Business and Violence

In his famous book Economics of Love and Fear, Kenneth Bolding suggested that business is a peaceful alternative to war. This might be true in principle, but today business, especially mainstream global business, seems to be at war with society and nature. Striving for profit and competitiveness, mainstream business produces monetary results at the expense of nature, society and future generations. With its exclusive focus on profit-making, mainstream businesses violates the integrity and diversity of natural ecosystems, the autonomy and culture of local communities and the chance that future generations will lead a decent life.

The metaphysics of mainstream business can be described by the following statements: (i) ‘to be’ is to be a marketable resource; (ii) ‘to be’ involves being either an object available for productive activity on the market, or else a subject who makes use of such objects; and, (iii) the only mode of thinking is calculative thinking; the consideration and measurement of every being as a marketable resource. Such market metaphysics necessarily lead to the violation of natural and human beings. In many cases violent business practices result in ‘essential’ harms such as the exploitation of forests for timber or the commoditization of women as mere sex objects.

Social critic David Korten argues that today’s global economy has become like a malignant cancer, advancing the colonization of the planet for the benefit of powerful corporations and financial institutions. It has turned these institutions into instruments of a market tyranny that is destroying the livelihood of humans, displacing communities, and eliminating biodiversity and ecosystems services at large scale for the relentless quest for profit. It forces us all to act in ways destructive of our selves, our families, our communities, and nature.

George Soros calls the underlining metaphysics of mainstream business as ‘market fundamentalism’. It is an uncritical belief that all kinds of values can be reduced to market values, and the free market is the only efficient mechanism that can provide for a rational allocation of resources. Much before the current crisis Soros predicted that  the instabilities and inequalities of the global capitalist system will feed into nationalistic, ethnic and religious fundamentalism. Violence of the market induces nationalistic, ethnic and religious violence as a response.

We should go beyond the market metaphysics of mainstream business and adopt a more substantive way of economic activities. The substantive meaning of the economy – as Karl Polanyi  pointed out – stems from human beings’ patent dependence for their livelihood upon nature and their fellow beings. Humans survive by virtue of an institutionalized interaction between their communities and the natural environment.

If we want to sustain capitalism for a longer time we need a radical transformation of business. This requires that economic actors have the intrinsic motivation to serve the greater good, and are ready to measure success using broader value categories than money alone. Without these motivational and institutional changes business cannot become a peace-agent. Instead, it will generate more conflict and violence.