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Transcript: How economic dogma has thrown the world out of balance

World business. 3D image. The isolated illustration

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KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today, we are at a Social Economy Initiative [gathering] here at the University, and I will be hearing from … leading management thinker Henry Mintzberg.

Question: Is business too powerful today?

HENRY MINTZBERG – A balanced, stable society balances economic forces, political forces, and social forces – an imbalanced society favours one of those over the other.

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You could argue that the communist countries of Eastern Europe favoured the political forces of at least the public sector over the other two sectors. We were led to believe, when those countries collapsed, that those governments collapsed, that somehow capitalism had triumphed.

I am of the belief that balance triumphed, that in 1989 we were rather balanced – we had strong government, we had strong markets, and a fairly strong, what I call plural sector, community or social sector.

Ever since then, with this mistaken belief that capitalism has triumphed, we have swung completely the other way. Just one example, I could give hundreds and take the whole evening with examples: When the European Union tried to ban genetically modified crops, three countries - Canada, Argentina and the U.S. - took them to the World Trade Organization court and challenged them and won the case. Now, what in the world was the World Trade Organization doing passing judgment on a health issue? What in the world were unelected economists doing telling freely elected governments they couldn't pass that legislation? We take all that for granted and we just assume that is the way things are.

What we have developed is what I call an unholy alliance of economic dogma that markets are good and greed is good and private property is sacred, and all those things, with a form of corporate entitlement, particularly on the global level and especially in the United States, which is throwing that country and every other country, and our own, out of balance.

In the United States, and many countries, I don't think governments are any longer capable of driving change. I think they have  been so co-opted by economic forces and economic thinking, or so marginalized by them that they can't move.

The answer we hear is corporate social responsibility and I applaud corporate social responsibility but responsible corporations are not going to make up for irresponsible corporations – it is swinging completely the other way.

So we live in an unbalanced society and the hope, I think, is for the plural sector and particularly social initiatives that we will be talking about today and social enterprises and social activities to restore, not to become dominant, which is no better, a sense of balance in society.

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We desperately need to restore that – business is not going to do it, government can no longer do it, and we need as much more activity and much more recognition of the plural or social sector.

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