Sustainable Business

Tony Judt opened ‘Ill Fares the Land’, his valedictory ‘treatise on our present discontents’, suggesting that something was ‘profoundly wrong with the way we live today.’ Since the 1980s we have relied on the free market to maximise monetary wealth and to distribute it with fairness and justice. But it clearly hasn’t worked.

We have been here before. The 1929 Wall Street Crash and the following austerity driven Great Depression, which Roosevelt ended with New Deal investment, has many parallels with today’s situation. The same forces that fostered the prolonged Great Depression are now heading the world to destruction. But today’s global population, which has more than tripled since the 1930s, is not just afflicted by rising and unsustainable inequalities of wealth and income, but also earth’s oceans and atmosphere polluted, its finite resources wasted, its biological species headed for a mass extinction, and these impacts capped by the seeming inevitability of global warming.

Business, if appropriately managed and governed, may have the potential to resolve all these issues by the invention and application of new technologies. No alternative solution appears to have a like chance of success. Business historian Chandler described business as the most important institution in the economy and its managers the most influential. Business controls the real industrial economy. It controls finance. It controls the media. It is hugely influential in academia through its funding of research and academic institutions as well as individual appointments. It also, increasingly, appears to control political decision making through its $multi-billion funded lobbying industry, its politically oriented think-tanks and its operation of the revolving doors through which individuals progress between these various sectors and government. Just about the only thing business does not control is business itself.

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