As the twisted GameStop story recently made headlines around the world, the financial system’s fundamental contradictions became clear. I was preparing for this issue’s interview with Sir Paul Collier as I read a user comment on Reddit: “Greed is absolutely out of control at the top.” Presumably, this particular user, part of a gang of self-styled Robin Hoods betting against Wall Street and large hedge funds like Melvin Capital, was himself motivated by greed as he helped drive the value of GameStop stock up by 1,000 percent.
“Peek greed” is what Paul Collier called this state of mind in our conversation – while at the same time he noted that resistance against all forms of market excess is growing. Collier’s most recent book “Greed is Dead,” co-authored by fellow Oxford economist John Kay, offers a scathing take on the pillars and premises of economy and society. The central thesis is that a culture of irresponsible individualism has led capitalism to an inflection point.
Collier is also one of the initiators of our programme “The Foundations of Value and Values,” whose first cohort of fellows will join us in the fall and whose purpose is to rethink the assumptions behind Homo Economicus. Collier takes a very fundamental approach to this question, indicating that a misrepresentation of human nature underlies most mainstream economic thinking and that the crudely Darwinistic view of “us“ has been debunked by a great deal of recent scholarship on evolutionary biology.
We, it turns out, are not really greedy, selfish and egotistical creatures. Humans actually thrive on empathy, collaboration and solidarity. Which is good news if you seek to envision new forms of community, as does Collier. Which is good news if you see trust as essential to human flourishing, as does Rachel Botsman. And which is certainly good news if you want purpose to play a bigger role in the economy, as do many people who reflect on the future of capitalism.
There clearly is a shift, propelled in part by the pandemic, in how to think about a new “we” and about the foundations of who we are, as individuals and, collectively, as society. It is a necessary shift, because, as the economist Mariana Mazzucato says: “We have lost our way.”
It is also part of an ongoing discussion about liberalism and the foundations of liberal democracy. Inequality in the US is at or slightly above the level of inequality in the Gilded Age. “At stake,” says Sam Moyn of Yale, “is whether it is possible to save the 19th-century liberal project from its complacent and compromising alliance with the wrong economics.“
So: what kind of markets do we want? How are markets constructed? And what are the power dynamics embedded into the system of value? The artist Taryn Simon – who combines in an intimate way the world of power and politics with a poignantly poetic perspective – explored these questions in her ambitious project “Paperwork and the Will of Capital.” Simon focuses on a foundational date for the post-war world order, the conference at Bretton Woods in 1944. We are proud to present this project as part of our ongoing cooperation with artists, galleries and art institutions.
Another such cooperation is with New York-based Studio Premo, whose team not only created the Mission Film on our website, but also the new “Origin Film” about the motivation that led to the establishment of THE NEW INSTITUTE by our founder Erck Rickmers. Premo creatively explores the connections between identity, inspiration and the impetus for change. You may enjoy the film here.
One more thing: we have published our first Paper Edition, a 24-page-newspaper presenting art curated by Berlin gallerist Esther Schipper and the eleven interviews and essays addressing the “Lessons from Covid.” Send us your address (email@example.com) if you would like to receive a free copy of this beautiful publication!
As always, thank you for taking the time to read and engage. It is important to collaborate and to form alliances, even unlikely ones. Please feel free to contact me to discuss ideas and initiatives.
Finding Pursuant to Section 662 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as Amended, Concerning Operations in Foreign Countries Other than Those Intended Solely for the Purpose of Intelligence Collection. White House, Washington, D.C., United States, 1981
President Ronald Reagan reauthorized covert CIA action in Afghanistan to counter the spread of Soviet power and influence in the region. The CIA worked covertly with the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) to arm and train Afghan rebel “freedom fighters” (mujahideen) in their rebellion against Soviet military action. CIA logistics officers sent thousands of .303 Lee-Enfield rifles, AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and CIA-produced Qurans in the languages of Soviet Islamic minorities to the Pakistani ISI, who funneled them to the mujahideen. The ISI also trained rebels to wage car and camel bomb attacks against Soviet-controlled Afghan cities. The U.S. Congress secretly allocated funding for CIA-directed Afghan covert action and weapons spending each fiscal year, reaching over USD 630 million in fiscal year 1987. This figure was matched dollar for dollar by Saudi Arabia, under an agreement negotiated between the Saudi royal family and President Reagan. Many young Saudis joined the Afghan rebels, including Osama bin Laden, who galvanized support among Arab volunteers. The U.S. had no official policy toward internal Afghan politics, despite warnings that by arming the rebels they were ultimately arming their enemy. On April 14, 1988, the Geneva Accords formalized the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The CIA station chief in Islamabad cabled back to Langley: “We won.”
