Sharing the Wisdom, Shaping the Dream: Reclaiming the Moral and Spiritual Roots of Economics and Capitalism

Joint Conference of the School and Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative at Waterperry House, Oxfordshire, September 2012

The title of the 2012 event was “ Sharing the Wisdom, Shaping the Dream: Reclaiming the Moral and Spiritual Roots of Economics and Capitalism.” It reflects the endeavour of the gathering to get to the roots of the problems that society is facing at present recognising that the difficulties go well beyond the technical arrangements of the economy to more deep-seated ones related to fundamental questions about human purpose.

The links between the School of Economic Science and the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI) go back to the founding of the latter organisation ten years ago. At that time its founder, Kamran Mofid, held a post teaching economics in a UK university but he had grown so disillusioned with the way he was being required to teach the subject that he felt he could no longer continue. He wrote a book to express the way his own thoughts were developing an entitled it “Globalisation for the Common Good.” He found a sympathetic publisher in Anthony Werner of Shepheard-Walwyn. In order to disseminate his ideas and begin to connect with like-minded people Kamran organised a conference and found a host in Plater College, the Catholic adult education college in Oxford. The year was 2002 which coincided with the first “Justice and Equity” Conference of the Economics Faculty of the School. Ian Mason, who had fairly recently taken up the post of Head of Economics was invited to speak.

Over the next decade the GCGI was able to find a series of hosts to support international conferences around. The development of the GCGI and its purpose is more fully described in Kamran’s opening address to the conference and on their website here.

The gathering consisted of around sixty attendees of whom over half gave presentations. They were from all over the world, including  Europe, Turkey, the US and Canada. Around a fifth were from the School.

The speakers were from a wide range of backgrounds. A number were established academics with posts at universities. Others were from faith groups, some from the business sector and some from charities. We assembled on Sunday evening, there were two full days of presentations and the event was concluded on Wednesday morning.

Kamran gave an opening welcome and took the opportunity to spell out the story and purpose of the CGCI and his central vision of working for the Common Good. The opening address was given by the Rev. Canon Dr. Vincent Strudwick who is a Fellow of Kellogg College at the University of Oxford and Founder Member of the Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life based at the college. Unfortunately ill-health prevented him from attending the remainder of the event but his talk, entitled “Sharing the Wisdom, Shaping the Dream” set the tone for the rest of the conference. The transcript can be found on page … Finally Mr. Ian Mason, Principal of the School of Economic Science gave an Introduction to the School. He focused on  three aspects – the love of truth and justice, the principle of Learn and Teach and the importance of service. His remarks resonated strongly with the surroundings where, in the fabric of the building, the artwork adorning the walls and in the beautiful gardens where the effect of adherence to these principles was much in evidence.

The following morning and on each subsequent morning of the conference the day began with a period of meditation. This was led by Professor Steve Szeghi from Ohio, who although a professor of economics has made a strong connection with wilderness and its sancity. There was the opportunity for the silence to be interspersed with suitable offerings from the traditions of those present.

The format of the conference was that all sessions were plenary. This helped to maintain a sense of unity to the event, but given the large number of speakers meant that there was a strict time limit for each presentation of ten minutes. Most of the speakers had already made their papers available by uploading them so the speaking slot could be limited to summarising the main points of the argument.

On each of the two full days of the conference there were three sessions with five or six speakers per session so it was quite intense. The first day began with a session entitled: A reflection on value-based economics and business. There were three speakers from the School, Raymond Makewell, Brian Hodgkinson and Peter Bowman and together they were able to convey a sense of the importance of recognising the role of land in economics, and issue which was new to many of the other participants. In addition Hooshmund Badee from the faculty of Education and Theology, York St. John University gave a presentation on Emerging Values for Shaping a future Global Economy. This speaker drew on his Bahai Faith to show how values based around family life, values such as moderation, compassion, consultation and cooperation could connect the moral with the economic to provide an ethical foundation which could equally apply outside the family in the marketplace and wider economy.

Professor Steve Szeghi then spoke on An assessment of the Revisionist history of the Causes of the Financial Crisis in which he pointed out that although the blame clearly lay with the banks and other financial institutions it has been moved onto the Governments and their lack of regulation paving the way for further undermining of the authority of government.

