SEPARATION OF STATE AND BUSINESS, ISN'T IT TIME FOR BUSINESS TO MIND ITS OWN?
The Montreal Review, July, 2010
Plato described that society was divided into three types of people in the book "The Republic". The first type of person was the golden person. He was interested in acquiring knowledge and wisdom about the world and was the ideal person to be the leader of his society. The second type of person was the silver person. He was interested in glory and was quite passionate in life and was the ideal person to be the protector and defender of his society. The third type of person was the bronze person. He was interested in accumulating wealth and luxuries and was the ideal person to labor for the good of his society.
The bronze people outnumber the silver people while the silver people outnumber the gold people in this illustration. Plato mentioned that if ever the bronze people would control society then it would doom that society to its destruction. Today's society is definitely getting its guidance from bronze thinking and we are seeing the results of the destructiveness of this direction. I will only point out the most convenient and the most recent: the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The twentieth century mantra was the acquisition of profit. Our society who had been raised in becoming citizens of the world to improve our condition was being prompted in becoming consumers of the market to improve our products. Even governments had money as its primary concern instead of doing what is right. The pendulum where the political was in charge and the economy followed suit became reversed where the economist is today in charge and the political follows. The irony is that years ago, business students would read political texts to understand how to run businesses better and today political leaders are reading business texts on how to run a government budget.
Nonetheless, we have the President of the United States going on television telling us that "stopping it has tested the limits of human technology" in direct reference to the many attempts of stopping the leak from the oil rig disaster. A bit of research and we see how Business called the shots and the State allowed carte blanche. Had the State known its place and kept Business as an underling we would not have been drilling so casually without having a protective means to stop an accident. Most people would not jump out of a plane without a parachute and yet we have a situation where Business deliberately kept parachutes out of the plane to save on fuel expenses for more profit.
I can already hear some people saying that we need to balance a budget and that economic thinking will lead our society to better places. Again we have the President of the United States saying that "we now have nearly thirty thousand personnel who are working across four states to contain and clean up the oil", so the economic thinking of saving a few dollars for this corporation ended up costing much more in cleanup. There is a project in Japan where Tokyo is digging underground corridors to lay in their electrical and telecommunication wiring, their sewer systems and even their subway lines. The cost is astronomical and they still don't know how much it will cost in the end. Cost is not the issue, it needs to be done because if and when an earthquake hits, their infrastructure will not be damaged and they will have saved more from averting a disaster than what they spent in building these safeguards. This is an example of the State making a decision and forcing Business to follow. We could use some of this thinking in our society.
Business has a religious faith in how the Market will solve its own problems internally with what they call the Invisible Hand. I suspect that Plato might consider economists as but twentieth century astrologers who have yet to predict anything with accuracy with their charts. Whether economists have insight or not is not my issue. My suggestion is that as we have a separation of Church and State, we should also have a separation of State and Business. In regards in running our lives in a spiritual sense we rely on our "church", in regards in running our lives in a civic sense we rely on our "state" and in regards in running our lives in a materialistic sense we rely on our "business". Isn't it time for Business to mind its own and allow the State to govern? But then again we may need to practice our democratic right as citizens and remind politicians what priorities they should follow instead of practicing our consumer privileges that we are slowly degrading in efficiency.
The Ancient Philosophers would probably be horrified in seeing the bronze people overwhelming common sense and decency. The oil rig disaster would not have surprised them considering that the profit motive has turned itself into a disease of laziness costing more effort by running around in circles going nowhere instead of walking calmly in a desired direction.
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Daniel Bois is a writer living in Montreal. You can read more of his articles in his blog "Think About Issues." You may contact Daniel Bois at
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