It’s a broad topic and I won’t cover it in detail today but I have been thinking lately that we need a new social contract between the business community and government. You will excuse me if I seem a bit incoherent but this is a work in progress in terms of my thinking.
I am in a pretty interesting position in that I get to interact with all sides – government, industry large and small, universities and NGOs in the Atlantic Canadian context and I see a widening gap between them and it is increasing friction.
I’d like the business community to come out strongly and say we don’t mind paying taxes – we realize that we need strong community and social infrastructure for us to have successful businesses so we do not mind paying taxes at all – as long as they are reasonably similar to other similar jursidictions.
I’d also like the business community to be more explicit about corporate social responsibility. A lot of big companies have CSR policies but I’d like to see it far more pervasive. Specific to New Brunswick, I’d like to see our companies (and many do) be far more engaged in broader community objectives. What is the point of having a wildly successful business if the community around it is crumbling?
There’s more on the business side of the contract – environmental, etc. but any contract has two parties.
On the government side (as the representative of the people as a whole), I would like to see government acknowledge that a strong successful business community is fundamental to strong and successful societies. Specifically to have a more explicit understanding of how public policy impacts the business environment and the value proposition for investment in a place like New Brunswick.
How about a simple agreement that businesses have a right to make a reasonable return on their invested capital over time? Companies and people can invest their money just about anywhere these days and we want New Brunswick to be a place where they want to invest and feel they can make a good return on that investment.
I’m tired of the old cliches – businesses just want to cut taxes and regulation and the role of government is to protect the people from the evils of business. That sentiment should have run its course by now but it is back with a vengence.
Last weekend I heard a very articulate person on a roundtable discussion talk about the need for government to stand on the side of the people against the corporations and their greed. By now we should realize that ‘the people’ (and I am not sure who these pundits and experts think the people really are) need to work and unless we follow a communist model – the bulk of them need to work for those corporations. So let’s set that as a foundational element of society and then figure out how that relationship can work most effectively.
Not that long ago I had a business leader (I hope he doesn’t read this blog) tell me he just wanted the government to get out of the way and let him build his successful business. He and that lady from the roundtable are the end points of the spectrum and we need to find the middle ground.
Again this is not well formed but I have been thinking in these terms for a while now. I reject Naomi Klein (although many of her points have some merit) and I reject the notion that businesses can do no wrong. Government should protect the public against bad corporations as it should against bad people (criminals).
But the starting point shouldn’t be that government’s main goal is to protect the public against corporations any more than its main goal is to protect citizens from citizens.
If you have a society of murderers – having laws against murder is basically irrelevant. We assume that the vast vast majority of people in society believe that murder is fundamentally wrong and the laws are there to protect against the few.
Enough rambling for now but you can expect more in the coming weeks on this subject.