One direction in which the GCGI has developed is to connect with and work with inter-faith movement. In the second session Religious Diversity and the Common Good a number of faith-based presentations were given which emphasized the need for us to re-connect with our moral and spiritual roots.

The session was opened by Fred Dallmeyer, Professor of the Departments of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. He chose not to speak to his paper but about Michael Sandel’s recent books on Justice and What Money Can’t Buy. He proclaimed the need for political philosophers to enter the debate about economics in a way that challenges Hayek’s view that the market is neutral to ethics. He also pointed out the usefulness of Aristotle’s description of the oikos and the polis, the latter being referred to as the body politic in which the economy rests.

Speaking on similar lines Prof Farhang Rajee from Carleton University Canada spoke On Performing Humanity: On Civility and Civilisationemphasizing that our economic problems are symptomatic of a deeper malaise, one of civility and the importance of addressing the question: How do we order our life together?

From a faith perspective Rev. Dr Richard Bocke, Vice President of the World Congress of Faiths spoke about what he calls fideology recognizing that real faith is more than an intellectual assent to a particular crede but actually a living trust.

Finally, Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh, a Sikh leader from Birmingham spoke on Sikh Ethics; Towards a New Paradigm for Reclaiming the Moral and Spiritual Roots of Economics and Capitalism.  He did not pull any punches in proclaiming that the real need is for individual spiritual development and that our worst enemy is within in the form of an unrestrained ego.

The final session of the first day took place after lunch and was entitled “Industry Science Technology and Media Shaping the Modern World”. It contrasted strongly with the previous session by focusing on the area of technical developments.

For supper we were invited to a Turkish Restaurant in Oxford where our hosts were the Dialogue Society. This is a charity founded in 1999 by British Muslims of Turkish background inspired by the example of Fethullah Gulen. It has the aim of advancing social cohesion by connecting communities through dialogue.

The second day was as full as the first and consisted of three more eclectic sessions. Amongst the presenters of the first session entitled “Economics, Justice and Spirituality” was Rajesh Makwana, director of Share the World’s Resources a UK based organization working for fairer distribution of the world’s natural resources and accumulated wealth, John Bunzl founder of Simpol speaking of his radical ideas for democratically led concerted global action, Sesto Castagnoli presenting his new book about gradidos an attempt to create a form of money with stable value. In addition Professor Tonci Kuzmanic from Slovenia gave an interesting insight into the way what is called capitalism has developed. He pointed out the significant shift which he dates to the before the last war from what he calls a small society where a few rich capitalists worked with their own money to the present large society where the power is in the hands now of the CEOs/traders/ and fund managers who work with everyone else’s money.

Amongst the highlights of the second session entitled Faith Economics and Globalisation was Philip Goodchild, Professor of Theology and Religion at the University of Nottingham who attempted to break down the traditional barrier between theology and economics that exists in the west by pointing out the rather close connection between credit and faith. On a similar theme Professor Paul Williams from British Colombia spoke on the way capitalism had the attributes of a belief system that has many characteristics of a religion and explained in a very credible fashion how the economics of the Biblical Jubilee could have a place in a reformed economic system that worked for the benefit of all.

The final session included a presentation from Ian Mason on Earth Jurisprudence and Fred Harrison on his new book, The Traumatised Society. In addition, Peter Holland presented a fascinating paper on Location Theory, an updated version of which can be found here.

The second day ended with a gala dinner at Corpus Christi College Oxford. It was a magnificent event, preceded by drinks on the roof garden overlooking the cathedral in Christ Church College. The guest of honour was Dr. Vladimir Ivanovich Yakunin. President of the Russian Railways Company. During the dinner he was presented with the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative Award for Public Service in the Interests of the Common Good. This was in recognition of his significant public service which led to the setting up in 2002 of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” which has become a platform for conducting a direct dialogue between public representatives of civilizations, intellectuals and statesmen on the agenda of global problems and prospects for mankind’s development chiefly through the instigation of international conferences.

The conference ended the following morning with thankyous and goodbyes. The delegates showed a genuine appreciation for the welcome they had received at Waterperry, they had connected strongly and empathetically with the atmosphere of the house and gardens. The Economics faculty in turn has made a number of new friends who share common values. In fact the event was so successful that an agreement was made to host the event at Waterperry on alternative years. Meanwhile an invitation had appeared to hold the following year’s event in Paris.

Peter Bowman