Thursday, May 29, 2014

World's Richest People Meet, Muse On How To Spread The Wealth (NPR)

I heard this story on NPR's All Things Considered the other day coming home from work. I wasn't sure whether to be amazed or to laugh. Everyone sounds so authentic - it must have taken years for them to learn how to sound like that. But maybe I am just hyper-cynical (well, okay, there's no "maybe" about it), and maybe they really are trying to solve the horrendous wealth distribution issues we face today. But I doubt it.

They do have a catchy name, however, with the "inclusive capitalism" thing. Still, the 250 people in the room were worth a combined $30 trillion, roughly one-third of the total investable wealth in the world (like the top 1% of the 1%). It's hard to think they want to give up that power so that the other 99.9% can live safer, healthier, easier lives.

I would love to see these people embrace a compassionate capitalism, instilling some social and relational ethics into the capitalist model.

Below the NPR story is some information from the Inclusive Capitalism Initiative, including a link to their founding blueprint (i.e., mission statement).

World's Richest People Meet, Muse On How To Spread The Wealth

by Ari Shapiro
All Things Considered | May 27, 2014
3 min 49 sec

Listen to the Story

Prince Charles talks to Lynn Forester de Rothschild (left), organizer of the Conference on Inclusive Capitalism, and Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, before Tuesday's conference. The 250 corporate and financial leaders who attended control some $30 trillion, about a third of the world's investable assets.
WPA Pool/Getty Images

Talk of economic mobility and the wealth gap is hardly new. From the Occupy movement to President Obama's re-election campaign, income inequality has been in the spotlight for years.

Even so, the "inclusive capitalism" conference in London on Tuesday broke new ground. Not because of the conversation, but because of the people having it.

The 250 people from around the world invited to attend this one-day conference do not represent "the 99 percent," or even the 1 percent. It's more like a tiny fraction of the 1 percent.

"We have $30 trillion of assets under management in the room," says conference organizer Lynn Forester de Rothschild, who runs E.L. Rothschild, a major investment firm she and her husband, of the storied Rothschild banking family, founded in 2003.

That amount — $30 trillion — is roughly one-third of the total investable wealth in the world. If money is power, then this is the most powerful group of people ever to focus on income inequality.

"If this bulk of capital decides that they are going to invest in companies that aren't only thinking about the short-term profit," says Rothschild, "then we will see corporate behavior change."

The titans of commerce and finance didn't necessarily fly to this meeting in London out of a sense of ethics or moral duty, though that may be a motivation for some. For many, says Rothschild, it's a sense of self-preservation. Capitalism appears to be under siege.

"It's true that the business of business is not to solve society's problems," she says. "But it is really dangerous for business when business is viewed as one of society's problems. And that is where we are today."

Prince Charles kicked off the morning's proceedings.

"What is so impressive about today's gathering is that every one of you, ladies and gentlemen, is so well-placed to take the kind of action needed to create a new form of inclusive capitalism," he told the conference.

Defining Inclusive Capitalism

That phrase, "inclusive capitalism," is deliberately broad. People talked about it as valuing long-term investment over short-term profits. Some mentioned environmental stewardship; others focused on treating workers well.

Christine Lagarde, who runs the International Monetary Fund, said it is a way to rebuild trust in the financial system.

"So the big question is, how can we restore and sustain trust?" she asked in her keynote speech. "First and foremost, by making sure that growth is more inclusive and that the rules of the road favor the many and not just the few."

She said this will be a hard slog, because there will be winners and losers, "and the likely losers are those who have the biggest voice, because they have the largest means."

Later in the day, the group heard speeches from former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Bank of England chief Mark Carney.

Critics suggest this may all be optics. The conference delegates didn't sign on to a specific action plan, or even publicly endorse a set of values.

"I suspect the return on investment in this conference is astonishingly low," says Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. "It sort of surprises me that you have a bunch of people in the investment community who view this as having a significant return on investment in some way, whether the return is in people patting them on the back and saying, 'Thanks for caring about us,' or in actual changes to policies."

Conference organizer Rothschild says there will be follow-up with all of the delegates, but she made a conscious decision not to ask for any commitments up front.

"Even for me," she says laughing, "I thought that would be a little pushy."

* * * * * * * * * *

Who we are

The Inclusive Capitalism Initiative (ICI) is a non-profit organisation that seeks practical ways to renew capitalism to make it an engine of economic opportunity and shared prosperity through the adoption of inclusive business practices.

The Initiative was originally conceptualised as The Henry Jackson Initiative for Inclusive Capitalism in 2011 by The Henry Jackson Society think-tank in response to the financial crisis, which highlighted the serious dislocations caused by developments in capitalism over the last 30 years: worldwide increases in income inequality, large-scale corporate and financial scandals and the fraying of public trust in business, historically high and persistent unemployment and short-term approaches to managing and owning companies.

Towards a More Inclusive Capitalism, the founding blueprint for the Initiative, was co-authored by a Task Force of British and American business leaders and senior policy makers. The Task Force was co-chaired by Dominic Barton, Global Managing Director, McKinsey & Company, and Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, CEO, E.L. Rothschild.

The Conference on Inclusive Capitalism: Building Value, Renewing Trust

The Conference on Inclusive Capitalism on 27 May 2014 has been created by The Inclusive Capitalism Initiative in order to bring together global leaders from the top institutional investors, asset managers, corporations, sovereign wealth funds and financial institutions to define concrete steps that all of modern capitalism’s stakeholders can take to renew trust and deliver better social and economic outcomes for all.

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