A. Kalanchoe tomentosa, Panda Plant, Netherlands B. Aloe humilis, Dwarf Hedgehog Aloe, Netherlands C. Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, Christmas Kalanchoe, Netherlands D. Sedum pachyphyllum, Jelly Bean Plant, Netherlands
Paul Collier on Community
Paul Collier, your view on the economy in particular and society in general is quite damning. You declare: Greed is dead. If you could design a different future – what would a better society look like?
The book is actually quite hopeful because it points to the fact that the description of human nature that is underlying a lot of economic thinking is actually a travesty of reality. We are mammals, like other mammals – but very unusual mammals. We are very pro-social. We choose to bond into groups. We take a lot of our decisions influenced by the collective brain of the community rather than our individual brains. And all that's good because what we need to do to have a good society is to be able to build common purpose within a community, as big a community as possible.
What elements of a more communitarian society do you see?
First of all: We don't need to return to the past. Society is dynamic, it is moving forward, and the problems are always somewhat different. But some things are in common. We know that individuals maximizing their own individual set of interests doesn’t work. We also know that the state meeting all obligations in a centralized way doesn't work either. We need actors that are morally load-bearing. We need community.
What kind of community are you thinking about?
Community works on many different levels. You could build community, so that you identify some obligations to your street, some obligations to your city, some obligations to your region, some obligations to your country. And some obligations to larger entities, whether it is Europe or the world. For some purposes, like climate change, we need to identify with the world and for other purposes, like Covid, we need to identify with the street. These communities are compatible.
Obligation is the key word here. And your assumption is that it is in our nature that we feel this obligation – it just hasn't been fostered in recent decades or rather repressed?
It is not an assumption, it is evolutionary biology. The problem is that economists have built their models on a very different understanding of Charles Darwin and the assumption that humans are by nature greedy, lazy and selfish. So we ended up with having institutions and organizations that drag us back towards some crude instincts instead of fostering our much nobler instincts.
You create a common purpose through dialogue. It is like playing ping pong.
Markets and corporations are also often built on these wrong assumptions.
Corporations are absolutely fundamental to modern society – but the idea that corporations exist just to make a profit, which was Milton Friedman's view in the 1970s, is now roundly rejected by some of the most brilliant economists like Raghuram Rajan, chief economist at the IMF, governor of the reserve bank of India and now a professor at the University of Chicago, the apex of the economists’ world. He published a book called “The Third Pillar.” The third pillar, between state and markets, is the community. Or as Rebecca Henderson of Harvard Business School, in her book “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire,” proposes, it is a community of morally responsible businesses.
Yet you are skeptical about models of industrial democracy and other forms of co-ownership of businesses. Why is that?
I prefer a legal responsibility to combine the commercial interests of the corporation with the social interest. At a minimum, no firm should meet a commercial interest by damaging society. Making a profit at the expense of society is not a proper purpose for business. Beyond that is a balancing act between different interests.
And how do you achieve that? Where is the place for this understanding?
You create a common purpose through dialogue. Dialogue is a particular type of communication. It is a bit like playing ping pong. You step up to the table with a bat, you agree on some rules. You want to win, and you are playing to win. But you agree that you can't just go down to the table and win by hitting your opponent on the head with your bat. Similarly, dialogue presupposes that you have to listen to the other as well as speak to the other and try to form some common understanding of a problem even if you might not end up agreeing. But you are building some forward-looking common strategy.
Instead, you say, corporations are guided by wrong incentives to maximize profits for interests other than the public.
The over-financialization was a dreadful force for pushing corporations into short-term profit maximizing, which was not good for anyone. Clearly, some public policies can be changed to permit a forward-looking common purpose. All the corporations that have lasted for a century have done so through building some common purpose. The corporations that maximize short-term profits live very precariously. Just look at Bear Stearns, the first investment bank to go bankrupt. The mission statement in their lobby was: “We make nothing but money.” Well, that’s not a very uplifting statement.
In the end, it is also a question of leadership.
There is a big difference between communitarian leaders and individualistic leaders who come forward and say: The solution is me. I am the commander in chief. Communitarian leaders don’t do that, they talk about the interest of the community that they themselves live in a way that reveals that they are committed to it. That way, they become trusted. Once they're trusted, they can be something much more important than a commander-in-chief. They can be the communicator-in-chief. They can reset the ideas. Good leadership is trusted and takes the community forward to bring in the new ideas – for Covid or reduced carbon emissions. These are the leaders we need for the future.
