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Changing the social ethos?

Rafael Andreu and Josep Maria Rosanas, Professors, IESE, University of Navarra

Changing the social ethos?

Fri, 22 Jan 2010 12:41:17 +0000 Published in La Vanguardia

A recent article by Professor John Roemer (Yale University) argues that the solution to the latest financial and economic problems lies in changing what he calls the "social ethos". An apt expression to reflect on.

Roemer arrives at this conclusion from a series of theoretical results at Economics (deserving of the Nobel Prize) that demonstrate that although a good issue of socially desirable objectives in wealth creation and distribution can be achieved by using appropriate "rules of the game" (i.e., regulatory schemes), the design of such rules is so complicated that this alternative becomes unfeasible from a practical point of view.

His proposal to solve the problem is: let us develop a "new social ethos" that "drives" the economic system to achieve those ultimate goals automatically. According to him, the necessary "rules of the game" (regulation) are in this case simpler and therefore more effective and efficient.

The proposal is attractive. Thinking in terms of "social ethos" is more consistent with a society that wants to be free and learn. The learning it implies would improve coexistence in other spheres, not only in the strictly economic one. But it is impossible to develop a new social ethos "by regulation". This raises questions core topic with no easy answer: who designs it, who applies it, with what authority (moral and professional)?

In a free society it is much more coherent to encourage the spontaneous emergence of an effective social ethos in itself on the basis of a few basic principles; with ethical solera, let us say. To initiate such a process, however, it is necessary to "prime the pump" socially.

On several fronts. First, at Education, and not only in business schools. Second, by example: it is not just a matter of preaching, but of "giving the more wheat the better". Thirdly, in commitment, each in his or her own area: not missing a single one, socially speaking. For example, without contributing to increasing the good social image of bad professionals, no matter what immediate economic results they achieve. These are demands for the action of each and every one of us. If we do not act, we will abandon our social responsibility and on the way we will lose any right to complain. Either we act or we remain silent forever.