Does capitalism need clothes?

Showing social sensitivity, without adopting concrete corrective actions, is “beautiful” but it does not solve a serious human problem, swelled by the pandemic: the indignity of the life of those who have to support themselves with minimalist salaries.

“Capitalism is ethically naked and will be destroyed if it doesn't change. People will not tolerate you. And what we will have in its place will probably be the rise of populism ”. This is how Paul Collier, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Oxford, expressed himself in an interview with “Expresso”.

Collier is co-author, with John Kay, of “Greed is dead”. The density and richness of the book cannot be matched by the length of this text. But they help me to discuss one point: in order to ethically screw up capitalism and promote dignity at work in favor of a more just society, we need to rethink management theories and practices, based on mutuality and the sense of duties.

We have supported the defense of status quo in the meritocratic argument - but equal opportunities, which lives up to that ideal, is a mirage for crowds. The competition-collaboration balance has given way to the excessively competitive tendency that leaves large sections of the population to their fate - without conditions to affirm their merit.

The discussion about the minimum wage is instructive. Many entrepreneurs and managers recognize that the national minimum wage is small - but refer to solving the problem to increase productivity. I wonder why the executive remuneration argument is not used: raising wages to motivate people and increase productivity. Showing social sensitivity, without adopting concrete corrective actions, is “beautiful” and helps to feed social responsibility narratives. But it does not solve a serious human problem, compounded by the pandemic: the indignity of the life of those who have to support themselves with minimalist salaries.

Amazon, which has attributed itself to the patriotic mission of supplying the American population with essential products, is the same company that pays miserable wages to thousands of workers and dismissed employees for showing fear of exposure to the virus - while significantly enriching them. The arguments used to defend such practices are, allegedly, full of economic rationality, but they are still unworthy.

By the way, for the sake of economic rationality: are McDonald's employees' wages in Denmark higher than those paid in the US and Portugal because Danish productivity is higher - or is it higher because wages are more decent? How can citizens who barely earn enough to eat and have a roof invest in their education and that of their children?

A classic study published in “Nature” (Sarah Brosnan & Frans de Waal, 2003) shows that Capuchin monkeys are sensitive to inequities and retaliate. Why shouldn't human animals be, too? The answer does not need to be sought in labor protests - it is found among executives who feel wronged for enjoying lower wages than their peers. Why are different criteria and principles used to manage each other? Why don't companies distribute profits to employees in general? Will we be more equal than others?

Does it follow that we must establish a maximum ceiling for executive salaries? Not at all. What we need is to establish, with balance, a fairer ground. To refine our sense of duty. To develop empathy for essential workers and reward them accordingly. What we need is the compass that Olof Palme, then Prime Minister of Sweden, suggested to Othello when he told him that the April Revolution aimed to end the rich: "In Sweden, we intend to end the poor".


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