Friday, 30 December 2011

Reinventing the Guild

Russell Sparkes has written a new paper on the reinvention of the guilds, which is now posted on the Economy site. Here is an extract:
Where do we go from here? I want to suggest that one answer may lie in a revival of mutual self-help groups, inspired by spiritual values, which we might call by their old medieval name of ‘guilds’. Of course I am not suggesting an exact return to the medieval guilds, any more than I am advocating that people should go around talking Chaucerian English. However, I do argue that the guilds provide a model answer to two major problems of modern economic and social life. The first of these is the rapid shift in the labour market from life-time employment for most people to a world of self-employment and temporary contracts. The second, partly as a consequence of the former, is the reduction in the safety net provided by the welfare state and corporate health and pension provision.
Read the whole thing. Some of you may also be interested in a recent article in the RSA Journal on the growing importance of the crafts sector and the need for a "new language" in which to talk about it, by Sir Christopher Frayling FRSA: "Tools for Survival".

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Crisis of the Corporation: 7

Flag of the East India Company from 1801
The entire series CRISIS OF THE CORPORATION is now available as a single PDF article on our Economy pages. What follows is the final part.
"Many companies extol the value of work-life balance for their employees, but the reality for senior executives? There isn't any. Frequently, stressed and harried managers look up the organization hierarchy and assume that they'll have greater control of their time when they advance to the C-suite. What they don't understand is that modern-day telecommunications, the hair-trigger requirements of financial markets, and the pace of global organizations create 24 x 7 work lives for most executives."
This text is taken from that symbol of social radicalism called the Harvard Business Review in November 2011. It summarizes the existential issue of the corporation in terms that are direct and unequivocal. It also poses the fundamental ethical problem of modern life: corporate ambition.

Ambition in modern society, really the drive toward personal power, isn't fundamentally different from ambition in any other era. It involves persistence, single-mindedness, immense energy, and commitment. In a word: passion. The corporation has become an instrument of this passion. But it is an instrument which cannot be controlled. In theological terms it is a Power, a force beyond the control of human beings, a force, like the state, which we theorize is under our control but which in fact has a life of its own.

The legal recognition that the corporation is a “person” does not give it an inappropriate status. Rather it serves as a warning that the corporation is not a tool that can be

Friday, 16 December 2011

Saving Europe's soul

The full text of the Chief Rabbi's landmark address at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome on 12 December can be read online here. Meanwhile David Cameron's recent speech in Oxford defining Britain as a "Christian country" and calling on Christians to "stand up and defend" our values and beliefs is HERE. There is a discussion of these important speeches and an interesting post about "Blue Labour" starting over in the Social Teaching section of our online forum.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Elderly care crisis

British newspapers have recently been reporting that an estimated 20,000 people a year are forced to sell their homes to pay fees for nursing and residential care, which can reach hundreds of thousands of pounds. (My mother may be in this position very soon.) Spending cuts due to the recession have driven some care home companies out of business, while inspectors have warned that elderly people are being neglected and even abused by poorly trained helpers in their own homes.

Earlier this year, a government commission chaired by Andrew Dilnot recommended reforms to the system – a new private insurance scheme would be expected to cover the first £35,000 of care, with the State covering the rest. But the Treasury is understandably reluctant to agree the £1.7 billion a year this would take, and 2025 is being talked about at the earliest start date for the reform. That's a long way off, and the crisis will be much worse by then.

Clearly more needs to be done urgently. But it is important to note that throwing money at the problem is not a complete solution, even if it were possible (say, by diverting bankers' bonuses into a national elderly care fund). In a way the more worrying aspect of the crisis is the inhumanity with which the elderly are being treated when care is available.

I have an old friend now in her 90s, now in a care home. She recently wrote to me: "in so many care homes I fear the treatment is all theory with very little true understanding or commonsense." She is in a new unit surrounded by dementia patients, and describes

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Capitalism in question?

As we wait for the final instalment of our series on the Crisis of the Corporation, after which we'll move on to discuss the Recovery of the Guilds, here is a general comment on the broader "crisis of capitalism", so called. Two big topics will be left out, for the moment – the environment, and Europe – to be addressed later.

In capitalism the pursuit of self-interest is supposed to work for the greatest common good. It hasn't. Maybe it was always just too simplistic an idea. George Soros makes some sensible points about the fallibility of the economic system we have created. He argues that