Blog

Caux Round Table Board Member Issues Warning on Food Insecurity Crisis Triggered by Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Our board member, Devry Boughner Vorwerk, in collaboration with the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm in New York City, has issued a report trying to estimate the likelihood of acute food insecurity later this year, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the inability of Ukraine to export its harvests of grain, grain now in storage and grain which might be harvested later this year.  Already, there are fears in Egypt of political instability, which will be set in motion by food shortages.

Devry’s report notes that:

The number of people facing food insecurity globally will rise by up to 243 million by November or a total of 1.9 billion people, explains a new report, “Food Security and the Coming Storm,” from Eurasia Group and DevryBV Sustainable Strategies.  This report offers new forecasts and policy recommendations for this global crisis based on a collaborative approach among the partners using geopolitical scenario analysis, market modeling and issue expertise. Russia’s war with Ukraine has shocked agricultural markets, increasing food inflation and global hunger.  Combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, the war and countries’ responses to it are pushing global food prices even higher, heightening the risk of poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

The report presents three potential trajectories for the Russia-Ukraine war: unstable stalemate, escalation and climbdown.  It estimates the impact of each on global food insecurity.  Notably, Eurasia Group’s most likely scenario, unstable stalemate (a 70% probability), is also the most grave for global hunger.

Even in the most optimistic scenario, climbdown (a 5% probability), which would assume a cease-fire and de-escalation, food insecurity in 2022 would still be higher than in 2021.

Prior to the war, levels of hunger had already surpassed previous records set in 2021, with close to 193 million people acutely food insecure and in need of urgent assistance across 53 countries and territories.

Probability Scenarios of Food Insecure Population by November:  

-Unstable stalemate – 70% probability -1.92 billion, +17.3%
-Escalation – 25% probability – 1.78 billion, +8.7%
-A climbdown – 5% probability – 1.51 billion, -7.6%

Despite this dire forecast, the report says a series of policies could help reduce human suffering in any war scenario—if the world can cooperate.  These include a concerted effort to keep food trade open with Ukraine and Russia, despite sanctions and other wartime considerations.

Devry Boughner Vorwerk, CEO of DevryBV Sustainable Strategies, underscored that point, noting that “while food aid is critical to address the immediate humanitarian crisis, this study also demonstrates the need to focus on local production zones at scale in impacted countries over the next six to 24 months.  The G7 and multilateral lending institutions need to dedicate targeted emergency funding to the greatest areas of production potential to ensure a sustainable food system going forward.”

The full report can be found here.

Can Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Efforts Have a Legitimate Moral Foundation?

Recently, I met a vice president of diversity, inclusion and equity of a local institution.  He had a different take on his mission – a Gospel take, actually.  Taking Jesus’ parable (only a narrative?) about the good Samaritan seriously, as Pope Francis did in his important encyclical Fratelli Tutti, leads one straight to a non-race-based vision of diversity, inclusion and equity.

That is a moral basis for diversity, inclusion and equity I have not heard at all brought up in our public discourse about the undoing of “white racism” and “systemic racism” or cleansing our country of its “original sin.”

These justifications of diversity, inclusion and equity preferences have a moral dimension; the effort seeks the common good.  But…

Hasn’t the high ground of morality been to put aside the superficial and look to the essence of another’s humanity?  Are racial appearances a superficiality or an essence?

Is it their appearance which gives rise to discrimination, ostracism, stereotyping, marginalization, refusing to honor and accept as a friend, peer or relative someone of a different “race?”  Is it not, rather, our misuse of that appearance in our own minds and mores, which is the source of the rejection?

What was it about the Samaritan which caused the others to pass him by?

Using race or some similar ascriptive characteristic to give preferences, to separate sheep from goats on judgment day, doesn’t square with many theologies of the human.

As you may recall, we spent considerable time over the past two years learning about the covenants the Prophet Muhammad gave to respect and protect Christian communities.  In one covenant, he wrote of taking others “under the wing of mercy.”  The Qur’an teaches that God created all persons, one by one, to serve as his “khalifa” or steward protecting and making fruitful his creation.

