Business

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One prerequisite for democracy is a well-educated population, but another is that experts and people with management experience get involved in politics and in voluntary democratic work. However, it is typically the experts and the talented managers in particular who have the longest working days and work the most overtime. Working life monopolises a disproportionate share of the knowledge and intellectual resources that exist in modern democratic societies.

The democratic interests of the business world in the existing democracies

Let's put that last statement another way: The people who have the best credentials for contributing to the democratic process are also those who have the least time available to do so. The best brains spend most of their waking hours in the workplace.

A large proportion of these workplaces are in the private sector. At the same time, a prerequisite for businesses thriving is that society is open and that information, goods and people can move freely. In short, the prerequisite for a healthy business community is that the society is a democracy.

The business world has a long term interest in their busiest employees being involved in society, politics and the democratic process. However, there is no tradition for firms supporting their employees in these areas. Perhaps there should be? Perhaps it is not too much to ask that the business world contributes to democratisation both locally and globally?

Corporate Social Responsibility

This is something a lot of companies, especially large corporations, have actually started doing. Through what is called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), companies are committing themselves to running their businesses so that they also protect their employees, the communities they operate in, and the environment. In this way, they are also saying that companies need to respect human rights and that they have to endorse democracy.

In practice, CSR can take many forms and some companies are becoming directly involved in democratisation. For example, this could be European factories which are building schools and providing training in the developing countries where they buy their raw materials, or companies who will only buy their raw materials in countries that are democratic.

Democracy in the workplace itself

In Scandinavia, there is a long humanistic and democratic tradition and this is reflected in businesses. Firstly, in the vast majority of companies, there is great social equality and a very informal and free atmosphere between employees, managers and business owners. Employees are given a lot of responsibility and influence in connection with their own jobs, and management is open to employees' ideas and input. Secondly, there is good cooperation between companies and trades unions. This does not mean that there are no conflicts between companies and unions in Scandinavia, but there is mutual respect and acceptance of each other. This is one of the things that contributes towards the Scandinavian countries being some of the world's most successful and prosperous.

In Denmark in particular, this is probably connected to the long tradition of cooperatives, where the cooperative enterprises were jointly owned.

The democratic interests of the business world where there is no democracy

It may be easy to do business in corrupt dictatorships once you are on the inside, because you can "just" pay for political favours and various benefits. On the other hand, it is virtually impossible to start a business without recourse to bribery. If one is finally successful in building up a company of a certain size, one doesn't have free access to the information and the development opportunities that one's competitors abroad have. All in all, one gets to produce old-fashioned copy products which cannot be exported - except to other underdeveloped economies that are also unable to export their goods.

China is the main exception, being a large exporter, but of products which have been invented in the West.

The reason why the West, and the USA in particular, has taken the lead in technological development is that people enjoy full access to research and information, and can therefore freely develop new ideas and designs.

As a business owner or manager, you have several interests in democracy: you avoid the cost of bribes; you save time and energy because the justice system works; you don't have to pay protection money to mafia-type gangs; government bureaucracy is minimal; you have the opportunity to develop your business so it can grow; and if you want to hire talented people, you don't have to ask anyone for permission. You can travel freely around the world and get inspiration, and you can bring employees to the company from abroad. In addition, it's just more fun running a business when you are free to invent new things, especially when you yourself harvest the fruits of your labour. Think about it: What would Bill Gates or Steve Jobs have been allowed to invent in your country - and what would they have got out of it?


Next chapter: Cooperatives