One last question. Can you complete this sentence: For me, this is personal because –
– because by chance I have straddled the bitter divide of our society. Both my parents left school when they were 12. I've got more education than most, I am now a professor in one of the top universities. I have had one foot in the world of the very educated and one foot in the world of the very much less educated. My postcode has the highest house prices relative to income of any place in Britain. My relatives are very far from my own fortune. I think these bitter divides are avoidable and must be reversed. That's why there's a passion and a purpose to what I am trying to do. And I'm very proud to be part of the programme “The Foundations of Value and Values.”
Sir Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and a Professorial Fellow of St Antony’s College. From 1998–2003 he took a five-year Public Service leave during which he was Director of the Research Development Department of the World Bank. Collier is one of the initiators of the programme “The Foundations of Value and Values” at THE NEW INSTITUTE. His books include “The Bottom Billion” (2007), “The Future of Capitalism” (2018) and most recently “Greed is Dead” with John Kay.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Agreement for cooperation on China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System in Pakistan. Aiwan-e-Sadr, Islamabad, Pakistan, May 22, 2013
Concerned about the overwhelming global dependence on the U.S. government–run Global Positioning System (GPS), China and Pakistan cemented a deal to enhance the strategic capacity of China’s own satellite navigation system, Beidou. The Chinese government considers strengthening Beidou to be critical to national security, as does the Pakistani government, both of which rely heavily on GPS for civilian and military applications. Establishing Beidou ground stations in Pakistan could bolster Pakistan’s national defense technology by enhancing the reliability and accuracy of various guided weapons systems. China invests billions of dollars in Beidou to counter GPS’s market dominance and protect the country against any potential U.S.-led strategic interruptions to GPS. Disabled or degraded GPS signals in the region would incapacitate precision-guided smart weapons and disrupt numerous sectors, including banking, law enforcement, power grids, and emergency response.
A. Gladiolus Grandiflorus Group, Gladiolus, Portugal
Buen Vivir. A Concept on the Rise in Europe?
Publication: Green European Journal Authors: Gustavo Hernández, Henkjan Laats
The concept of “buen vivir” has gained visibility in Latin America in recent years. Rooted in indigenous worldviews, buen vivir rests on an understanding of humanity’s relationship with nature that is fundamentally at odds with the anthropocentrism of modernity. Gustavo Hernández and Henkjan Laats trace the concept’s rising trajectory and its influence and echoes in Europe. While buen vivir’s inclusion in formal bi-regional dialogue and its resonance with local initiatives emerging around Europe are promising, much more can be gained from further knowledge exchange.
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The Future of the Corporation and the Economics of Purpose
Publication: Journal of Management Studies Author: Colin Mayer
Colin Mayer examines the economic underpinnings of the concept of corporate purpose, which has gained increasing attention from business academics, practitioners and policymakers. He argues that there are fundamental reasons for reconceptualizing the purpose of business in the future, reasons which derive from the changing nature of business and the market failures to which it gives rise. Colin Mayer, one of the initiators of our programme “The Foundations of Value and Values,” describes a set of principles that provide a comprehensive framework for reforming business around credible commitments to corporate purpose.
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What is Economic Value, and Who Creates It?
Video: TED Speaker: Mariana Mazzucato
Where does wealth come from, who creates it and what destroys it? In this deep dive into global economics, Mariana Mazzucato explains how we lost sight of what value means and why we need to rethink our current financial systems – so capitalism can be steered toward a bold, innovative and sustainable future that works for all of us.
Framework agreement for economic cooperation Quito, Ecuador, January 12, 2012
Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met in Quito to negotiate the framework for a classified economic agreement capable of circumventing global sanctions imposed on Iran. The deal facilitates Iranian access to U.S. dollars through Ecuador’s dollarized economy by way of a small Ecuadorian bank, Cofiec, that would operate as the principal financial link between the two countries. Iran cannot freely access U.S. dollars due to ongoing U.S., European Union, and United Nations sanctions levied against it for its nuclear program. A record of the meeting describes Cofiec’s role as a conduit between Ecuador and Iran, facilitating the transfer of U.S. dollars to Iran through accounts held in a third-country bank. One month after the signing of the agreement, an Ecuadorian delegation traveled to Russia to establish a bank account open to Iranian transactions. Transfers through Ecuadorian and Iranian shared accounts in that bank would appear not as Iranian commercial activity but instead as internal bank transfers. This process of bank “triangulation” could therefore exploit a loophole to circumvent the sanctions against Iran. Cofiec, directed by President Correa’s cousin Pedro Delgado, has a history of disregarding domestic and international regulations.