Mencius based his moral vision on benevolence (仁).  This character is derived from the character for human person (人) and a mark for the number “2.”  Benevolence gives us the ideal of human persons together.

Jesus grounded his ethic of being human on seeing every other as oneself; on being equitable between ego and other; on seeing diversity as a kind of sameness; and on wanting to include the perspective of others in our own thinking and feeling.

The apostle Paul spoke of there being “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The Buddhist middle way is not exclusively for those born to practicing Buddhist parents or by accident being raised in a Buddhist culture.  The Noble Eightfold Path of right-ness or fit-ness is available for every sentient human mind.

Discriminating tribalisms – “us” and “them” – I suggest, don’t rise to the highest levels of theological insight and can keep us in darkness of heart and mind.

The origin of “equity,” “epikeia” for Aristotle, was to make space for those who had a claim to differential treatment.  Thomas Aquinas explained equity as:

“When we were treating of laws, since human actions, with which laws are concerned, are composed of contingent singulars and are innumerable in their diversity, it was not possible to lay down rules of law that would apply to every single case.  Legislators in framing laws attend to what commonly happens: although if the law be applied to certain cases it will frustrate the equality of justice and be injurious to the common good, which the law has in view.  Thus the law requires deposits to be restored, because in the majority of cases this is just. Yet it happens sometimes to be injurious—for instance, if a madman were to put his sword in deposit and demand its delivery while in a state of madness, or if a man were to seek the return of his deposit in order to fight against his country.  On these and like cases it is bad to follow the law and it is good to set aside the letter of the law and to follow the dictates of justice and the common good.  This is the object of “epikeia” which we call equity.”

In the courts of equity in England and America, a person seeking “equity” needed to do equity first in order to claim its special solicitude from a person in authority.  The maxim was that one had to come before the courts with “clean hands” to ask for equity, which was a moral privilege, not a legal right.

By the way, the courts of equity were first created in England by lord chancellors who were often senior clerics and so trained in Christian theology.

We would, I am sure, do much better for the common good in our efforts to provide benevolence through diversity and inclusion and to do equity if we were to reframe our narrative away from justification by race to justification by our personal grace and by faith in all who come our way that they, too, may be inclusive of and equitable towards others.

Friendship Does Have a Role in Business

In a recent issue, Newsweek published a commentary on “How to Be an Employee Friendly Company,” joining together the moral relationship of “friend” with the stakeholder constituency of “employee.”

Previously, in a recent issue of Pegasus, our colleague, Michael Hartoonian, deepened our appreciation of friendship as vital and humanizing us in difficult times of alienation and lonely ships passing each other in the night.

I was, therefore, very pleased to see Michael’s articulation of an ideal closely associated with moral capitalism and moral government vindicated in a real world context of practical achievement.

What Would You Do If…. ?

A few weeks ago, the New Yorker Magazine published sort of a comic strip written by a Russian artist, Victoria Lomasko, who left Moscow in a rush, so then it was illustrated by Joe Sacco.  It is titled “Collective Shame.”

The cartoon reflects the bewilderment of having to make choices when one is “caught between Putin, shame at the war and what feels like Western rejection of all Russians.”

You can find the cartoon here.

Putin’s war on Ukraine has created hard choices for many: how is one to respond – compromise to forestall greater harms?  Escalate to risk a wider war?  Punish all Russians for the sins of a leader?  Reach out to Russians today that better relations might more easily happen in the more distant future?

When ethics break down and community dissolves into Hobbesian conditions of each against each and all against all, what should we do?

1660 Protestant Ethic and Moral Capitalism

A colleague recently sent me a book on “character development” to achieve a life well-lived.  The points made seemed to channel the old Protestant Ethic.  I then took out an old book (printed in 1668) which I had purchased long ago in London.  It is called “A Gentleman’s Calling” and was first published in 1660.

On looking through it, I ran across this passage which argues, in Protestant terms, of the happy coincidence between duty and advantage.  This had also a truism to Cicero in his book, De Officiis.  It is a moral stance predicting the feasibility of a moral capitalism.

