to life, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. By accident, I ran across this affirmation of why we should be virtuous:

“But the philosophers of all the different sects very justly represent virtue; that is wise, just, firm, and temperate conduct; not only as the most probable, but as the certain and infallible road to happiness in this life. This conduct, however, could not always exempt, and might even sometimes expose the person who followed it to all the calamities which were incident to that unsettled situation of public affairs. They endeavored, therefore, to show that happiness was either altogether, or at least in great measure, independent of fortune: … Wise, prudent, and good conduct was, in the first place, the conduct most likely to ensure success in every species of undertaking; and secondly, though it should fail of success, yet the mind was not left without consolation. The virtuous man might still enjoy the complete approbation of his own breast; and might still feel that, however untoward soever things might be without, all was calm and peace and concord within. He might generally comfort himself, too, with the assurance that he possessed the love and esteem of every intelligent and impartial spectator, who could not fail both to admire his conduct, and to regret his misfortune.”

Morality in the Atomic Age

Seventy-five years ago today, the American B-29 Superfortress bomber, the Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, opened its bomb bay doors and dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, initiating humanity to atomic warfare.

President Harry Truman made the decision to drop the bomb and then a second one three days later on Nagasaki. I have been told that he chose such destruction in place of an American invasion of Japan, which was predicted to result in massive civilian casualties and damage in town after town and city after city and great losses to American ground forces.

One of the founders of the Caux Round Table, Ryuzaburo Kaku, was in Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 when the second bomb was dropped. I once listened to Kaku-san at Mountain House in Caux, Switzerland describe his experience that day. He had been in a basement when the bomb detonated. On going up to the street, Kaku was amazed first at the silence – total silence, not even the sound of birds. Then he looked around – buildings destroyed – no people, not one – in sight.

His response to his survivor’s guilt – why me? What am I to do with my life to deserve it? – was to be exemplary in working for a higher vision in his business career with Canon Inc. He took a Japanese concept – kyosei or symbiosis – and developed it into a global ethic of business responsibility for stakeholders. You can read his article on kyosei in the Harvard Business Review here.

We live with the threat of nuclear war still today. An arms race between the U.S. and China appears to be underway. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. Israel is reliably reported to have nuclear weapons. Many worry that Iran, no friend of Israel, will develop nuclear weapons. North Korea, presumably, is very close to having a small nuclear arsenal.

For those who advocate a principled commitment to the moral use of power, what might the date August 6 portend?

First, that a terrible war, a nuclear war, is possible. Our moral powers of self-restraint can fail of their purpose and let a war happen.

More importantly, moral purpose, devoutly pursued, can lead to war: fiat iusticia ruat caelum – “Let there be justice though Heaven falls” or alternatively, fiat iusticia et pereat mundus – ”Let there be justice though the world perish.”

Morality too, taken to extremes, becomes cruel and destructive. Morality can become a heuristic figure of mind, a kind of cognitive bias, calling forth rationalizations, justifications, excuses.

Ethics, perhaps, a bit more utilitarian, balancing considerations of self and other, should be placed in the scales of justice.

In an age when atomic war is possible, hard thinking about conflict resolution, alternate forms of warfare, putting brakes on escalation, insistence on good governance, on a balance of interests and of coalitions of the willing to forestall the dangers of going to extremes are warranted.

International Zoom Round Table on Coronavirus – Thursday, August 20

Please join us at 9:00 am (CST) on Thursday, August 20, for an international Zoom round table on the coronavirus.

We’re planning to create a statement drawing upon the experience of the past several months with the virus and we seek your advice and counsel, as well as lessons learned, to be shared with our international network.

To register, please email Jed at

Participation is limited to 25 attendees.

For those of you who can’t attend, we would be interested in your suggestions and thoughts, as well. Please send those to us by simply responding to this email.

July Pegasus Now Available!

Here is the July edition of Pegasus.

This issue contains a very detailed and comprehensive study of the history of slavery and its continuing effects on contemporary political, social and economic structures, from its origins in the ancient world right up to today’s precarious state of affairs.  Its author is our Global Executive Director, Steve Young.

Even though the sources used are in the public domain, a lot of this information is not widely known and may be surprising to you.

We would be most interested in your thoughts and feedback.

Podcast with Mexican Ambassador Francisco Suarez Davila

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

The video is embedded above or you can watch directly on YouTube 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.