What Ghana Needs Now – Capitalism With A Conscience
There are considerable discussions about the Ghanaian economy at this very moment in the wake of the abuse of depositors’ funds that has led to liquidity and solvency challenges in the banking sector, the massive layoffs that has hit the media establishments and many private firms, and the recent blip in the foreign exchange that has led to the depreciation of the cedi against the dollar. Debating why the economy is so sluggish is a Ghanaian pastime. It fills every causerie or colloquy, consumes TV and Radio pundits, and dominates the political debates of our great country.
But the big argument taking place currently remains whether in these straitened times we should continue with the crony capitalism that’s currently practiced in our country or revert to the socialism of the 1960s. It’s quite right and hugely important that we have this debate – a slow economy in our country affects not only businesses but also limits the businesses’ ability to serve customers which sometimes inevitably leads to hardships in our societies. Yet, a closer look at the arguments made in favour of these two approaches reveals the old thinking dominating our discussions about the economy.
The present free-enterprise, capitalist position accentuates that capitalism results in the best products for the best prices because consumers will pay more for what they want the most and businesses will provide what customers want at the highest prices they will pay but prices will be kept low by competition among businesses and products will be made as efficient as possible to maximize profit which creates prosperity for all. That the foundations of capitalism—voluntary exchange, entrepreneurship, competition, freedom to trade and the rule of law are essential to a healthy functioning economy. That the only way for economic improvement is when Ghanaians are innovative enough to create jobs for fellow Ghanaians and rewarded for it. The bottom line is this; markets are there to serve our society, not to suck the joy out of it as it currently does with its “winner-takes-all” brashness. And yes it is widely acknowledged that capitalist countries are the most successful at creating wealth and raising their citizens’ overall standard of living but we all know too well the limitations of the present-day winner-takes-all capitalism practiced in Ghana. The growing trend of cronyism coupled with the failure to provide for those who lack competitive skills and failure to promote equality of opportunity. Furthermore, not only the greed, selfishness and ruthless emphasis on profits over everything else but also the financial instabilities in our economy that have become badly exposed in recent times.
The socialist, statist view – built around more government intervention and controls that enjoyed some success in the 60s and 70s where government particularly the Nkrumah government controlled the means of production and built businesses, companies and factories for the benefit of all citizens in accordance with a set of collectively determined parameters. The system where the public was seen to be more important and social welfare was a major priority. The socially conscious, anti-capitalists assumes that the basic nature of the Ghanaian people is cooperative but that nature hasn't yet emerged in full and therefore, there is a need for a socialist economic system that supports this basic Ghanaian nature. That, the socialist economic system eliminates poverty and promotes equality of opportunity. Again, you can understand the logic of this view but we have to be realistic about the possibility that the government set up to represent the masses may abuse its position and claim power for itself as the Nkrumah Government did by intimidating and muzzling Ghanaians with repressive legislations like the Deportation Act, Avoidance of Discrimination Act and Preventive Detention Act among others in the pursuit of a grand design in those days. So to bring the economy back to health, considering living through a century with the greatest explosion of technology and communication in the history of the world, our answer cannot simply be a reheated version of an old ideological socialism which can lead to Government overreach and authoritarianism. And quite frankly, in such an increasingly globally competitive world where numerous economies including African economies are building robust pipelines of skilled workers as an essential ingredient to a strong and growing economy, we need the Ghanaian people to be entrepreneurship, innovative, competitive and not cooperative.
Consequently, to fully address the current economic malaise engulfing our country, we need a whole new approach. An approach that goes beyond and recognizes that the capitalism of present or the socialism of past alone is not enough to bring our economy back to health. We need an approach that engenders meaningful progress in our economy by promoting the idea that businesses and free markets should exist as the capitalist argues, however not for their own interests but for the common good of society as socialism perpetuates – all while laying the foundation for the future.
And that approach is capitalism with a conscience. A reinvention of capitalism as a force for good with a new blueprint that emphases the creation of value that can serve to create prosperity for society as a whole. Yes, capitalism shaped to suit the needs of society and rooted in an evolutionary change – the shift to greater levels of consciousness. Adopting this approach for our economic recovery offers a way of thinking about capitalism and society that better reflects where we are in the human journey, the state of our country today, and the instinctive potential of businesses to make a positive impact on our societies and country. And there are three clear reasons why I believe capitalism with a conscience offers our best hope for the future.
The first is that capitalism with a conscience creates value not only for businesses, but also for its workers and the society at large. Capitalism with a conscience embraces the notion of measuring results through a triple considerations, which combines the traditional consideration of profit with additional outputs related to environmental and social returns the business may generate. Put simply, it recognizes that making a profit doesn’t have to come at the expense of making positive contributions to society because profit without societal prosperity still leads to a sluggish, unstable economy. So, for instance, if we have Government of Ghana building companies or Ghanaians starting small businesses or group of Ghanaians setting up big businesses because they are motivated by an idea and a passion to create something they want to share with others, then our survival and flourish as a society will be perpetuated because then the 21st century Ghanaian is motivated more by meaning and purpose than by money. And what is exciting is that some businesses in Ghana are already doing it but we have to see a surge in the number of businesses that are also pursuing business models that take more than just profit into account if we are to save our economy.
The second reason which makes capitalism with a conscience the standard for the future is that it provides an emerging competitive edge. In Ghana and the world today, consumers and citizens are better informed about where the products or services they purchase originate from and with this knowledge gravitate towards businesses who uphold sustainable and ethical business practices. So in a market and country where consumers and citizens are increasingly interested in buying and transacting with businesses (whether state managed or privately managed) that operate ethically and socially responsibly, having an economic model that enjoins businesses and to an extent Government to do business differently actually becomes a competitive edge. This is the direction that our country needs to move in if we are to build up our economy in a sustainable way.
That brings me to the third cause for why capitalism with a conscience offers our best hope for the future — Capitalism with a conscience’s ability to build sustainable employment. Yes, while there’s no question that being innovative, building businesses and providing employment is a key part to building a strong and stable economy, capitalism with a conscience offers that space for business building in addition to considering the human element too—especially when it comes to helping improve the lives of those who work for the business, those whom the business works for and the society at large. This approach shifts the business and the profiteering Government narrative from a one-sided “story of me” to a collective “story of us” and when people recognize the work they do leaves an impression on society but isn’t just grinding for the corporate machine or a profiteering Government, they tend to feel more productive, motivated and collaborative. Consequently, an enhanced work ethic follows and the greed, theft and corporate malfeasance which are the root causes of the recent collapse of some businesses, especially in the banking sector, is bound to be nonextant. This ultimately leads to sustainable employment that sustains the economy and not the frequent business closure with its associated layoffs and the abuse of taxpayers’ money that hampers economy.
So these are real causes for hope to suggest that capitalism with a conscience is the best approach for our economic recovery. The opportunity to make economic progress and a compelling case to build stronger societies as we build a stronger economy. A chance for Ghana to create true value that can push all Ghanaians upward for continuous improvement by combining its citizenry with a long-term vision that embraces balance, growth and a reinvestment in Ghanaian societies. For all these reasons I believe we can be optimistic about the future. For espousal of capitalism with a conscience will help improve our economy and evolve our country so that thousands of people can flourish, living lives imbued with purpose, passion, creativity and love; a country of freedom, harmony, prosperity and compassion.
Nana Kwaku M Asamoah
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