Please Join Us for Zoom Round Table on Ukraine – May 24

Recently in Russia, there was a commemoration of victory over the German National Socialist Regime in World War II.  In his speech, President Putin spoke more pointedly, if vaguely, about his intentions with the invasion of Ukraine.

That invasion has brought attention to big questions: Has the post WWII international order come to an end?  Has the Enlightenment run out of gas?  How successful will Russia and China be in their new alliance with a new vision of our world in deference to ethnic theocracies?  Will there be famine among the poor and the innocent?  What is the meaning of Europe?  Are Russians part of Europe?  Do we need ethical principles?  What of global capitalism with inflation and supply chain dysfunctions?

Please join us at 9:00 am (CST) on Tuesday, May 24, for a Zoom round table on these questions and other relevant points.

To register, please email Jed at jed@cauxroundtable.net.

The event is free and will last about an hour.

“Idle Talk” – Civilizational Quagmire

A recent comment by a post-doctorate research fellow published in the Wall Street Journal nicely makes the case for quality discourse as foundational for civilized living with one another.

Here is his comment:

Everyone’s a Critic and It’s Time to Read the Books
A respect for ‘primary’ sources would enable well-informed citizens to counter ‘idle talk.’

 

By
Allen Porter
April 29, 2022

Would you be surprised to learn that Jesus was really a cross-dressing, gender-indeterminate “drag king”?  If so, you obviously don’t know the variant of critical theory called “queer theory” as expounded by Tat-siong Benny Liew, a religious-studies professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., who gave this subversive reading of the Gospels in an essay published in a collection of biblical criticism.

It is a cliché among academics that the humanities are in crisis.  According to Harvard historian James Hankins, part of the problem is the dominance of “critical” reading over “primary” reading.  Primary reading takes a text at face value and simply tries to understand what the author intended to say.  Critical reading assumes an author’s statements—in the Bible or anything else—can never be taken at face value.  Instead, they must be “seen through” to expose the text’s real meaning, which is determined in accord with this or that fashionable theory.

Mr. Hankins says primary reading “must be recovered” for higher education in the humanities to be effective.  I would go further.  Primary reading isn’t important only for the humanities, or even for education more generally.  The restoration of primary reading could be a crucial weapon in combating the “idle talk” that plagues American society.

Idle talk was philosopher Martin Heidegger’s term for inauthentic discourse.  It involves adopting and circulating others’ opinions about something without ever personally engaging that thing for yourself, whatever that entails: researching a topic, thinking through an idea, or reading a book.  People engaged in idle talk speak in accord with expectations for their particular identity or role, such as parent or lawyer, progressive or Christian.  They hold and express the opinions a person in their role is expected to hold.  This is an easy way to live: To know what you should do, think, say and feel, you simply need to know the social expectations for your role.

Idle talk can be harmless.  Each year my mother forms strong opinions about which films should win Academy Awards without seeing any of them, after reading articles by critics she favors. But idle talk can also be dangerous, especially in the context of a democratic state, which requires a well-informed citizenry.

Consider journalism.  The norm nowadays is for one reporter to break a story, followed by dozens or hundreds of journalists recycling that content.  They may add a little spin of their own but rarely look into the issue for themselves—even when this would require but a few clicks and a couple of minutes to read a judicial verdict or legislative text.  Some journalists scroll Twitter  to find the story of the day and rewrite it in their own words.

In political discourse, especially partisan political discourse, other kinds of idle talk tend to compound.  An academic may inauthentically produce a politicized paper on some hot topic like transgenderism, a journalist adapts it into popular form while burnishing its patina of factual objectivity and other journalists recycle the story.  Then an inauthentic reader takes his talking points from one of those news articles—or even just its headline—which he circulates in conversations and on social media.

There are millions of people who have formed what they think are the correct opinions about the Covington kids, Kyle Rittenhouse or so many other matters, without ever looking at the evidence.  Consider the hundreds of articles written about so-called anti-critical-race-theory legislation or the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by journalists who never bothered to read the legislation they were writing about.

