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Ethics and the distribution of wealth

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Ethics and the distribution of wealth

Fair distribution of profits can only happen when economic development is not just driven by the whims of individuals, but instead is balanced with institutional checks and balances

On one hand, India offers one of the most tiresome conditions in the world for business — if done ethically. Yet on the other hand, the loose set of ever-changing rules and massive market opportunity makes it easy to play on the loopholes and profit immensely. This is the brittle structure many Indian corporates are built on today. They have looked out for loopholes in the law, at times may or may not have taken advantage of the weak regulatory oversight, and capitalised on the enormous Indian demographic dividend. It is a risky game they play, but the rules are so weak that the game becomes easy. But when crisis occurs, then the weak organisational coherence, both internally and in the external regulatory environment, does not hold up, leading to institutional accidents. As a result there is a heightened risk of the collapse of the various parts that had held the corporation together.

It is by no means am I maligning corporations, or saying that being astute in raking in profits is a bad thing. Instead, my point is that for profits to be conducive for economic development, the manner in which profit is earned and distributed needs to be fair.

Fair distribution of profits can only happen when economic development is not just driven by the whims of individuals but instead is balanced with institutional checks and balances. Why? Because without the appropriate checks and balances, first, the gains will be concentrated in few groups, while the losses will be diffused among many, as a result of which, the number of people becoming poorer in the society will only increase; second, it produces nouveaux riches who are often imperfectly adjusted to the existing order and who will keep wanting more power and social status commensurate with their new economic position, which then widens the socio-economic gap between rich and poor; third, eventually increased literacy, education, and exposure to mass media, will allow people to recognise the widening wealth gap, and make society frustrated and lose hope.

At the crux of it, just as democracy is as ineffective as a dictatorship if it does not represent consensus, legitimacy, and justice, similarly all we are left with is a disastrous form of crony capitalism, if the people — both at corporates and government — implementing the checks and balances are not ethically mindful. Indeed in corporations, just as is the case in politics, it is not just the form of governance, but the degree of governance that is important.

Ultimately governments and corporations are made of people, who can neglect or pay lip service to ethics, compliances, and regulations in a mechanical way without even applying their mind. The dwindling capacity of each of us to think, evaluate, and choose, affects our values, ethics, emotions, and volition. If our education — at home, school, and society — forbids us to think for ourselves, then we end up being fake replicas of one another, trying to mimic but failing, as it is impossible to be entirely like another person. So we become second-handers, allowing ourselves to be run by the others, in our eternal quest to be like the other. But we will be constantly told that we are still not good enough, making us work harder to resemble the prototype. This is the dysfunctional utopia that corporations thrive on.

By the time we join as executives in an organisation, our faculty of reasoning is so rusted that we cannot assess how we truly feel about what we do. That, which was supposed to be a rather basic activity of earning a currency to barter for the goods we ourselves cannot produce, now governs our life. We ferociously chase career choices that the majority around us desire, each one in the crowd quite not knowing why they want it so bad. We are ready to make great sacrifices — choosing where to live, what to do with the major chunk of each day of our lives — according to the dictate of corporations.

Similar to religion, a corporate ‘job’ has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language — placing them outside this earth and thus out of our reach. Because it is supposedly our moral duty to offer our obeisance to God and the boss, with a heightened reverence that can be attributed only to the divine and the employer. We blindly follow what the others do, and cannot apply our minds to appreciate gender, cultural, and other diversity around us. We are unable to decipher the direction of our moral compass inside of us, when confronted with matters of ethical dilemma. We simply reproduce the mannerisms of others around us, or merely and thoughtlessly do what gets us quicker to our goal, so that we can all fit in to becoming one homogenous blotch of nothingness. It is this highest level of our emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of corporations.

This is an excerpt from Miniya Chatterji’s new book Indian Instincts: Essays on Freedom and Equality in India, launched on March 6, 2018. Excerpted with permission from Miniya and Penguin Random House

 
 
 
 
 

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