A. Rosa × hybrida, Hybrid Tea Rose, Kenya B. Delphinium elatum, Delphinium, Spain C. Rosa × hybrida, Hybrid Tea Rose, Kenya D. Rosa × hybrida, Hybrid Tea Rose, Ecuador Chrysanthemum, Spider Mum (PROHIBITED)
When the study on “The Limits of Growth” was published in 1972, commissioned by the Club of Rome, the German psychologist Erich Fromm was shaken: “We just continue doing what we do because we lack the courage, we lack the initiative to look for what is new,” Fromm, a towering figure of post-war culture, reflected in a TV interview a few years later: “For decades now we know that this economic system is not sustainable. And most people just choose to ignore this, in the comfortable home of their false realities.” THE NEW INSTITUTE is very happy to announce that this year’s Erich-Fromm-Preis will be awarded to our Director of Research Maja Göpel for her body of work and her bestselling book “Unsere Welt neu denken.” The prize ceremony will take place June 21, 2021, in Stuttgart.
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Climate change is central to our thinking and our work at THE NEW INSTITUTE, and we were happy to provide support for an important and inspiring conversation between two key figures in this discourse, Fridays for Future’s Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer. The conversation was part of the conference “Europe 2021” presented by German publications Der Tagesspiegel, Die Zeit, Handelsblatt and WirtschaftsWoche on February 2-4. In the discussion, led by Jochen Wegner of Zeit Online, Greta Thunberg challenged one assumption about Fridays for Future – and her generation: “We are not the pessimists.” she said. “We are the ones who are doing something. We believe in change – and for that you need to be optimistic.” Luisa Neubauer made clear that it might be “confusing for a lot of men to suddenly need to speak to young women” and had a message to everyone listening: “Don’t let them stop you!” Another topic was the question of system change and individual action – we need both, Thunberg said, “we need system change – but that does not happen without individual change.” And Neubauer added: “We too often reduce people to their roles as consumers” – stifling the imagination about how change can come about. This is, she said, is “the power of organizing.” On the question of China and the country's effectiveness on climate action, both were quite clear: “Fridays for Future is a climate justice movement,” Luisa Neubauer said. And Greta Thunberg summed it up: “We cannot have climate justice without having fundamental human rights.”
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To us, this is the most beautiful construction site there is at the moment – but we might be biased. The fact is, the nine classicist town-houses at Warburg Straße, not far from our current location at Große Theaterstraße, are filled with noise and dust and debris, the stucco is being excavated and lovingly restored, the floors are bare, awaiting polish and people. In other words: the future home of THE NEW INSTITUTE is being renovated and prepared for what we all here to do, together with fellows, partners, collaborators, you: to imagine and develop visions for fundamentally reconfigured societies.
Taryn Simon, photo by: Rineke Dijkstra
Taryn Simon is a conceptual artist who works at the intersection of memory, identity, representation, history and storytelling, using photography, text, sculpture and performance to create or recreate a reality that all too often eludes us. She has a strong poetic vein and a clear political mind and attempts to chart the uneven territory of our present. “The Innocents” (2002) documents the stories of individuals who served time in prison for violent crimes they did not commit. In “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar” (2007), Simon compiles an inventory of what lies hidden and out-of-view within the borders of the United States.
The works she selected for this newsletter offer a reflection on the power dynamics, the representational logic and the lasting burden of the current financial system. They are taken from “Paperwork and the Will of Capital” (2015), which presents photographs of recreated floral centerpieces from the signings of political accords, contracts, treaties, and decrees. The signings that inform this work involve the countries present at the 1944 United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, which addressed the globalization of economies after World War II, and lead to the establishment of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
Each photograph represents an “impossible bouquet”
The photographs have twin points of departure: archival photographs of official signings as well as George Sinclair’s nineteenth century horticultural study of dried grass specimens, an experiment in survival and evolution cited by Charles Darwin in his groundbreaking research. For the recreations, the flowers present at each signing were identified from archival sources by a botanist. More than 4000 specimens were shipped to the artist’s studio, sourced from the world’s largest flower auction, in Aalsmeer, Netherlands, which receives and distributes approximately 20 million flowers per day. Each photograph represents an “impossible bouquet,” a concept that emerged in Dutch still-life painting parallel to the country’s seventeenth-century economic boom and its development of modern capitalism. An impossible bouquet is a man-made fantasy of flowers that could never bloom naturally in the same season and geographic location — a phenomenon which of course is now made possible by the global consumer market.
Taryn Simon’s work has been shown, among other places, at MoMA PS1 (New York), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), Neue Nationalgalerie (Berlin), Tate Modern (London), Fondation Louis Vuitton (Paris), Tel Aviv Museum of Art (Tel Aviv), Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (Moscow), at the Gwangju Biennale and the Venice Biennale