The Covid pandemic highlighted the problem, from ostracization for those daring to discuss the trade-offs of lockdowns to the sacralization of masks as a political identity marker completely disconnected from medical or scientific justification.  Not to mention the dogmatic discourse that arose over “the science” and the social imperative to “follow” it.

Social media has contributed to the proliferation of idle talk.  Authentic discourse requires time, effort and good-faith engagement, but social media tends to encourage the opposite.  As journalists opine on every topic, however trivial or traditionally unnewsworthy, the all-knowing chorus of global gossip becomes a roaring mob.  Social media amplifies this voice, pushing it into user feeds 24/7.  We hear about everything and we can’t hear about anything without also being told what opinion we should have about it—from legislation in Florida to the latest streaming series, from war in Ukraine to one celebrity slapping another on a stage in California. Opinions before facts; know what to think about something before actually looking into it for yourself.  And really, why even bother with that?

Primary reading isn’t only something the humanities need.  Our entire culture needs its value to be recognized and restored.

Mr. Porter is a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.

Now, in the Caux Round Table’s Principles for Moral Government, we postulate discourse as the moral foundation for good governance.  But what makes discourse good?

Here is our formulation, which I think incorporates Allen Porter’s concerns for the dysfunctions often associated with “idle talk”:

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.

Furthermore, “idle talk” undermines the ethics of social media and journalism, for it uses those communal assets to privilege their own idiosyncratic narratives over the more dutiful task of checking their sources, facts and assumptions for substance, reliability and truth.

The Caux Round Table proposes codes of ethics for social media users and journalists to improve the quality of their contributions to our interdependence on one another.

Inflation and Moral Capitalism

Inflation is becoming a problem here in the U.S. and with the spillover effects of the war in Ukraine, inflation may become a global affliction too.  I am not aware of much comment on the relationship of inflation to capitalism, but it seems to me, as I argue below, that inflation is more of a failure of government than of capitalism itself.

Moral Capitalism and Inflation?

Inflation hurts – and the poor more than the rich.  So, why isn’t capitalism put in the dock and blamed for inflation too, as well as for its other failings to provide us with equality of outcomes?

True enough, inflation shows up in markets – prices rise, the value of money sinks.  But markets do not and cannot of themselves generate supply or demand.  The conditions which allow marker makers to set prices are under the control of buyers and sellers operating independently of one another.  And, true enough, sellers can conspire to restrict supply to inflate prices and buyers can boycott what sellers want to sell to force prices down.

Yet, it seems most often to be the case that forces outside markets drive pricing – wars, pandemics, famines, innovations, supply chain imbroglios, government policies – fiscal policy, monetary policy, regulations, public health and safety, care of the environment standards.

In the U.S. today, I sense a growing opinion that government fiscal and monetary policies have caused the present inflation.  The harm done to our society by this inflation can’t be blamed on capitalism.  Consider the following two charts:

When the Federal Reserve Banks have put cash into the economy to buy financial contracts in an amount at about 35% of annual GDP, there is upward pressure on nominal prices from so much liquidity sloshing around, as the marginal utility of each dollar decreases.

Now, the consequence of inflation on prices is decline in the real value of assets.  Inflation destroys wealth, the very opposite of what capitalism is designed to do.  This chart shows the decline in real wealth in stocks in the U.S. during the last round of serious inflation in the 1970s:

The Caux Round Table also proposes principles for moral government.  Perhaps those principles should be used by politicians and officials to moderate government policies which cause inflation.

The Caux Round Table Principles for Moral Government propose that:

-General welfare contemplates improving the well-being of individual citizens.

-The state shall nurture and support all those social institutions most conducive to the free self-development and self-regard of the individual citizen.  Public authority shall seek to avoid or to ameliorate conditions of life and work which deprive the individual citizen of dignity and self-regard or which permit powerful citizens to exploit the weak.

-The state has a custodial responsibility to manage and conserve the material and other resources that sustain the present and future well-being of the community.

What is Going On – Capitalism as a Spiritual Resource?

