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The General Strike Circa 2019

Years ago, while an undergraduate and hanging out with friends in Students for a Democratic Society, I read about the history of socialism and studied with the noted American Marxist scholar Barrington Moore his dismissive, even bitter, take on capitalism as intentional, systemic extraction of the surplus from peasants and workers. I remember vague references to the general strike as a tactic of institutional change where the “people” refused to participate in the elite’s system of extraction.

Last week, I was in Paris for Bruno Roche’s conference on the economics of mutuality. My time there was then diverted by the need to adjust to a “general strike” called for Thursday December 5th. The strikers were the people; the oppressor was the Macron government. I did not want to risk a trip to Amsterdam on the 4th to see colleagues there for fear that the railroads would not run in the evening for my return to Paris if the workers walked off before the official time for the strike had begun.

On the 5th, public transportation was not available; streets were empty of traffic; stores were closed; taxis were unavailable. You could walk around looking at closed shop windows until you got bored and returned to your hotel. A few stores for tourists were open near Montmartre, not far from our hotel.

An avenue near our hotel was filled with people in protest – walking, singing, carrying signs, all quite well behaved. But there I was in the streets of Paris thinking about uprisings of the past – the capture of the Bastille, the 1832 insurrection made vivid by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, the Commune of 1871 – real instances of acting on the idealism of the “people” taking national destiny into their own hands. I realized I was in the middle of French history repeating itself. What could be academic and the stuff of fiction was an actuality.

Why a general strike? As I understood the issues, President Macron wants to reduce retirement benefits out of fiscal prudence. The age of retirement for many workers would be pushed back from age 50 and their monthly retirement benefits would no longer be the equivalent of full salary. Public transport workers object. They like retiring young and having the state maintain them quite comfortably.

Then, I was told that students also objected. They were quite visible among the strikers. They very much like the idea of early retirement for the older generation to make those jobs available for themselves. They like giving older workers incentives to retire early.

I was watching a general strike demanding entitlements, not an end to oppression. But then, of course these days, being denied what one desires is, a priori, cruel-hearted oppression on the part of those who are to pay for the entitlements, a hardship for the dispossessed not to be tolerated.

The moral question of who should be entitled to how much of what and on what terms of reciprocity – what should be given in exchange for the benefit – is a difficult one for me.

Secondly, it’s not at all clear to me how systemic entitlements can ever be provided if wealth is not created to finance them. And how can such wealth be created without enterprise and the sale of goods and services at a profit?

Letter of Congratulations from Business Roundtable

I wanted to share with you a letter we received from the Business Roundtable in Washington, D.C. congratulating us on the 25th anniversary of our Principles for Business.

We were most humbled by this paragraph:

“For 33 years, the Caux Round Table has been a leading voice for moral capitalism. The 25th anniversary of Principles for Business is an important milestone in the history of ethical business practice. The Caux Round Table has made American business better. We celebrate your success and look forward to continued moral leadership from your organization.”

We greatly appreciate their support.

World Economic Forum Jumps on the Bandwagon

Two days ago, the World Economic Forum – “Davos Man” – affirmed the vision of the Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism’s (CRT) 1994 Principles for Business in their “Davos Manifesto 2020.”

Another domino of establishment opinion has fallen away from conventional wisdom.

I welcome Klaus Schwab to the movement and thank him for his support.

Klaus also issued a statement on Sunday explaining the reasons for more robustly affirming the approach to global capitalism advocated by the CRT.

I note that in his view, the three options open to global civilization for economic growth – social Darwinism for shareholders, nationalized socialism or moral capitalism – are the very same ones that were discussed at our Global Dialogue a couple of weeks ago.

CRT Celebrates 25th Anniversary of Principles for Business

On Friday, November 22, the Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism (CRT) celebrated the 25th anniversary of our Principles for Business.

The Principles foreshadowed the rapidly growing awareness of the need for corporations, both public and private, to adopt – and initiate – goals to create a sustainable operation. The Principles and our call for a “moral capitalism” also helped shape the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They have been cited as a model by a growing number of business leaders and politicians, such as the Business Roundtable and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

The 25th anniversary was celebrated with a luncheon that featured a number of presenters, including Douglas M. Baker, Jr., CEO of Ecolab, and Paul Polman, Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce and former CEO of Unilever.

To highlight the history of Minnesota leadership, we produced a short film for the event titled “The Minnesota Legacy.” The process that led to the founding of the Principles was initiated in Minnesota by Minnesota business leaders.

“The Minnesota Legacy” can be seen here.

To view photos from the event, please visit our Twitter page.

Invitation to Brainstorm Topics for 2020 John Brandl Gathering – Tuesday, December 17th

You are invited to a roundtable discussion on Tuesday December 17, 2019, to gather input and prepare for the next “Annual Celebration of John Brandl & His Uncommon Quest for Common Ground” in 2020.

“What’s Keeping You Up At Night?” is the driving question that organizers of the annual Brandl lecture series invite you to respond to in an informal roundtable discussion from 1:00 to 3:00 pm in the Josie Johnson Community Room at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

With impeachment hearings roiling now and pivotal national and state elections looming ahead determining the fate of our country for many years to come, the organizers of the annual Brandl convocation — the Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism, Center of the American Experiment, Citizens League, Growth & Justice and the Humphrey School — reach out to you to help determine a fitting topic and frame for a 2020 gathering in the ecumenical spirit of the late John Brandl, a remarkable scholar, public servant and friend.

We’ve planned and implemented 10 years of annual Brandl gatherings. In year 11, in honor of John’s memory and his uncommon quest for common ground, we invite all people of goodwill — with open minds, firm convictions and welcoming spirits — to join us in this planning discussion.

