As a part of this search, The report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability has been published. The title of the report is “Resilient people, resilient planet: A future worth choosing.” As Turkey has also been an active partner in these efforts, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan explained Turkey’s vision regarding the UN’s report on Tuesday.
The report is quite timely because we have entered a dangerous vicious circle in which a huge and growing population, combined with rapid economic growth, now threatens to have a catastrophic impact on the earth’s climate, biodiversity and fresh water supplies.
Jeffrey Sachs suggests rather than focusing solely on “sustainable development” we would be better off focusing on “sustainable humanity.” However, as he notes, getting from here to sustainable development will not just be a matter of technology. Even more fundamental than the preparation of proper market incentives, appropriate government regulations and public support for research and development will be the challenge of “values.” “We must understand our shared fate, and embrace sustainable development as a common commitment to decency for all human beings, today and in the future,” he says.
Then what is the missing link between capitalism and “values”? In terms of the diagnosis of the problem there is quite strong common consensus: global poverty, a malfunctioning financial architecture that is separated from real economic activities, short-term-oriented hedonism, etc. However, ideas regarding the nature of “sustainable development” vary significantly. I believe that capitalism will not die but will definitely be modified so that new and more pluralistic values are incorporated under pressure from newer challenges. As Christopher Meyer -- who visited Turkey last week for a conference in which I also participated -- argues: “The value of corporate social responsibility, for one thing, is an idea few can bring themselves to deny but one that clashes uncomfortably with theories of capital markets. Open source initiatives, for another, seem to flout all the physics of economic motivation but continue to gain force. Still another anomaly: venture philanthropy, which can’t be reconciled with the laws of profit pursuit. Nonetheless, happening.” In his latest book “Standing on the Sun: How the Explosion of Capitalism Abroad Will Change Business Everywhere” (2012), he argues that: “…with a shift in perspective, such phenomena cease to seem aberrant and instead align with the logic of the system. It requires only a belief that capitalism can evolve and center on new pursuits. Imagine, for example, that something most people consider to be the core of capitalism –- competition -- is actually not so central. Shift your vantage point so that innovation holds that pride of place, and suddenly initiatives like Wikipedia don’t seem so unlikely. Competition, still very much part of the system but unseated from its central point, moves over to allow for collaboration. Likewise, what if the pursuit of financial gain is not really the heart, much less the soul, of capitalism? What if it’s really centered on the pursuit of value?”
Almost a decade earlier than this book, having been concerned about the inhumane aspects of global capitalism that “neglects human suffering and eschews the global public good,” Richard Falk focused on the potential role of religion in his book, “Religion and Humane Global Governance” (2001). He suggested that “humane global governance” will have to be increasingly constructed specifically on religious foundations, as surging religions can offer a socially and politically responsible globalization to counter the presently dominant inhumane form.
It seems that rather than propagating the necessity of overhauling the entire system, which is not realistic at the moment, it is better to offer partial solutions to improve the current orthodoxy on the basis of new values. Muhammad Yunus’s innovative “microcredit” project can be a good case in perspective that I would like to discuss in my next column.