Running across the title of a new book over the weekend on seeking spirituality in politics without getting religious made me think of what might be going on at the present time with demands for a more “spiritual” capitalism.

I then wrote the following comment to share with our network:

I am increasingly bemused, or better, perplexed, at the recent rise of calls for a “better” capitalism because, to me, the various proposals brought forward have little to do the actualities of running a firm.  They are well-intended, I think; intentionally aspirational, without crass or hypocritical self-seeking agendas, but vague to a point of being useless.

With respect to their proponents, I am referring to calls for companies with a purpose.  Is not profit a purpose for a company?  The point seems to be that “profit,” as we have understood it and accounted for it, is not a good purpose.  Companies should have higher purposes than making money.

And then, there is “ESG” – a demand that private firms provide public goods “good” for the environment, society and governance (or is it government?).  But there are no standards, no metrics to let us know, as Lenin once demanded, what is to be done?  We are told that trillions of dollars are lined up to reward with investments companies which do well in ESG outcomes.

Then, mostly in the U.S., there is woke capitalism, where firms are expected to and many like Twitter and Disney do, take cultural stands to favor some over others, given their progressive personal, but largely elitist opinions, their birth metrics of race or ethnicity or their chosen metrics of sexuality.  Woke companies are expected to deliver cultural and political change without respect for voters or election outcomes.  A movement for race-based “diversity, inclusion and equity” has trumped various criteria for merit in the decision-making of HR and community relations staffs of many corporations.

So, what is going on?

Is it late-stage 4.0, post-industrial, post-modern, deconstructed capitalism?  The triumph of Antonio Gramsci’s proposed long march through cultural institutions with a program of non-materialist Marxism?

About six years ago, I complained to one of the wisest people in our network that I felt leadership vanishing all around the world, replaced by managing and teamwork and “go along, get along,” “don’t make waves” ladders leading up to high positions.  I expected to be corrected for being out of line, but no.  The response was immediate and forceful:

“Steve, we are living at the end of an age.  Everyone knows it.  But they don’t know what is coming, what the new age will be like, what it will demand of us.  So, everyone does today, just what they did yesterday.”

Recently, a friend proposed in line with this premonition that the European Enlightenment “has run out of gas.”

The age of the European Enlightenment is indeed over.  Just look around you.  Russia has invaded the Ukraine and entered a pact with China asserting that great peoples with traditions going back millennia can impose their own parochial values just as they see fit.  Xi Jinping boasts of China’s great dream as one of taking the world in hand and setting it right.

The historical norm for dominant regimes – dynastic, nation state, religious/intellectual – is roughly 250 years.  The European Enlightenment took off in the mid-18th century, though it was foreshadowed by the work of Descartes, Spinosa and Leibniz.  Through promotion of science and human-centered philosophy, the European Enlightenment shifted energies and attention to secularization, giving dynamic intellectual and cultural inputs to industrialization and modernity.  At the same time, however, such regime gave prominence to materialism more than the ideal and the spiritual through the theories of Hegel on the state; Adam Smith and Karl Marx on economics; John Stuart Mill on liberty; Herbert Spencer on survival of the fittest; Nietzsche on the will to power replacing God; Darwin on evolution; Alfred Marshall in micro-economics; and later, Freud on personhood.

Simultaneously, the basis for morality was confined to a universalistic individualism – “I” think, therefore “I” am.

What I think is going on with calling for new purposes for companies, for ESG business models and with woke capitalism is simply a cry for help, as the European Enlightenment fades into history.  The help sought is for something spiritual to provide a nourishment that neither materialism/prosperity nor narcissism can provide.

Modern humanity appears to be in need of meaning, but a spirituality that is not religious.  I am not at all sure that such a product can ever be made and sold by capitalism, even a moral one.

As Jesus Christ is reported to have advised the Devil: “People do not live by bread alone.”

Ironically, I am writing this observation on May 1, International Workers Day, the annual holiday of the very “enlightened,” scientific and materialistic socialist movement.  This date was chosen in 1889 for political reasons by the Marxist International Socialist Congress, which met in Paris and established the Second International as a successor to the earlier International Workingmen’s Association.