Representatives of each group will facilitate segments of the conversation.

There is no cost to attend.

To register, please click here.

Please Give to the Max!

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism’s (CRT) Principles of Business, a groundbreaking compilation of rules that can be used to create a sustainable economic system guided by ethical values – what we call “moral capitalism.”

In the years since their publication, there has been a growing and increasingly urgent interest in how to promote sustainable business practices that will ensure a more equitable and fair economy. The U.N. drew upon our principles in composing its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In more recent years, the call for a moral capitalism that puts the needs of a company’s full range of shareholders, including employees, the local community and the environment itself at the center of corporate responsibility, while public figures like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., have also adopted not just the principles, but moral capitalism.

Headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, the CRT has chapters in several countries in Europe, Central America and the Far East. In addition to holding round table discussions, we also conduct annual global dialogues that bring together business executives, academics and activists from around the world. We also hold workshops and created Arcturus, a comprehensive way for businesses to measure and record their sustainable practices.

Despite all the effort and work, ours is neither a large nor heavily endowed organization. All of our work is supported by donations from private sources.

Would you please consider helping our efforts with a donation of whatever amount you can give for this year’s Give to the Max Day? You can donate to the CRT here.

Any amount you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Valuation in the News

Some say money makes the world go round. Saint Paul advised that “love” of money is the root of all evil. I would say that prices create transactions, transactions create markets and markets create wealth.

So, depending on price, the world gets richer and people get or don’t get what they need or want (and if prices are too high, transfer payments of one kind or another are necessary to empower those without money so that they can access goods and services).

I recently read that the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review uses a novel way to set a price for expensive drugs. It puts a dollar figure (an assumption) on a year of healthy life, calculated how much health a drug restores to a sick person and then prices the drug according to the benefit bestowed on the patient. This method, said Dave Lennon, President of a Novartis unit, brings uniformity and transparency to drug prices, reducing the rent extraction available to makers due to their IP rights. Drug company prices can be compared to the computed “benefit” price.

But, how does one put a dollar amount to a year of my life – say, at age 36 or at 55 or at 87?

The intangibles of a life well-lived seem hard to evaluate in market terms.

Secondly, the Saudi state oil company, Saudi Aramco, launched its first public offering of shares, some 2% to 5% of its total shares. What is a share of Aramco worth today? What factors should be taken into account in coming up with a cash figure? The shares will first be sold domestically in Saudi Arabi and then internationally. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince has valued the company at $2 trillion, but market-savvy advisors don’t agree that potential purchasers will want to pay that much per share. They estimate buyer acceptance in the $1.6 to $1.8 trillion range.

Thirdly, the value of shares in still privately held, high-tech start-up companies is uncertain. Many mutual funds which invested in high-tech start-ups saw the value of their shares drop after the companies went public. Investors did not accept the valuations previously put on the prospects of such companies by their initial owners. Multiple funds valued Uber before a public sale of shares at $56.02 per share. Its initial offering price was only $45 and its share prices dropped after that.

The collapse of the initial public offering of We Company, the parent of WeWork, was a second notable example of mispricing by early owners of the company.

Mutual funds have invested $6.7 billion in unicorn companies – privately held start-ups estimated to be worth $1 billion or more. Mutual funds carried these investments on their balance sheets at estimated values, as they have to value their holdings daily. Thus, fund managers must write down the estimates and so take a theoretical loss in the value of their holdings.

The We Company saga of misvaluation was dramatic. WeWork’s estimated value plunged from $47 billion in January 2019 to $8 billion in October. An initial owner and promoter, SoftBank’s Venture Fund led by Rajeev Misra, had to step in with $10 billion to restructure the company and so forestall greater losses. The founder, Adam Neumann, agreed to leave and give up his voting rights in return for $1.7 billion – a nice price for one man’s human capital.

A Capitalist “Revolution” in France

This past summer, France took a happy step in the current march towards rethinking capitalism as a complex, interdependent system of mutual advantage.

The French National Assembly passed a law permitting companies to define for themselves their “raison d’etre” – their more transcendent meaning for the owners, customers, employees and society. This will give companies clear focus for their organizational mission and the ability to create cultures of achievement around that mission.

One commentator has written:

“Under the new law on Business Growth and Transformation (the so-called “PACTE Law”), the management of French companies must take into consideration social and environmental issues. Companies are also encouraged to incorporate social objectives into their corporate purpose.

The PACTE Law contains multiple provisions, some of which are of particular interest for those who follow business and human rights developments. Indeed, the PACTE Law provides (i) for “social and environmental issues” to be taken into account in French companies’ management alongside the corporate interests and (ii) for the possibility of enshrining the company’s “purpose” (raison d’être) in the corporate bylaws.”

More precisely, Article 169 of the PACTE Law introduces the following amendments into French law:

-Article 1833 of the French Civil Code now has a second paragraph stating that corporations must be managed in their own “corporate interests” by taking into consideration the “social and environmental issues” related to their operations.

-Article 1835 of the French Civil Code has been amended to allow corporations to specify in their bylaws a “purpose” for the corporate operations; this means that companies are encouraged to incorporate social objectives to their corporate purpose as part of their bylaws.

-Articles L. 225-35 and L. 225-64 of the French Commercial Code have been adjusted so that corporate and management boards take into consideration “social and environmental issues” as part of their respective managerial assignments.

In short, if the PACTE Law will not directly change the nature and objectives of corporations, it explicitly intends to give them the possibility to go beyond the objective of being profitable.

I find the French express of “raison d’etre” – literally a reason for being – more powerful and existentially directive than the English word “purpose.”