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When You Walk in Cicero’s Footsteps, You Can’t Be All Wrong

I was recently re-reading Cicero’s De Officiis (On Moral Responsibility) and in a pleasant surprise, found that Cicero had embraced an important Caux Round Table Principle for Government.

The principles rest on a premise of responsibility, using the concept of office as a trust.

I was reading Walter Miller’s translation from the Latin and was quite surprised to see, for the first time, that Cicero had advocated the same moral vision for those in government as does the Caux Round Table.

Cicero wrote:

For the administration of the government, like the office of a trustee, must be conducted for the benefit of those entrusted to one’s care, not of those to whom it is entrusted.  Now, those who care for the interests of a part of the citizens and neglect another part, introduce into the civil service a dangerous element – dissension and party strife. (Book I, XXV, 85)

The Caux Round Table Principles for Government start with this standard of conduct:

Fundamental principle: Public power is held in trust for the community.

Power brings responsibility.  Power is a necessary moral circumstance in that it binds the actions of one to the welfare of others.

Therefore, the power given by public office is held in trust for the benefit of the community and its citizens.  Officials are custodians only of the powers they hold.  They have no personal entitlement to office or the prerogatives thereof.

Holders of public office are accountable for their conduct while in office.  They are subject to removal for malfeasance, misfeasance or abuse of office.  The burden of proof that no malfeasance, misfeasance or abuse of office has occurred lies with the officeholder.

The state is the servant and agent of higher ends.  It is subordinate to society.  Public power is to be exercised within a framework of moral responsibility for the welfare of others.  Governments that abuse their trust shall lose their authority and may be removed from office.

It is reassuring to discover that our approach has an excellent precedent.

How many problems do we face in country after country caused by governments that do not live up to their responsibilities of serving the common good as faithful stewards of life-giving moral capitals?

Cultivating a Better Understanding of AI: An In-person Round Table with Fellow Micheal Wright on April 2

We are delighted to invite you to an in-person round table presentation on the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its potential applications across research and strategy development at 5:00 pm on Tuesday, April 2, at the Landmark Center (room 326) in St. Paul.  The session will be led by our colleague, Michael Wright, CEO of Intercepting Horizons, a seasoned executive with over 30 years of experience across various sectors, including public, private and nonprofit and a fellow of the Caux Round Table.  He is also the author of two patents in micro-fluidics and two books, The Exponential Era and The New Business Normal, both on management and technology.

Michael is a values-driven leader and innovator who is passionate about leveraging technological convergences to shape future business landscapes.  He has a diverse background in industries, such as software, IoT, semiconductor equipment from lithography to test and AI-based strategic foresight and business development.  He has also chaired the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium and received the IABC Excel Award for Leadership.

In this presentation, Michael will provide an overview of AI, including key terminology, types and use cases, with a particular focus on strategic foresight.  He will share insights from his experience working with AI and highlight its potential to transform industries and drive sustainable growth.

We believe this presentation will be of great value to you and will stimulate engaging discussions on the future of AI and its implications for businesses and society.

Registration, with light refreshments, will begin at 4:30 pm.

Cost to attend is $15.

To register, please email jed@cauxroundtable.net.

The event will last between an hour and hour and a half.

February 2024 Pegasus Now Available!

Here’s the February issue of Pegasus.

This edition includes four items.

First, Michael Hartoonian, associate editor, asks questions about the transcendental – even in our superficially secular age.  He links the transcendental – God for short – to the inspirations which cause us to create social capital and institutions to experience civilization.

Then, our fellow, Abdullah al-Ahsan, proposes that we can learn from history of what our kind has done in the past.  He draws from our histories a lesson that “religion” – access to the transcendental – gives us hope through assurance that our efforts need not be in vain, that business and government, love and war, the individual and the collective, can, with effort and through understanding, provide for the common good.

Thirdly, Patrick O’Sullivan and Vasu Srivibha use the Buddhist sufficiency economy philosophy proposed by his Late Majesty King Bumiphol, Rama IX, of Thailand to teach us the wisdom of moderation, balance and equilibrium in building out our lives for the better.

Lastly, we include two graphs from a very practical new book – Capitalism Reconnected – written by our colleague Jan Peter Balkenende, former prime minister of The Netherlands, and Govert Buijs.

I would be most interested in your thoughts and feedback.

The Last Act: Age Can Be a Problem

Age can be a problem.

As Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It”:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The premise that justifies faith in the efficacy of morality holds that individuals 1) have a moral sense and 2) can use it to inspire and to discipline their actions and so serve a good greater than individual willfulness and personal advantage.  The moral sense, as understood by Confucius, Mencius, the Buddha, Aristotle, Jesus and more prosaically, Adam Smith, is made possible by biology and psycho-social prowess.

Now, as we don’t expect robust activation of the moral sense without cultivation, we demand more from adults than from children.  But what of old age?  Does the moral sense weaken as our other corporal powers decline as the years pass and experience takes its toll on our happiness and optimism?

Recently, I saw a study that correlated age with less efficacious leadership in the current Harvard Business Review as depicted in this chart:

My first thought after accepting the accuracy of the correlation was of American politics – Joe Biden is 81 and Donald Trump is 77 – and each, in his own way, are stubborn, irascible and insistently self-promoting.

If our minds tend to close down as we age, then what should be our highest and best use of our mature moral sense and accumulated wisdom?

More Short Videos on Relevant and Timely Topics

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

AI is Not Quite There Yet

Doers and Thinkers

How is the Daily Bread?

The Ups and Downs of Markets

On 20 Years of Facebook

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

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

2024 Request for Your Support

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

Here is what we accomplished in last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You may consider making a contribution to fund specific undertakings:

-Sponsor one or more issues of Pegasus.

-Support a regional round table.

-Sponsor a workshop on the covenants of the Prophet.

-Sponsor a book of essays.

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

Anything you can give would be most appreciated.

Local Round Tables in 2024: Your Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to hearing from you.

Capitalism and Technology: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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