Money and Morality

NEW YORK, February 17, 2010 - "Asia is re-taking its place on the world stage" and fundamental changes in the global macro economy and global political relationships will define this century, according to Stephen Green, Chairman HSBC Bank plc. "The whole center of gravity of the world is shifting from West to East" a change that will affect businesses and individuals on many levels, Green said while discussing his new book Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World with Vishakha Desai, President, Asia Society at the Asia Society Headquarters in New York.

Green said the globalization has increasingly become a reality of human experience from its humble beginnings of people trading over large distances to the need for the economy to accommodate the billions of people "who perfectly reasonably aspire to the standards of living" enjoyed by people in the developed countries of the world, particularly in the West. The challenge to ensure that economic development going forward moves to lower carbon emitting technologies will force countries to work together to ensure sustainable development.

Describing market fundamentalism as an outdated ideology in which the idea held by businesses that designing products, developing markets and legal frameworks to sell them to maximize short term shareholder value comprised commerce, actually devalued the integral purpose of commerce. The actual purpose of commerce is to exchange mutually beneficial goods and services and shareholder value is a byproduct of the fundamental job of creating and selling profitable products that consumers value and need. A core tenet of market fundamentalism had been that markets were self policing and that less government was better, whereas in fact markets require government oversight and "complex modern economies and markets" need a "fairly extensive and carefully calibrated" government involvement in their functioning.

Speaking about the current economic crisis he said that "the break down in the (business) system and the breakdown in public trust and confidence in business in general and banks in particular" had created the need for a new look at the fundamental values and objectives that motivate business. Corporate social responsibility has become a buzzword and is almost thought of as an adjunct to the "real businesses of a company", while it should actually be thought of as a core component of the "raison d'être of a business".

The discussion was later opened up to the audience, which comprised a cross section of individuals from all walks of life. Fielding a question about how he balanced his professional life with his personal beliefs, Green (an ordained minister in the Church of England), agreed that "one cannot serve both God and mammon (money)", but that he did not equate "working with money as worshipping or serving the money", and that he viewed money (merely) as a lubricant of exchange. When the topic veered towards Wall Street and the ‘demonization of bankers', Green mounted a spirited defense of the many decent and hardworking people working who worked there and Desai also chimed in with an appreciation of the generosity of Wall Street to the Asia Society over the past.

In charting a way forward for government regulation of markets and on the issue of taxation of bankers bonuses, Green stated that regulation can never be sufficient but that in the wake of the crisis both regulatory and institutional reform were required. He described the year 2009 as a year of transition for the world economy and said that the year 2010 needed to be the year where a new consensus is required by developed (G7) and developing (G20) countries alike to "pave the way forward for a stabler market for the next generation".

Reported by Faiza Mawjee